The 2022 National Outdoor Education Conference called for action for better education for all.

Attending from every state and territory, outdoor learning, education and recreation enthusiasts were on the same page when it came to discussing the future of the industry at the National Conference on outdoor education in Leura this week. The 250 attendees, partners and sponsors congratulated the organizers for the opportunity to have impactful discussions and unite with a common voice on what we must all see as change for the good of our next generations.

The benefits of outdoor education continue to be better understood and more research and data was revealed at the conference. Pymble Ladies College was one of the case studies discussed at the event and how the ‘Resilience Ladder’ indicated marked improvement for participants after the educational program. While a program delivered over 8 weeks in 4 primary schools in Western Australia, achieved exceptional results in resilience, connection to nature, connection to the outdoors and increased capacities for collaboration and imagination of the students.

So why don’t all children have access to this opportunity?

An overwhelming majority of national conference attendees were from private schools. “It seems like everyone is on the same page…why is it that only the privileged have access to the benefits of outdoor education.” Says Lori Modde, event organizer and CEO of Outdoors NSW & ACT.

Improving education is on the agenda in most states and territories and there is an answer to many of the challenges they are trying to solve under their noses. “In addition to outdoor education, let’s broaden our thinking to outdoor education or outdoor learning to achieve better teacher engagement in schools. Most learning can be done in the outdoor classroom where students have the opportunity to enhance their learning by taking advantage of all the proven benefits of connection to a natural environment,” says Peter Kent of Birrigai Outdoor School in ACT.

Port Macquarie NSW Nature School has taken this to the next level and tailored a child’s primary school journey and connected them to nature. So successful that they now have a waiting list and start grade 7 in 2023 with the aim of having kindergarten through to grade 10 by 2026. “Teachers are giving in under the weight of paperwork and an overloaded schedule. I understand when they say they can’t fit the outdoors into their already busy schedules, but a lot of the curriculum can be taught in nature! It is not a supplement. It is a living alternative space with learning opportunities”. Says Catherine Shaw, director of The Nature School.

Catherine received the Outdoor Education Service Award for 2022 and her school was the NSW Program of the Year winner and a finalist in the National Outdoor Education Program Awards.

In addition to access to these educational opportunities, the conference highlighted the movement and progression towards gender balance, diversity, equity, Indigenous connection and inclusion.

“Born out of a desire to make a positive difference in the profession in terms of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, this year an ‘Ignite’ session has been introduced”, explains Tonia Gray, co-organizer and professor at Western Sydney University. The session involved a three-minute slot for five panelists to throw a metaphorical “hand grenade” into the audience. “Designed to shed light on injustices or blind spots in the outdoor profession. The session had an impact leaving people with tears and standing ovations. We hope the ground will move from complacency to action when we meet in two years for the next national conference. Tony continued.

The content called for diversity and inclusion in the sector, while highlighting the experiences of leaders and how they want to help pave the way for further improvement by calling out their challenges.

Conference organizers were pleased with the turnout and level of engagement across all topics, but Lori Modde, CEO of Outdoors NSW & ACT and host of this year’s event, returned that parting thought, “It’s like we’re preaching to converts, and we have a whole nation out there that needs to understand the impacts of outdoor education on our future generations because it’s a solution to so many problems in our society and everyone deserves a chance to be better”.

The Australian Outdoor Education Awards were announced at the conference and the winners are listed below;

  • Emerging Practitioner in Outdoor Education
    • Mr. Lindsay Blinco, Queensland
  • outdoor education practitioner
    • Ms Emma Beveridge, Queensland
  • Outdoor Education Service
    • Jamie Bennett – Western Australia
    • Andrew Boyle – Queensland
    • Carol McIntosh – Queensland
    • James McIntosh – Queensland
    • Graeme Dawes – New South Wales
    • Catherine Shaw – New South Wales
    • Chris Hodgson – South Australia
  • Outdoor Scholarships
    • Catherine Carpenter-Victoria
    • Steve McMurturie – Victoria
    • John Pier – Victoria
    • Sandy Allen-Craig – Victoria
    • Mark Brackenreg – New South Wales
    • Jon Hodges – Queensland
    • Rob Hogan – South Australia
  • outdoor education program
    • Overall winner – Trinity Anglican School, Queensland
    • WA Finalist, St Mark’s
    • NSW Finalist, The Nature School
    • VIC Finalist, Firbank Grammar School
    • NT Finalist, St Phillips College
    • TAS Finalist, Guilford Young College


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