Martin Davidson: Work in progress - how to develop character

Adventure in the wild gives young people an excellent opportunity for development. Picture: Contributed
Adventure in the wild gives young people an excellent opportunity for development. Picture: Contributed
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WE can learn about ourselves and our relationship with others by immersing ourselves in the wilderness, writes Martin Davidson

Government, local authorities and schools to place concentrated emphasis on character development for the benefit of young people, our economy and society.

Development of character has been at the centre of the trust’s core purpose for decades.

This is realised through residential programmes which use wilderness environments to embed experiential learning. At the heart of the pedagogy is the concept that we can learn about ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with the natural environment through immersing ourselves in wilderness areas and physically and emotionally challenging ourselves.

In Scotland, whilst we might not refer to the term “character development” very often, it sits as one of the central pillars of our curriculum, the Curriculum for Excellence, where the stated purpose is “encapsulated in the four capacities - to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor.”

In particular when you look at the attributes and capabilities that define the four capacities understanding self, the way we can effectively relate to others and our awareness for and care of the natural environment are all frequently mentioned. Further, The Trust’s research into what business and industry need of our young people we find 61 per cent of the organisations report that school leavers lack the self-management skills/resilience they need to succeed in the workplace; 52 per cent believed that they do not have the required communication skills; and 33 per cent reported that they do not have the appropriate attitude towards work.

In today’s world of exponential change in jobs and employment it is becoming increasingly important that young people have the right skills and attributes rather than just specific knowledge and qualifications. Society is now more diverse culturally and socially than ever before. It is therefore essential that young people have the opportunity to explore and develop their values and have the opportunity to develop tolerance of others of differing value sets. The work of the trust and other like-minded organisations is perhaps even more relevant today than it was all those years ago when our co-founder Kurt Hahn developed the first Outward Bound® centres at Aberdovey in Wales and Moray in Scotland. From a policy and philosophical point it would seem that in Scotland our education and preparation of young people is spot on. Indeed a recognised ‘approach’ to delivering Curriculum for Excellence is through Outdoor Learning.

There has been much progress in the last ten years with getting learning happening outside, as well as inside the perhaps more traditional classroom setting. Education Scotland has been providing some fantastic leadership and has had a development officer for outdoor learning to provide support to local authorities and schools. I believe we have seen a much greater increase in learning outdoors in school grounds and within local outdoor areas.

Whilst this does provide fantastic places to learn, it’s worth noting this does not provide all of the opportunities that can be gained from getting young people into challenging wilderness areas. In this arena we have seen less growth in participation.

In some senses I would perhaps argue that we have seen a reducing focus on getting young people to experience adventure in the unrivalled wilderness areas of Scotland, particularly with the purpose of developing character. This surely has to be to the detriment of our young people and society as a whole?

The Outward Bound Trust has recently seen an increase in demand for our work from schools and local authorities. We are delighted to be establishing new strategic partnerships with North Ayrshire and Dundee City Council’s with the potential for more partnerships to develop in the coming months. Thanks to specific funding to support growth from The Peter Cundill Foundation, the trust is looking to work on an annual basis with an additional 1,000 young people in Scotland. This means that around 5,500 young people a year will have the opportunity to gain from the benefits of an Outward Bound course.

I would commend all those in government, Education Scotland, local authorities and schools with responsibility of developing of education in Scotland in the next ten years to place the emphasis of the development of character through adventure and learning in the wild much more to the forefront. With the correct prioritisation of resources, finance and energy together we can equip a generation with skills and attributes they will require to fulfil their potential and ensure that Scotland’s economy and society thrives.

• Please contact for more information about the trust and its work in Scotland