THE pound;6 million lottery boost for young people's adventure activities announced last week could help to restore Scotland as the world leader in outdoor education.
Pete Higgins, an Edinburgh University senior lecturer and member of the umbrella group Outdoor Learning Scotland, is urging Holyrood ministers to use the New Opportunities Fund cash over the next three years to recreate the structures Scotland had more than 20 years ago.
More young people then sampled the outdoor experience than anywhere else because trained staff were linked to schools. In the 1970s in Lothian Region, all 45 secondaries had at least one outdoor education teacher. Today there are only seven.
Dr Higgins points out there is no requirement for children to experience a single day of outdoor education, and many centres have closed. He is seeking a pupil entitlement to outdoor experiences throughout compulsory education, a move that has some sympathy in ministerial ranks where the view of the all round educated person is strengthening.
South of the border, the activities scheme is targeted at school-leavers who may lack self-esteem and basic skills, and who are at risk of unemployment. A one-week summer programme at a residential centre that stretches to sailing, abseiling and expeditions may help them gear up for further education and training. It would be backed by "high quality advice and guidance", ministers suggest.
The outdoor adventure industry welcomes the scheme, not least because it will help to fill places during quiet months.
But Dr Higgins believes Scotland should embed a wider educatioal and more long-lasting programme within schools and communities. Many young people no longer enjoy an outdoor experience because it often only goes to those who can pay, he argues.
"The idea that the money goes for summer activities would not be the most appropriate use. Research is pretty clear that longer-term activities have a sounder educational base than short, sharp activities in just one week," Dr Higgins said.
Outdoor education and environmentally sustainable education are closely allied and could be promoted widely. "I'm very concerned that the education rationale has been lost to some extent. What's happening in some centres is that they tend to employ staff with national governing body awards who may not be qualified as teachers or community educators," Dr Higgins said.
The consultation on the lottery proposal runs until January 17, but plans indicate the emphasis in Scotland will be on projects which target excluded young people and help to fight crime. Voluntary agencies and others are likely to be involved in locally-co-ordinated programmes.
One option for school-leavers, Dr Higgins suggests, would be to run an outdoor programme throughout their final year.
Drew Michie, chair of the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education, said there would be questions about quality and standards of provision if the scheme went ahead as planned. "It is a shot in the arm for providers but 16 year-olds need a supportive framework in place," he said.
If money was used sensibly, it could revitalise run-down centres, leaving better facilities available for other groups. The adventure scheme will be linked with the pound;87 million boost for sport in Scotland available through the lottery.