With the outdoors absent from the curriculum, students are at risk of a vitamin N deficiency
With the omission of outdoor education from Australia's new National Curriculum, an expert from the University of Western Sydney warns that school students may miss out on much more than sports and physical exercise.
Associate Professor Tonia Gray, from the School of Education at UWS, says the implementation of the National Curriculum in its proposed form will place young people at risk of developing a serious "vitamin N deficiency" – with 'N' standing for nature.
"The importance of children's relationships with the outdoors has been widely acknowledged for centuries, and research evidence continually supports the view that young people need to engage with the natural world in order to develop, grow, and become healthy, mature adults," says Associate Professor Gray.
"It is disconcerting, therefore, that the Australian Curriculum Reporting Authority (ACARA) has omitted reference to the outdoors from the draft Health and Physical Education curriculum.
"In this NAPLAN-driven school system, schools are under increasing pressure to perform. If it is not stipulated in the National Curriculum that students are required to spend time out of doors, students will most certainly remain inside the classroom and will lose their essential dose of nature."
Associate Professor Gray says young people in this 'screen-ager' generation, where children are becoming tethered to screens and electrical outlets for entertainment, school-based outdoor education programs may be many students' only outlet for outdoor play.
"Unlike children from previous generations, who were more likely to venture out of doors to engage in free play, school-age children today are using social media, computer games and television for their entertainment," says Associate Professor Gray.
"What this will create is a generation of outdoor illiterate adults. Outdoor educators are already noticing that Australian children cannot walk confidently and skilfully in outdoor environs.
"Due to the inordinate time spent indoors on level floor surfaces, they are unfamiliar with uneven ground, crossing rivers or negotiating steep hilly terrain. Quite clearly, our modern child is not 'nature smart' and we need to redress this imbalance."
The omission of outdoor education from the National Curriculum has led to calls that it should become a stand-alone subject, rather than being bundled into the health and physical education discipline.
Associate Professor Gray would go one step further, by suggesting that a specific focus on children's engagement with nature should also be specifically integrated into the new Curriculum.
"Australia's 21st century school curriculum needs to produce a generation of students with greater, not less, environmental awareness," she says.
"One way this can be accomplished is if we promote access to outdoor environments and develop an affinity with nature. Now more than ever, educators should be ensuring that children get their recommended daily allowance of vitamin N."
Richard Louv, co-founder and chairman of the Children and Nature Network in the USA, coined the term 'nature-deficit disorder' to describe the disturbing disconnect between people, particularly children, and nature.
Associate Professor Tonia Gray will speak alongside Richard Louv about the importance of environmental literacy for Australian children at the forthcoming 'Nature Education Symposium' at Taronga Zoo.
WHAT: Nature Education Symposium
WHEN: Thursday 9th August 2012
WHERE: ANZ Lecture Theatre, Taronga Zoo
Read Associate Professor Gray's article Vitamin N: The missing ingredient in the 21st Century Curriculum, on the UWS School of Education's 21st Century Learning blog.
23 July 2012