#Letstalkeducation

"Our goal is for Forest School to be obsolete," says the founder of Singapore very first Forest School

20th Dec 2020
#Letstalkeducation

"Our goal is for Forest School to be obsolete," says the founder of Singapore very first Forest School

20th Dec 2020
I would never have thought that Darren Quek, the founder of very first Forest School in Singapore would say such a statement. Which business owner in his/her right mind would want his/her business to become obsolete? I will let you find out why he said that from our conversation below. There are some other perspectives that he shared that I felt was refreshing. Read on!
A typical scene at Forest School sessions; kids playing freely within the forest
Why is FS critical now?
Tesh
Firstly, thank you for your time. I observed a couple of your forest school sessions and it seems to me that whatever the kids are doing at Forest School is what we used to do as children i.e unstructured playing in nature. Am I right to say that Forest School is bringing back something that we naturally used to do in the past? And why is this happening?
Darren
I think what went on in the world in the past few hundred years was industrialisation.

I still remember I was in UK (Getting level 3 Forest school leader certification). So, at night I was laying in my bed, I was just thinking, just reflecting about forest school and what it means. Why does the world need it right now compared to last time? I realized, it was because in the past few hundred years with industrialization, a lot of people have a need to control. And when you want to control, you build yourself structures to control things. And when you talk about learning, the idea of education itself is a structure, learning is not.

So, there's a lot of structure, layer and layer of structures that are built around the original core of learning. At some point, this amount of energy, of learning and motivation, and passion will start to create pressure that causes the crack in the structure, which is where forest school starts to leak out of that little crack as the form of learning that is part of the universe. So, the structure that we put around to, you know, control learning, it's not working after a certain point because human beings have this just innate instinct to learn naturally.
"The idea of education itself is a structure, learning is not" - Darren

Children having closer interaction with the fauna and flora during Forest School Sessions
Tesh
This structure seems, to me, to be less prominent in villages or underdeveloped region as compared to urban regions. Then, am I right to say that Forest school is more applicable to urban settings than rural ones?
Darren
Correct. So very interestingly, forest school is very much more needed for people living in urban civilizations than those living in the village, or the farms. The kids, usually there do not need this. They are already having that lifestyle.

You think about it. Now people (in urban settings) are paying people to do nothing. Right? To give them an opportunity to sit somewhere and do nothing, to switch off their phone to do nothing, because now we need to pay to do nothing. Last time we do nothing and just do nothing.

So that was a shift, I think, and hopefully, I mean we are making a living out of it right now. At least. But our dream will be that one day we won't be needing to make a living out of this, which means everybody has it.

In a sense, at Forest school, our target or our goal is to be obsolete. If we are needed in society, means we are not successful in changing the mindset, and making people live their lives more in balance, more in sync with nature. And that's why we are needed. But when nobody needs us means win already.

What's your take on FS' expansion?
Tesh
How must you be feeling having just celebrated 4 years of Forest School this year (2020) and knowing that there are now 12 other Forest Schools (and counting) in Singapore trying to achieve your same goal?
Darren
I think I can die already…(laughter)…I think. I feel like I've succeeded in starting and actually making people want to continue this movement. So, in a sense, at the end of the day my vision is always, you can start something and people want to continue with it. You can die or the forest school Singapore can cease to exist, but that movement spirit continues on forever and cannot be destroyed because people are picking it up. So, I feel that that is where we are coming from, not to possess, not to hold possession of Forest School Singapore or possession of our work, but to let it grow until it becomes rampant. Like, like a virus everywhere. And that is when I think true impacts actually happen.
What can my child gain from attending Forest School?
Tesh
You sound very convinced about the benefits of Forest School. Any stories you have that shows how important it for everybody to embody the principles of Forest School?
Darren
I would love to be able to share some of the more spiritual ones, but I guess I will shift towards the more relatable one. So, we have this story, which is on our website. It's called a case of the missing cracker. The very famous story where we went to MOE for conference or any other conference, usually we like to share this case because it was the example of how our kids, respond so organically and authentically to a situation.

And I thought that(what happened in the picture below) really sums up what we hope to be able to represent in forest school. You know a lot of kids when they were given this space to be themselves, to work out their things on their own, to learn from each other and learn from their context. So, that is one of the most impressionable moment in our Forest school. We always call this like this one is the epiphany of forest school ; them figuring out the whole case by themselves without a single adult assistance or interference at all throughout the whole investigation

Ananya putting her hands on Kaeden's shoulder here, is what Darren describe as the example of children taking charge of events in their life.
Tesh
Let me dig a bit deeper. Earlier we talked about how school needs a structure and needs to know what's the outcome. So what would you say was the outcome of the learning for the student in the missing cracker story?
Darren
I mean if you were to put in the context of what the mainstream wants to see as the case of a missing cracker and its outcome. I will say that the kids took ownership of an event in their life. And they went about to resolve it. You know, whether the resolution is perfect or not, I think we are not a good judge of it. But to take ownership and then resolve it, I think it's such a rare thing for many kids in our current education to be able to do. A lot of time they will not take the responsibility because they're taught not to. They are taught, you know, just study, just do your part, but they're not taught to take responsibility for an event. So, I think that the biggest learning was from that ownership.
Tesh
Am I right to say that if I'm a parent sending my kids to forest school, one of my, let's say, take away, or the outcome that I can see for my kids is that I will see my kid being more comfortable in taking responsibility for his or her actions? Is this what you are saying?
Darren
Yes. And I think we will go further and say that he or she will take responsibility for the community. The group of people in his or her own environment, not just their own individual responsibility, which I think is very important in our current society. And organically, not being given instructions and take responsibility.
Join the conversation
This is part 1 of a 3-part series conversation with Darren. Part 2 will look at which profile Forest School is not suitable for while part 3 will touch on why Darren chose to start FS.

Enjoy our #letsTalkEducation series? Make sure to check out the rest below or let us know your thoughts/comments in the section below.
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