As Woodstock students, we live in one of the most beautiful parts of India, the foothills of the Himalayas. This biodiverse location is what makes outdoor education such a valuable part of the curriculum. Woodstock seeks to educate each one of its pupils through the environment around us. However, I fear that the school’s outdoor education program, which fits in perfectly with all of its guiding principles, is losing its meaning.
For instance, last year, for outdoor learning weekend, which is a major component of outdoor education at the school, a group of tenth graders, including me, went to a bird park. At the park, we enjoyed a boat ride that circled a small lake for a while and then roamed around the park. We did not spot any birds or learn anything about them. After a couple of hours at the park, we had the rest of the day to spare, and so we begged our chaperones to take us to a nearby mall. There, we watched a movie and shopped. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Now that I look back at it, I don’t even remember the name of the movie we watched, as it definitely was not a memorable one. I learned nothing. I made no memories. I can barely even remember the day.
On the other hand, the year before that, in grade 9, we took a walk around Mussoorie visiting several places of worship from different religions. It was part of our Religious Education class. Back then, it seemed like a complete waste of my time. Now, if I’m asked which one of the two was better, I would definitely choose the grade 9 trip. What makes these outdoor learning stand out is its ability to give students a more hands-on and practical view of the world. It helps them grow in several facets.
In grade 10, we went for a hike. I faced some of my worst fears on this trip, and I believe that it was a great learning opportunity, that helped me push myself and learn things through a completely new lens. There was so much to learn from the locals who accompanied us, and from hiking in the Himalayas.
This year, most activity week trips for juniors and seniors turned into vacations with the sole purpose of having fun. They went to different cities like Pondicherry, Dharamshala, and Gangtok, and a majority of the trips lacked a learning outcome. This brought me to the realization that with each passing year, Woodstock’s outdoor education is often disregarded.
All of us were allowed to carry phones. The fact that we had access to the internet and social media made a bigger difference than I could have imagined. Our chaperones had to remind us several times to look up from our screens. Although all of us tried not to use our phones and interact with each other instead, it seldom worked. Even people who wanted to make the most out of the trip failed to resist the temptation of technology.
It is safe to say that few of the trips for grades 11 and 12 this year were focused on outdoor education. Although they were fun experiences and a relief from school, they did not contribute much to our learning. Woodstock spends a massive amount of money on arranging activity week trips which are planned months in advance. But the trips for higher grades are more casually planned and lack direct learning outcomes.
Visiting cultural cities and national parks sounds like a great way to learn, however, during trips such as these, students spend little time exploring the culture or connecting with wildlife. They spend more time taking the perfect Instagram photos or shopping or eating great food.
Ms. Amy Seefeldt, Director of the Centre for Imagination, along with Mr. Tobias Tillemans, Environmental Studies teacher, have come up with long term objectives for outdoor learning at the school. Outdoor learning is a tool for building leadership roles, for growing and developing skills, as well as academic learning. Ms. Seefeldt suggested that we need to remodel outdoor education completely and “clarify our objectives” for Activity week trips in order to make the most out of it.
Ms. Seefeldt pointed out that all the key school documents, the IB, as well as schools around the world who share Woodstock’s educational philosophy stress the importance of outdoor education.
She agrees that Woodstock needs to have a stronger focus on outdoor education. This is not just applicable to Activity Week or outdoor learning weekend, but it also needs to be integrated into classes.
However, the administration cannot be the only party being blamed. As students, it is hugely our responsibility to ensure that we make the most out of what we are offered.
The Hanifl Centre, which provides a massive variety of resources and tools for outdoor learning and connecting with the wilderness, is seldom used by students. Only a handful of students who are passionate about the outdoors make good use of this facility.
This year, the school offered some hikes for grade 11, but no one signed up.
“UY hikes and trips that were proposed this semester had minimal participation,” said Mr. Malik Arjun, Outdoor Education coordinator.
“You can announce a hike, a bike ride, or a nature walk, but students need to choose it. Students are happier going to the bazaar instead,” he continued.
We need to realize that our time here is limited and start appreciating the opportunities that we’re given. A few years from now, after we’ve graduated, we’re going to regret not taking advantage of Woodstock’s landscape. When you’re stuck in traffic in the middle of the day, with nowhere to escape to, walking up a hill or going on a hike won’t seem like such a bad idea.
Janvi Poddar is the managing editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Nalin Mahajan