Archive for April, 2014

Incursions versus excursions – which adds more value to our children’s education?

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Incursions versus excursions – which adds more value to our children’s education?

There seems to be an ever increasing push in Australian schools to abandon the reliable incursion in favour of an excursion. The incursion has been a teacher’s faithful friend for so many years. Educational, relevant and cheap. So why is it being increasingly abandoned at a time of financial uncertainty when we are trying to curb costs?

Do you remember as a student, when “Stan the celery stick” came to school and told you to “Be green, not mean!”? When a local artist wearing a tie-dye flowing gown came to your school hall, set up her easel and butcher paper then drew a caricature of your principal, giving him a slightly bigger nose than required? Or when Andrew Gaze, told everyone that he was repeating his umpteenth year of a Tafe Sports Degree because he didn’t like studying, but that he really loved basketball – much to the dismay of the teachers. Shows, presentations, displays and activities from the big wide world captivated us in our own school hall. Is this to become a thing of the past? Are our children destined to miss out on the value of an incursion, so that they can go out instead?

As educators we seem to be under pressure from some parents to give their children not only an education, but also life experiences. Strangely, there is also a perception that life experiences can only happen outside the school gates.

One parent remarked to me recently that this experience came at an expense at her child’s school of $180 per student for a one night jaunt through Melbourne’s city streets. “The winter sleep-out for the homeless?” I asked, thinking perhaps that it included a large donation from each student. “No, no. Just Imax!” came the reply. McDonalds, Fed Square, a glancing visit to the museum, and of course the cornerstone of every modern child’s education; Melbourne’s Imax Theatre.

As entertaining as a $180 excursion was, what life experiences were gained that parents could not have given to their children at a lower price? Was this school adding any value to their children’s education – or were they simply taking more of an entertainers approach?

The school in question’s large budget allocation to the “three b’s” (buses, burgers and balderdash) would indicate that they must also be spending a lot on incursions with visiting artists, performers, community workers and scientists – right? Wrong! The entire incursion budget was cut two years previously – completely. At the parents request. All in favour of a more rounded education for their children. Perhaps rounded in terms of their stomachs, after the fast food dinner and breakfast.

There is a place for excursions, certainly. How else can our children experience our architecture but to go and see it, or nature but to walk through it? Incursions that are designed for 50 to 250 students can never match the big budget and flashy surroundings of programs in large theatres that seat over 1000 or venues that have a ticket box that churn through hundreds of people every hour. But it all has to come with a balance. A theatrical production at the Arts Centre is marvellous to watch and valuable if the audience learn worthwhile lessons, or if it inspires students to create themselves. Far too often it leaves them dazzled, but for the greater part confused as to how they could do they recreate something similar themselves. When this happens it ends up alienating students from a part of our culture, not attracting them to it. After all, how many students have regular access to a multi-million dollar theatre venue with expensive lighting effects? They’ve got a multi-purpose room with a blinking fluoro that has been doing that since 1997.

So how do the two “cursions” stack up against each other financially? What are the costs for each? It varies. Incursions are most commonly charged on a “per student” basis of between $4 – $12 per student, depending on the program or presentation. These prices are occasionally matched by their off campus excursion counterparts, but then travel costs must be added. If a bus is hired, then you’re going to a whole new ballpark. Then add lunch money and most importantly, time. The one hour activity just cost the student four hours of class time, possibly sports practice at lunch time.

Compare this to our old friend the incursion and we find it’s starting to look a whole lot better again.

When you consider that the incursion usually runs for as long as the off campus activity, nearly always includes personalised question time, and only takes up one session of the three session day. There are still two thirds of the day to enjoy the follow up material provided for the teachers and students, sucking the intellectual marrow out of the bones that the presenter or artists have delivered right to the students’ front door.

So is one better than the other? No. There is no clear winner. An incursion brings the world to our students. An excursion takes them to the world. Both have their place when they add value to our student’s education. Perhaps the popularity of incursions will increase as parents and staff strive to save some pennies. Moving forward, it is through a balance of incursion and excursions that schools will provide a well rounded experience to their students. Abandoning either area completely just short changes them.

Tony Appleby (B. Ed) studied at Melbourne High School and Rusden Campus of Deakin University, and has been operating Tony Bones Entertainment since 1998. After leaving university he taught in a range of environments including special education, private performing arts schools and many primary & secondary schools.