Freedom to learn: Outside the classroom

Kwok Chan LAI

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Fieldwork in its various forms is a widely advocated approach to the study of a number of school subjects in both the primary and lower secondary levels. It is generally believed that fieldwork helps students to have a deeper understanding of subject matter through direct and first-hand experience of phenomena and processes in their natural settings. Moreover, in some schools, outdoor education programmes are also organized with the objective of fostering the personal development of the students. However, previous research (Lai, 1996) revealed that most lower secondary geography students did not have any field study experience. It is likely that similar experiences provided by other subjects are minimal. Fieldwork has been seen as an expensive form of activity in terms of time, discipline and safety risks, which has inhibited many schools from organizing outdoor educational experiences for their students. Most of these experiences are limited to students choosing a limited number of school subjects in their post-compulsory years. A qualitative case study of the experiences of Secondary Four students in a school in Hong Kong was conducted before, during and after a geography field trip. The purpose is to understand what the students actually experience in the fieldwork programme and their interactions with their prior experience in the lower forms. The results reveal that the students' intent before the trip and their learning experiences after the trip were much richer than what their teachers had intended. Despite some students' negative experiences of previous field trips, there was a universally strong desire to be outside the boredom and constraints of the classroom. Field trips were cherished for their rarity and freedom and the field sites were sought for their novelty. Both teachers and students reported improved teacher-student relations and positive behavioural changes among the students. The field trip has also been a valuable educational experience for the teachers themselves. One of the main frustrations of the students was the crowdedness of the field sites, which was caused by the large student-teacher ratio and also the constraints of the field setting. Among the responses of the students, there was a desire to be free from the presence of the teachers and to have greater control over their learning. Research findings also indicated that upon return to the school, there was a quick return to the status quo. The inspirations of freedom of learning from the field trip have not been transferred to the classroom setting. The paper expresses concern on the deprivation of students in Hong Kong from the benefits of significant and meaningful learning in the outdoor environment in their years of compulsory education. Moreover, it cautions against treating fieldwork as an isolated learning event and the dissociation of fieldwork from classroom learning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1997


Lai, K. C. (1997, November). Freedom to learn: Outside the classroom. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 14th Annual Conference: Compulsory Education and Beyond, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.


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