Blackboard Education

Why school trips are undervalued when it comes to learning potential

Don’t education and learning make more sense when we bring in time to reflect, to think, and when we trust our students?

The week-long trip with class VIII students, a couple of months earlier, was a lot of fun — from being together in the rail coach to sharing tents, from running up and down the hills to swimming in stunning lakes, from visiting a butterfly museum to early morning bird walks and more.

The immense potential these trips harbour as learning spaces was underscored — learning from new environments, fresh experiences, and away from the ‘regular’ schedule. Why this learning is treated secondary to classroom teaching continues to remain a mystery!

Amidst the excitement, however, some elements stuck out and raised questions.

On the one hand, these trips enable schools to discuss aspects like plan and budget with students. On the other hand, they also provide a platform to discuss the school’s values and beliefs. For example, from discussing footprints emanating from alternative modes of transport to exploring how we could avoid using items that we take for granted during travel like paper plates and tissue papers, the value of “sustainability” becomes one of the pillars on which the trip stands, along with budget and plan.

Planning and implementation

On occasions, schools plan the trip to such detail that they leave little time for students to ponder and reflect. They end up being subjected to ‘activities’ one after another. It is a sad sight to see students being asked to ‘do’ activities with paper and pen when hills and trees around await attention; activities they could have done at school! Don’t education and learning make more sense when we bring in time to reflect, to think, and when we trust our students?

At times, schools enter into tie-ups with adventure sports and travel organisations. These partnerships enable access to remote locations and help with logistics. However, they may also present challenges on account of variance with or even conflict of partners’ ethics and principles. For example, not only do schools risk having students end up as quintessential ‘tourists’, but also some of these organisations emphatically prioritise profit over sustainability and take actions accordingly — actions the schools may not want the students to learn from.

This brings us to the efforts schools invest to enable students’ connect with a destination’s culture and mores. There appears little merit in going to faraway places if schools do not put in efforts in this direction. With Google, there is little space for excuse to not read in advance either. However, on occasions these turn out to be cosmetic interactions with locals where we end up either reenforcing the stereotypes or presenting more of a farce than a fact. On others, the efforts are simply absent. Food, for example — is there any merit in having paneer and not local dishes when we go for treks in the hills?

Connecting learning

The questions refused to go away and I asked friends, who know more of these trips, how much numbers and durations mattered. One of them said these trips made sense only if the duration was at least 12 – 14 days for only then did the students get time to connect with the destination. Another stated that the group sizes need to be below 12 – 14 to ensure quality interactions and as a corollary delve in depth into the objective(s). The third friend, however said, all these mattered little if schools did not connect the learning from the trips to ‘day-to-day’ action and vocabulary. All discussions on sustainability in the hills would hold little weight if the school’s campus did not follow sustainable practices and the topic was not discussed on a regular basis by teachers.

The fourth friend, however, pointed out none of these would matter if the teachers who went on these trips were not interested. He asked if someone who either hated walking up and down the hills or did not get excited by the mountain air could inculcate love for the Himalayas or Nilgiris in students. We also mulled over how the fear of causing inconvenience has us prioritise ease over learning; learning from both places and people we visit, as also from experiences in the absence of amenities we otherwise live with. This prioritising we may regret soon.

Does the solution then lie in having a team work on the trips across the year? A team which builds linkages, undertakes exploratory trips, trains students and volunteers, sets clear objectives, and more; a team which is willing to go beyond the logistics and stretch itself to not only to see new worlds but also to share them with students. The potential of this out-of-the-class learning is humongous.

The author blogs at nimesh-ved.blogspot.com and can be reached at nimesh.explore@gmail.com.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 5:18:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/lessons-in-the-outdoor/article23032527.ece

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