Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Foster a concern for the wise and equitable management of the earth's resources

📥  Comment

In 1979, Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools [HMI] published a supplementary working paper on environmental education as part of their reporting on Curriculum 11 – 16 in England.  The paper was written after Tbilisi, and it references both this and other Unesco and Council of Europe publications (1976 to 1978), as well as influential UK documents from the Schools Council, NAEE, the government, and authors such as Carson, Watts, and Martin & Wheeler.  The document begins by stating that environmental education is to be regarded …

as a function of the whole curriculum, formal and informal … furthered through established subjects and by courses in environmental science and environmental studies which in varying degree are interdisciplinary.  There is a common purpose in these to foster an understanding of the processes and complex relationships which effect environmental patterns, together with a sensitivity to environmental quality and a concern for the wise and equitable management of the earth's resources.

So, there's both a liberal education approach (foster understanding) and a more value-orientation:

foster a ... concern for the wise and equitable management of the earth's resources

This seems remarkably similar to the focus and phraseology of the 2011 expert group report to DfE that an aim of the curriculum ought to be to …

promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally.

Perhaps they had a copy to hand – or is this just an idea coming round again?


4th Global Universities Network for Innovation report

📥  Comment, New Publications

I have been reading Lester Brown's Introduction [ The World on the Edge ] to the 4th GUNI [ Global Universities Network for Innovation ] report: Higher Education in the World 4, Higher Education's Commitment to Sustainability: from Understanding to Action'.  This is an inspiring (or gloomy, according to taste) tour d'horizon, and there and facts and figures aplenty if you want to scare the horses.

The article ends like this:

One of the questions I hear most frequently is: What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs.  These are essential, but they are not nearly enough.  Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing.  Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

Inform yourself.  Read about the issues.  Share this information with friends.  Pick an issue that’s meaningful to you, such as tax restructuring to create an honest market, phasing out coal-fired power plants, or developing a world-class recycling system in your community.  Or join a group that is working to provide family planning services to the 215 million women who want to plan their families but lack the means to do so.  You might want to organize a small group of like-minded individuals to work on an issue that is of mutual concern.  You can begin by talking with others to help select an issue to work on.

Once your group is informed and has a clearly defined goal, ask to meet with your elected representatives on the city council or the state or national legislature.  Write or email your elected representatives about the need to restructure taxes and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.  Remind them that leaving environmental costs off the books may offer a sense of prosperity in the short run, but it leads to collapse in the long run.  ...

The choice is ours – yours and mine.  We can stay with business as usual and preside over an economy that continues to destroy its natural support systems until it destroys itself, or we can be the generation that changes direction, moving the world onto a path of sustained progress.  The choice will be made by our generation, but it will affect life on Earth for all generations to come.

I said it was gloomy.  But it is well written and contains much by way of information and ideas; and not a few sound bites.  I was particularly struck by this quote from Øystein Dahle, former Vice President of Exxon for Norway and the North Sea:

Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth.  Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.

For ‘capitalism’, here, read civilisation, as it's likely to unravel before the market does.  Its doubly gloomy outside today: one of those drab, windless winter days where renewables are neither seen nor heard and we're grateful for all that coal at the power stations.


Ellen MacArthur in Davos

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The new publication from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (with McKinsey) got an airing in Davos at the WEF ahead of its launch today, and was reported on the BBC.

It's a credit to the interviewer that he got to the heart of the challenge the Foundation has set itself through its espousal of a circular economy – a radical shift in philosophy for resource-dependent capitalism.   What a pity, then that BBC editors had to label the clip in terms of a 'sustainable economy' – whatever that means – especially when the Foundation has been at pains to distance itself from such business-as-usual concepts.


Welcome Judy Braus

📥  News and Updates

Let me add my welcome to Judy Braus as the new Executive Director of the North American Association of Environmental Education [ NAAEE ].  Judy took up her post in December after senior roles at Audubon and WWF (the wildlife, not the wrestling outfit).  I've known Judy since the late 1990s when John Fien and I had the privilege of being part of a team she led to evaluate WWF International's education work across the globe.  Such a stimulating time – in no small part due to Judy's skills and insights.

I hope NAAEE knows how lucky it is to have her.


World day of environmental education – all over again

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Rather belatedly, I discover that Thursday – 26th January – was the World Day of Environmental Education.  I'm grateful to Learn from Nature, for pointing this out.  It seems that this has its origin in 1972 with the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm, if Blue Channel 24 is to be believed.

