Outdoor Education and Training Services

Image of person who wrote the blog.
Marty McCann, Donegal ETB Director Gartan OETC.

Did you know that we operate an outdoor education and training centre (OETC) on an 87-acre estate at Gartan? Originally bought in 1969 for £10,595, it only received official sanction to operate as an outdoor education centre in 1988. But what exactly is outdoor education? In this blog, Gartan Director Marty McCann tells us more about it.

Gartan is one of twelve Outdoor Education and Training Services in Ireland. There are eleven Outdoor Education and Training Centres, as well as the City of Dublin Outdoor Education Support Service, which is a peripatetic provision.

What Outdoor Education (OE) is has been debated since the inception of the term itself. Fundamentally, it is an umbrella term aiming to describe the practice that takes place within OETCs, and other learning or educational processes that occur outside, it’s that broad! OE is very much open to interpretation, some would suggest the perception, or definition of it, lies with the practitioner or learner having the experience. Familiar terms such as Environmental Education, Forest Schools, Social Care, Adventure Tourism, Outdoor Therapy, Wellness and more can all be considered OE. However, within the context of the OETCs the term is most commonly associated with Adventure Sports (AS).

Two people in a sailboat on a lake.
Outdoor activity instructor traineeship students.

The training aspect is also broad, pertaining to training for personal skills and coaching qualifications through the respective National Governing Bodies (NGB) for each sport such as Canoeing Ireland, Mountaineering Ireland and the Irish Sailing Association. Previous NGB schemes tended to lean towards ‘Hard Skills’ with a focus on skills acquisition and the development of personal ability in increasingly difficult environments. This is obviously still a necessity as the OE tutor must possess the adequate skill level and situational awareness to ensure safety, as well as teach in an ever-changing environment. However, during the last decade it is evident that NGBs and practitioners have embedded pedagogical methodology into their instructor qualification schemes and work. This has come about through the evolution of NGB schemes, the contribution made to the OE sector by third level institutions, but also the self-directed continuous professional development undertaken by the workforce and the discussion and conversation that occurs in our Centres daily.

With that said, there are inherent learning opportunities to be gained through participation in training and outdoor education. These were often (and still are) referred to as ‘Soft Skills’ but are now more commonly described as transversal skills. This is an area in which OE can play a significant role. Anyone who has immersed themselves in any sport can testify to inter and intrapersonal learnings that occur through this process. OE takes learning into ever changing environments making the learning an interplay of personal skills development, the associated transversal skills development, and the environment. This makes OE an effective learning platform as it can bring to life the applied and experiential nature of participation.

Group of people looking at a map in a wood.

Gartan OETC provides OE for primary schools, post-primary schools, third level institutions, Youthreach, statutory and voluntary youth service initiatives from North and South of the country. These programmes use land and water-based activities as the medium of engaging students. A single day programme would typically include kayaking or canoeing and climbing and archery or orienteering. A residential programme affords students the opportunity to experience other activities such as stand up paddleboarding, sailing, hillwalking or coasteering. Transversal Skills development is threaded through each programme as students experience Adventure Sports with their peers and teachers. This is also true of the shared experiences of  residential trips, such as washing dishes, setting tables, getting equipment ready and preparing for activities all play a role in developing the whole person. In addition, Gartan OETC also supports Donegal ETB’s Further Education and Training (FET) Services, as well as delivering a 47 week instructor training programme and a 25 week instructor upskilling programme.

You can find out more about Gartan Outdoor Education and Training centre here and here.