Adventures and Life-Skills Outside the Classroom: 4 Innovators You Should Know

Duncan McCullough

When you were a child, did you ever attend a summer camp? What about a field trip to a local museum, or a regional student competition? Very likely, the answer to at least one of these questions is yes. However, many classrooms in low and middle-income countries aren't equipped with basic learning and teaching materials, so extracurricular activities like the ones described are considered extravagances that would only be possible in the distant future. Nevertheless, some innovative educators are rejecting this dichotomy, and fostering life skills outside the classroom. Recognizing the growing importance of skills like leadership, curiosity, and hands-on experience, these programs are committed to providing lower income children the opportunity to learn and grow while having the adventure of a lifetime.

In rural Zambia, for example, KnowledgeBeat has provided over 2,800 students with 3 to 5 day intensive camp experiences designed to educate, empower, and inspire middle-school age children. There are Girls’ Empowerment Camps that seek to teach girls the importance of financial and social self-reliance, entrepreneurship and creativity, and staying in school. Through outdoor activities and other active learning methods, children are introduced to gender issues and female hygiene, the risks of early marriage and teen pregnancies, mentorship, leadership, and life skills. KnowledgeBeat’s Environmental Health Education Camps similarly use group activities to help children learn about the links between health and the environment, as well as skills that lead to healthier living practices. Students plant trees, build solar stoves and water pumps, visit wildlife sanctuaries, and go on field trips to learning centers and environmental preservation groups.

Every Child a Scientist is a program in India launched in 2004, that aims to inculcate a spirit of inquiry on scientific principles and laws through an interactive process of learning by doing, and asking questions. In addition to ongoing development and mentorship activities, twice a year students are invited for a special "Science Fest" over two days at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), wherein interactive sessions with experts are interspersed with competitions and field trips. Students are given opportunities to explore their own curiosities while being introduced to biodiversity conservation, sustainable and equitable use of bio-resources, implications of biotechnology, basic health and hygiene, and many other environment-related issues. These Science Fests give children invaluable exposure to internet and communication technology (ICT) while also developing their independence and sense of inquiry, three traits that are increasingly valued by employers.

Just launched in 2015, the Children as Agents of Resilience and Environmental Sustainability program works to decrease the risks and vulnerabilities posed by disasters by engaging school-aged children and their teachers in identifying community environmental threats, disaster risks, and vulnerabilities. In addition to an online tool that adopts existing materials and child-centered approaches to teach children about the environment and safety, the program leads “Discovery-Learning Trips”, where they learn basic survival skills, identify and map hazards, discuss environmental issues and their impacts, as well as learn and identify safe routes for travel and evacuation, including those appropriate for children with disabilities. During these trips, they map the coordinates of various places, recording and documenting the information in picture and narrative form. Ultimately, the interactive approach enables students in the most at-risk schools to develop and add additional layers in the Electronic Regional Risk Atlas (ERRA) map, showing environmental hot spots, hazards, and vulnerabilities the children discovered during the learning excursions. The self-guided hyperlinks on the map will help students enter the online resource library and learn more about environmental protection and the natural hazards their communities are exposed to, resulting in resilient and ecological culture and behavior change. Not only are these students getting out of the classroom to develop critical new capacities, but their efforts are resulting in concrete benefits for their broader communities.

The Young Leaders Program in Kenya, implemented by the Global Education Fund Kenya Trust, targets youth of age groups of 14-17 and 18-24 from the slums in Embakasi, an underserved and densely populated area in Nairobi. The Young Leaders Program supports students through their four years of secondary schooling with a holistic approach to education that includes scholarships, leadership skills, mentoring, experiential learning, and family/community involvement. Of note here is their leadership development camps, which last one week and are conducted three times each year. The camp is conducted as a residential experience in partnership with Ashoka’s Young Changemakers program. The camp is offered for free to GEF scholars and generates income by opening its program up to other youth in the region and charging a fee. At the camps, students apply leadership training in real world situations. In past sessions, students have examined issues ranging from food security to job markets. The topics are based on student input, and a model of facilitated discussion, field trips, and follow-up problem solving activities enable students to explore real issues through a pragmatic lens and to develop 21st century skills relevant to job markets. These opportunities are made sustainable for the underserved youth through a cross-subsidization model, and the fact that camps are facilitated mainly by volunteers, in partnership with African Nazarene University.

These innovators, and others profiled throughout CEI’s Program Database, are proving that experiential learning need not be a luxury reserved for the world’s higher income students. There are basic necessities that are of critical importance to giving the world’s young and future generations a fair and equal education. But efforts to include the more than 124 million children and adolescents currently outside of school, or the millions more that are in classrooms but aren’t learning, can also include more creative methods with documented benefits.

My first night at sleep-away camp I remember I cried and cried from homesickness, but when I woke up the next day the world was a different place, and I was a different, more independent child. It’s thrilling that more and more children in low and middle-income settings are increasingly able to experience similar transformations.

Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.

Photo Credits: KnowledgeBeat; M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF)

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