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Breaking Down Barriers

Breaking Down Barriers


Dr Julian O'Loughlin

Oyster Diving have been working with Wellington College, one of the UK's top independent schools for over 7 years and have developed an extensive scuba program that has huge benefits for the students. Dr Julian O'Loughlin, Educational Visits Coordinator and Master in charge of scuba diving at Wellington College, explains how education can reach new depths.

Schools are full of division. Whether it be division based by year group, by house, by ability or by gender there are many that offer a 'preparation for life', but then provide few opportunities where genuine diversity is present. In working with students over the past seven years with Mark at Oyster Diving, we have seen hundreds of students learn to dive, and enjoy this sport, in some challenging, but crucial diverse groups. It is quite staggering how existing hierarchies, based on whichever criteria you choose, completely disappear once they descend under the surface and they learn to buddy one another without any care as to their age, previous familiarity or most crucially in the world of sport, their gender. Diving offers students the chance to experience a world unlike any other, and from the age of eight, they can get the feeling of complete weightlessness and to delve into a world that covers 70% of the planet yet one that most will never witness.

Once the divers are ready to move from the swimming pool into open water, they learn a whole new set of skills, both technical but also overlapping with so many different aspects of the conventional curriculum. Whether it is physics and the concepts of pressure, buoyancy and temperature or geography with the understanding of ecosystems, ocean currents and the environmental damage there are overlaps in many different spheres. The first time we have dived over a coral reef and the students have picked up plastic bottles and carrier bags drives home like nothing else the effect we are having on the world's oceans. Swimming past a reef teeming with life only to find ten metres further on that it is dead and bleached, simply staggers all of us. The evenings are frequently filled with discussions as to why such small temperature rises can have such a big effect on these delicate environments. The leadership roles that diving offers are also hugely beneficial.

The transition of the PADI training program moves from looking after yourself to looking after your buddy, to then looking out for everyone in the group and finally to leading a dive and eventually training new divers. At every step of the way the criteria are meritocratic and certainly not based on how old you are. As all the divers see one another in the water, those that are the best shine out as beacons of good technique and older students and staff have no problem being guided by a thirteen-year- old experienced diver. Schools offering diving is often much simpler than might initially be the case. Certainly working with a first class provider is a must, but they will provide all the equipment you need, transport it to your training location and deal with it afterwards too!

Access to a pool is not always easy, but the dive companies often have access to pools that we might not even know exist and will have existing relationships with their owners. The real pleasure in taking students into this world is when we get out into the oceans for real and again planning a trip can be made much easier by working with a company that has led school trips in the past. Some destinations are expensive, but there is also fantastic diving to be had in the UK, with shipwrecks being a real notable feature of the UK waters. And for those who might wonder whether there is a lack of physical exertion in diving, it is true that the dive itself should be calm and relaxed, but the number of students fast asleep on the minibus back after a day of diving suggests that there is a little more going on than just floating.

Oyster Diving are one of the largest PADI centres in the UK and work with a number of other schools and colleges in the UK including Headington, Banbury & Bicester, Rye St. Anthony, Bedes and Hampton Court. They have introduced the fantastic underwater world to hundreds of people that may never have had the benefit of doing so.



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