What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?

This old black and white photo appears from time to time in cyberspace, and sums up my views on what my education should look like. The interesting idea of ​​an outdoor school was very popular in the 20th century in Holland, which is where the photo was taken. Weather permitting, the idea of ​​an outdoor classroom should be pretty obvious, but unfortunately most traditional schools today don’t place much emphasis on the benefits of learning from an outdoor classroom.

History of open schools and their merits

What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?
Forest school in Germany, 1904. Image credit: Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin/Wiki

In 1904, the outdoor school movement first started in Berlin, Germany, and the school authorities came up with an innovative idea of ​​the “Forest School” which was a huge success. To improve the health and intelligence of German children with many diseases and tuberculosis, many sick and tuberculous German children were sent daily to an outdoor school with a curriculum of relaxation, play and study. They were also given three large meals a day in an effort to boost their health and intelligence. Three months later, these children were completely cured and returned to normal school. News of this highly successful experiment quickly expanded throughout Europe and other countries, and the “fresh air” or “outdoor” school model was born.

What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?
Outdoor school. Suresnes, France. Image credit: Thomas BRENAC/Wiki

In 1905, when tuberculosis swept across the United States, and Americans lived in mortal fear of tuberculosis, this alarmed the authorities. S. Adolphus Knopf noted that American classroom windows open only halfway and should soon be replaced by French windows in order to “…enable twice as polluted air to go out and clean air to go in.” The National Tuberculosis League, which later evolved into the American Lung Association, was founded by S. Adolphus Knopf, a German-born tuberculosis specialist. By 1915, Knopf had argued that “outdoor schools and as much outdoor education as possible should be the norm in kindergartens, schools, and universities.”

Chronology of movement and benefit of fresh air schools

What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?
Open-air school, Netherlands, 1918. Image credit: Nationaal Archief/Flickr

Earth and sky, forests and fields, lakes and rivers, mountain and sea, are excellent teachers, and teach us more than we can learn from books.” — John Lubbock

In the early 20th century, field schools spread across northern Europe, originally intended to prevent and control the spread of tuberculosis in the pre-World War II era. Schools are built on the idea that exposure to the outdoors, excellent ventilation and fresh air are essential. The concept quickly gained momentum and a School Outdoor Movement for Healthy Kids was created, encouraging all students to spend as much time outside as possible.

What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?
Shantiniketan open-air school. Image courtesy: West Bengal tourism

In 1901 Rabindranath Tagore’s experimental school in Shantiniketan called “Brahmacharya Ashram” was also based on the philosophy of learning in a natural environment. This exceptional institution has fostered some of the most creative minds in the nation and helped expand education beyond the four walls of the classroom.

In Britain, there were 96 open-air day schools in operation by 1937. America was ready to adopt them as well and opened the first open-air school in Providence, Rhode Island, as early as 1908. They were so convinced of their effectiveness in teaching that the movement became organized In 1922 when the first international conference was held in Paris at the initiative of the Association for Open Education.

The purpose of an open school is to provide its children with as much sunlight as possible. Classes were held in open spaces and nearby woods because it was believed that doing so would help city children develop their independence and self-esteem. Outdoor teaching and pedagogy have many other advantages. For example, it generates a more active imagination, improves attitudes towards learning and mental well-being, and increases focus on tasks. The idea behind the program is to “enable a gentle assembly, somewhat like a classroom structure, devoid of fear, and focused on play, activities, and interactive dialogue.”

Until the 1970s, the distinctive educational approach was widely used. After World War II, open schools became less important as a result of the development of antibiotics and the improvement of local social conditions, and were eventually phased out.

Challenges in holding sessions in external classrooms

What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?
An open-air school in San Jose, California(1906). Image credit: San Jose Library

Many experts believe that holding classes outdoors for students as a precaution against infectious disease is easier on paper than in practice because they face a shortage of open spaces in the open air.

Outdoor classrooms are undoubtedly an innovative concept, but there are practical problems with their implementation. It is difficult to find open spaces especially in urban areas, and even if you do find them, it is difficult to attract students in place of school buildings. Parents warn against sending their children to playgrounds where their safety may be compromised, as it is impossible to keep track of every child.

Safety regulations, natural hazards like bees, uneven ground, and weather concerns like rain, snow, hot climate, etc. are some of the major hurdles in conducting classes outside the four walls.

For example, it is not practical for children to spend the entire day outside in the sun. In open spaces, council functioning is also a major issue, and teachers struggle to teach subjects such as mathematics when the lecture method is ineffective. Due to the lack of available space and other related issues, we still have a way to go before we can replicate this concept.

A balance is needed between traditional schools and outdoor classrooms

What were the open schools? Can it be resubmitted?
Kids learning outdoors.

Despite the many challenges associated with open schools, we cannot ignore this innovative concept because one of the most important events in a child’s life should be teaching them about the natural world. Nature fosters curiosity and encourages the development of explorers rather than bots. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger.

The best of both worlds can undoubtedly be found in those hybrid folding-wall classrooms. While receiving the benefits of fresh air, you are still protected from the rain and harsh sunlight. And if it’s too cold in the winter, you can choose to close the walls and have a normal classroom.

Based on the Dutch school concept, many governments decided to develop eco-friendly schools in which structural changes and other changes were implemented to teach environmental safety by example. Going forward, in these schools, initiatives such as solar energy, composting, water harvesting, and garbage recycling will be established.

Outdoor classrooms are one of many improved health and safety protocols that educational institutions have implemented to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. This includes improved Wi-Fi to facilitate the use of outdoor study and gathering spaces.

Educational institutions can also choose outdoor classes for one or two days on a weekly basis based on the weather or for two to three hours a day for some specific subjects. An open school or “green school” means changing the way of life of these young people, who are going to build the next generation, rather than just teaching the value of the environment and hosting spin-offs.


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