I'm asking myself how I can have gone on missing this, 35+ years into my personal EE journey.  No matter, as I'd not have been celebrating had I known about it.  All these Days of seem pretty useless to me when every day should be for environmental learning – shouldn't it?


You should continue to support institutions in their efforts to improve their sustainability

📥  Comment, New Publications

The title of this posting comes from the very recent grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (2012 / 13).  It comes from para 22, which says:

The HE sector has made good progress in recent years on environmental issues.  You should continue to support institutions in their efforts to improve their sustainability.

That's it.   It's all you get.  I know it's a mistake to do too much textual criticism of government papers, but "improve their sustainability"!  What sort of understanding of what HE has been doing these last few years does that imply?  An imperfect one at least.

Meanwhile, Tim Melville-Ross, Chair of HEFCE's Board, has said said:

"In challenging financial times, we will focus our efforts on supporting activity which is in the student and wider public interest: providing resource, in line with the priorities set out in the letter, where it is most needed.  We welcome the Secretary of State's recognition of the crucial part that universities and colleges are playing to support economic recovery."

So that's two of them playing down sustainability.   Inevitable, of course, in the unjoined-up way we think about things.

Whatever happened to the green economy and all those sunny uplands ...


How does ESDGC make a difference? Does ESDGC ...

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

This week's Economist carried a sad tale of a decade of scholastic stagnation in Wales following the teacher unions' (entirely selfless) success in persuading a credulous government that it was in young people's interests that national league tables of schools be abandoned.  In a fine phrase, David Reynolds has described this, and the Welsh reluctance to take school reform seriously,  as "producerism's last hurrah".  If only.  Anyway, with the evidence of failure now in c/o the OECD, new league tables of a sort are emerging from the Welsh government, though only for secondary schools.

But what's the evidence of this failure?  Well, GCSE scores are lower than those in England (but not by much: 3 percentage points).  However, students in Wales achieved lower PISA scores in 2009 than they did in 2006, whilst faring much worse than students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, and the number of students going to university has fallen despite an increase in the size of the cohort.  Inevitably, a lot of this will be explained away by vested interests by recourse to contextual factors.  However, the PISA report on Wales (available from the NFER) contains a comparison of the UK as a whole [ section 8] which shows Wales at the wrong end of every measure.  In relation to reading, the report says:

Wales had only a slightly higher number of low-attaining pupils compared to the other parts of the UK, but had fewer high-attaining pupils

The difference in the OECD's PISA scores are a huge challenge, especially as these include a measure of  how well 15 year olds can integrate and interpret, and reflect and evaluate – which brings me to ESDGC.  Aren't these competences core elements of what ESDGC is trying to do as it sets what young people learn in schools into the wider global context?  If so, why, given the national and government endorsement of ESDGC, hasn't it had the positive impact on PISA scores that might have been anticipated?  Or perhaps it has, and it's just that everything else was so dire.  Does anyone know?

Answers on no more than two sides of A4; your time starts now ...

POSTSCRIPT February 3rd

This morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4 finally caught up with this story and had a discussion between David Reynolds and a teacher union chap whose name I forget.

Part of the background to this it seems is that the Welsh government significantly underfunds its schools (compared to England) which all goes to show that there's no such thing as a free prescription.  Nobody thought, however, that this was the only cause of the rapid decline in achievement outlined above, though Reynolds said that it was probably those students at the top and bottom of the Welsh school scrum who would be disadvantaged by the funding loss.

Nobody mentioned ESDCG.


More on national curriculum revisions

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In a recent posting, I commented that the expert group's proposal to government that an aim of the revised curriculum ought to be to ...

Promote understanding of sustainability in the stewardship of resources locally, nationally and globally

was a pertinent phrasing given that the availability and use of resources are key to the way that our lives and civilisation will (be able to) develop.  The more I have thought about this, the more convinced I have become.  The following seem pertinent points:


refers both to biological (species and ecosystems) and physical systems (energy and materials) and so there is a ready and multi-point curriculum connection to science and geography

are at the heart of our quest to be more sustainable and refer to actual problems (i.e., resource overuse, species extinction), rather than symptoms (e.g., climate change)

are the focal point of the circular economy work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation where preserving resource quality is key

sits well with schools' current obsession on recycling and waste.


has distinct curriculum niches in citizenship, religious studies and ethics

is the idea at the heart of our caring for the future

has a clear link to global citizenship, ecological justice and development

sits well with many schools' emphasis on caring.

... and the proposal brings these important issues together – which is more than most schools ever manage to do.

