Experiential Education Around the World

Steve Simpson’s Experiences at the Singapore Outdoor Education Conference:

I was in China and Singapore for the month of October, so I missed the arrival of Chris Cavert’s and my new book, The Chiji Guidebook (which came out mid-October).  Imagine my surprise to be walking through the exhibition area of the Singapore Outdoor Education Conference and finding The Chiji Guidebook displayed at the conference’s bookstore.  After thirty years of writing, I still get excited when I see something I’ve written finally make it to print, but this was the first time that I’d ever stumbled across a new publication by accident.  I introduced myself to Melvin Yo, the bookseller, and explained my joy at seeing the book for the first time, and he immediately offered me a free copy.  I thanked him for his kindness, but explained that I, at this very moment, probably had several hundred copies setting on my doorstep at home, so lugging a copy home from Singapore didn’t make much sense.  Besides I was hoping that someone in Singapore would buy the copy and start a groundswell of demand that would rival the release of the final Harry Potter book.

My surprise at seeing The Chiji Guidebook in Singapore was that the book was hot off the press, not that Singaporeans would be interested in a book on experiential education.  Based upon my experiences in Singapore, Taiwan, and to lesser extent, China, Asia currently is alive with experiential education.  Using Singapore as an example, the country’s national Ministry of Education actually has a ten-person staff dedicated to experiential education.*  I attended an Outdoor Education Conference hosted by the Ministry and discovered that participants at the conference were every bit as knowledgeable as attendees at a comparable conference in the West.  The especially exciting part of the conference was that a good share of the participants were classroom teachers who incorporated experiential components into their classroom teaching.  Of course, interpretative naturalists, ropes course facilitators, and other non-classroom educators were in attendance as well, but the large number of school-based teachers demonstrated that experiential education had become mainstream in Singapore and not just the purview of a few extreme progressives.   Like teachers in the West, Singaporean classroom teachers are confronted with the need to show that experiential techniques do not compromise student scores on standardized national exams, but this barrier has not prevented many of them from implementing experiential education methodologies.

Sometimes I reflect upon the status of experiential education from the confines of a small, publicly funded university in the Midwest, and I worry that the progress of the last three decades has slowed and that experiential education in general is stagnating.  Then I travel to places like Singapore or Taiwan (where as often as not also speak to educators from Australia, Scotland, Germany, etc…) and immediately realize that the stagnation is on my part, certainly not the field’s.

By the way, the Singapore Outdoor Education Conference was not held at a convention center or a large hotel, but at the Singapore High School for the Arts.  The opening ceremony included a student dance performance.  Prepared specifically for the conference, it was the students’ interpretation of the children’s book The Curious Garden.  That is grasping the concept of experiential education.

*The Outdoor Education Section of the Education Programmes Division, headed by Tay Kim Seng.

For more information about the conference and the Outdoor Association: The Outdoor Education Association (Singapore) website is:

The conference website:  http://www.oeconference.sg/

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