Nature of public provision outdoor education in the Republic of Ireland: an ethno-case study of four outdoor education and training centres
Outdoor education has been growing as a sector in Ireland since its inception in the 1960s. There has, however, been a lack of empirical research into the development of outdoor education practice in Ireland. In the absence of a coherent theory of practice, and critically reflective practitioners, outdoor education in Ireland is at the mercy of tacit ideological forces that shape its values and purpose in problematic ways. This ethno-case study aimed to examine Irish outdoor education’s espoused theory and actual practice. Contemporary outdoor education practice and how this practice has been influenced by historical, political, and societal developments in Ireland was the main focus of this study. Four publicly funded Outdoor Education and Training Centres (OETCs) were involved in this study and data were gathered during 2016 and 2017. Data were generated, to gain insight into the daily practice in the OETCs, through participant observation and informal conversation. The public view portrayed of public provision outdoor education (websites analysis), and the internal policy of how to deliver outdoor education (centre documentation analysis) were also useful in generating data. Analysis of the dataset was in line with thematic analysis, and this was interpreted through the lens of McDonaldization (Ritzer, 2019). The validity of my analysis and interpretation was shown through a detailed summary of methods, member checks, researcher reflexivity, and internal reliability checks. The analysis and interpretation of data is presented through creative non-fiction stories. This approach, whilst uncommon in outdoor education research, allowed me to maintain a high level of anonymity, and protect the identities of the research participants coming from such a small, close-knit community. The four key findings of this research inquiry, described in these creative non-fiction stories, show the McDonaldization of public outdoor education practice in Ireland, as well as a lack of theoretical underpinning in practice, with logistics informing programmes more than educational objectives, and an ideological dissonance between espoused values and actual practice. Irish public outdoor education, with its focus on adventure sports training, has become somewhat haphazard in its vision for practice. This is not helped by the lack of interest shown from local and national government in embedding outdoor education into the curriculum. This thesis argues that a rebranding of the OETCs as adventure training centres, or a shifting of focus to concentrate on health and wellbeing as opposed to education are viable options for future practice. Should public outdoor education aspire to be integrated into the mainstream curriculum, a refocus of practice, along with a major upskilling of practitioners, is needed.
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