How did we end up here? At what point did we come to assume that school, lessons and learning belonged exclusively in a classroom, measurable with grades? Arguably the most influential teacher of all, Socrates engaged in discussion with his students in the open air. If it was good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me. It’s time to have a rethink about our classroom environments and ensure that children make full use of whatever outside space is available.
After all, what are we talking about when we talk about education? 2020 has brought a focus on public examinations, children falling behind in Maths and English and schools’ capacity to engage in remote learning and online teaching – demanding much from teachers and pupils alike. Vital as these are, they are not the whole picture. More than just a question of wellbeing and the undoubted benefits of fresh air, we must consider what children nowadays need to learn.
The march of mechanisation and artificial intelligence is undeniable, yet our insistence on a model of education which prioritises how much a child can memorise and replicate on demand, alone, in silence and under time pressure, holds the upper hand in a denial of progress worthy of King Canute. The World Economic Forum, that NGO which put Davos on the map, has devised a compelling list of skills and attributes which will be most valuable as we enter what they call the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The skills identified – problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordinating with others – are best developed outdoors.