Education Matters – Lessons from nature for city kids

by Dr Andrew Davies

Few would argue that expatriate children in Bangkok largely lead quite privileged lives with high-quality schools, accommodation of a good standard, domestic help, multicultural friends, and a wide range of activities to choose from either at school or in the wider community. One significant drawback, however, is that our children often lack opportunities to interact with nature, to enjoy the outdoors, to learn outdoor education skills and to study the natural world.

Bangkok life has many advantages, but experiencing nature is not necessarily one of them. Another drawback is that unless parents intentionally teach their children even the very basic life skills that the vast majority of us took for granted growing up – such as cooking, cleaning our rooms, washing up and so on. Sometimes learning to be self-managing cannot be taken for granted for expat kids in Bangkok. I am sure almost every Bangkok parent is also concerned about screen time and social media use with the propensity for children to remain indoors connected to their smartphones, computers, and tablets.

Environmental Wilderness Campus (EWC)

We do not fully understand the impact here (research is ongoing), but common sense strongly suggests that a lack of balance with respect to technology will have negative impacts both physically and emotionally on our children. The good news is that there are numerous opportunities for parents to intervene and plan for ways for their children to experience nature, to learn some life skills, and disconnect from devices. Thailand has some outstanding national parks – Khao Yai and Kraeng Krachan are but two excellent examples – and programmes are available for those that would like to experience more rustic living as well as the outdoors.

There are also a number of outdoor education providers in Thailand while some international schools do run experiential trips as part of the school programmes. Recognising that our students would really benefit from meaningful exposure to nature and a break from screen time, International School Bangkok (ISB) recently opened its Environmental Wilderness Campus (EWC) located in Petchaburi province on the banks of a reservoir that is part of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s sustainability and water conservations project.


The campus has 40 rai of land, capacity for close to 50 students, and is fully equipped with a boathouse, accommodation, a canteen, a swimming pool, a sports court, and multi-purpose classrooms. From the EWC, students can enjoy activities such as kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, navigation and orienteering, and programmes in ecology, conservation and sustainability. The land surrounding the campus is expansive, and ISB has reestablished a wetland environment next to the facility and reintroduced native plant.

ISB strongly believes in education not being limited to the fours walls of a classroom. Our leadership team, through extensive research, developed an outdoor education programme which focuses on outdoor skills, social /emotional competencies, and character development as key focus areas. This unique programme offers students a chance to expand their skills and knowledge in the outdoors, taking on challenges in a safe yet challenging environment where they can test their own boundaries. Guided by dedicated professional outdoor education teachers who are certified to world industry standard, the Wild Panthers outdoor education team provides exceptional opportunities for ISB students.

The Experiential Outdoor Education programme is designed to help students to:

  1. Develop a renewed sense of responsibility, organisation and a belief that perseverance can overcome adversity.
  2. Develop a variety of strategies for solving complex real world problems unseen in a typical school day.
  3. Develop an awareness of how pressure impacts decision making and gain experience in dealing with these pressures especially in group situations.
  4. Be able to transfer the new skills and knowledge to not only student life,but more importantly to life beyond school.
  5. Develop a variety of personal and collaborative tools and the commitment to take action.

In the design and construction of the EWC, ISB took great care to ensure that the campus is sustainable in its architectural considerations. The campus also uses an environmentally friendly grey water system,waste management system and a solar warm water system.Importantly,our students also contribute to the local communities through ISB’s collaboration with outreach projects and schools.The EWC has also brought employment to this area and the opportunity for students of all nationalities to interact with each other.For parents,all students must disconnect at the EWC (no devices are allowed) and they must clean their own dishes and their rooms!There are an abundance of lessons to be learned from the outdoors and value to our children’s’ overall wellbeing by getting into nature and having experiences that can’t be had within the city limits.Disconnecting from devices and understanding the positives of this are also hugely important.

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