As nearly all the points made above are contentious if taken too far, the stewardship of resources sit well with the development of responsible critical thinking.

It sounds better and better ...

An opportunity for head teachers everywhere

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The BBC reported on saturday that the Occupy movement is looking to extend its activities to outreach; that is to the wider community including schools.  The BBC reports:

The protest group says the point of its occupation is to reclaim "the space in the face of the financial system and using it to voice ideas for how we can work towards a better future".

Mr Kelsey Fry, who has been at the camp every day since it started, said it had become a focal point for young people interested in political activism, with teenagers travelling from all over the country to visit.  Many had joined in its people's assemblies, where issues are discussed openly and everybody taking part is given an equal voice.  He said:

"So many of the camps, not just at St Paul's but around the country, will be cleared away in the next few weeks so outreach is a really good way to move things on.  Young people are a very large part of society and they are voiceless.  They will be the people who inherit a troubled future.  We are not trying to indoctrinate them or recruit them, we are trying to use the citizenship curriculum to give young people the tools to take up the issues that are important to them."

Many schools may well see this approach as a challenge; whereas actually, it's a test of their liberal education values, and one, I trust, that they will not fail.


UNECE's coinage

📥  Comment

With my usual heavy (but ever-hopeful) heart, I have been reading some UNECE text in preparation for a meeting on the "green economy".  In the Introduction to a discussion paper on the role of education for sustainable development in shifting to a green economy, UNECE notes:

Phase III of the UNECE Strategy for ESD strives to closely link the regional ESD process to other major sustainable development processes in order to facilitate the creation of synergies.  By doing so, it aims to effectively promote sustainable development.  In order to discuss the potential role of ESD for greening the economy, the Bureau of the UNECE Steering Committee for ESD agreed to organize a panel discussion during the sixth meeting of the Committee to address the potential role of ESD for shifting to a green economy.

In order to facilitate the discussion, this paper outlines the green economy approach to sustainable development.  It shows how ESD and green economy are really two sides of the same coin: prominent green economy concepts focus mainly on top-down policies while ESD can contribute significantly to greening the economy from the bottom up because it has the ability to equip people with the values, competences, knowledge and skills that are necessary for them to put the green economy concept into practice.

However, if ESD and green economy really are "two sides of the same coin", what sort of coinage is this?

According to the UNECE text, UNEP’s working definition of a green economy describes it as:

“one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities... [A] green economy can be thought of as one ... [whose] growth in income and employment should be driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

UNECE then says that a similar, but "broader definition" is provided by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP):

“a green economy can be defined as an economy where economic prosperity can go hand-in-hand with ecological sustainability”

... which takes us back to Brundtland, if not to much earlier texts around environmental education.  All this is helpful, as is the emphasis on economic growth, but it doesn't shed any light on the nature of the coin question.  However, if we read on, we find:

ESD is embedded in the main principles that inform the concept of sustainable development: it engages with the three interlinked pillars of economy, environment, society and environment and moreover with the relation between the local and the global and ultimately aims to foster sustainable development.  The concepts of green economy and ESD are therefore rooted in the same school of thought and serve the same goal; however, while they are conceptualized as different approaches for achieving sustainability, they are inherently interlinked.

Another paragraph, another metaphor.  Not coinage this time, but something at the same time more ecological and philosophical: ESD and the green economy are "rooted in the same school of thought", and "serve the same goal".

This seems to lay bare the narrowness of much UN thinking about education (and learning) which encodes as disempowering an instrumentalism as does Thomas Gradgrind.  Look at this text again:

ESD can contribute significantly to greening the economy from the bottom up because it has the ability to equip people with the values, competences, knowledge and skills that are necessary for them to put the green economy concept into practice.

"equip"?  "EQUIP"?  Whatever sort of verb this is, it's certainly not a "bottom-up" one, and owes more to the socially dismissive tabula rasa notion than to a sophisticated understanding of individual and social learning processes – or to how people construct knowledge together and develop skills.   It also suggests that the "values, competences, knowledge and skills" that we shall need already exist, rather than there being in a constant state of becoming through people's interaction in a wide range of social contexts, including formal education ones.  After all, people, even very young ones, come to learning processes with their own experiences, understandings, confusions, interests, values, and learning needs, even if these can not always be clearly or coherently articulated.  And they are unlikely to want to be told what to think, or to be told how to think about the world, because they will have their own interests and learning needs that will likely be highly personal and contextual.  Thus, if it is to be successful, ESD has to attend to people’s learning interests and needs, as well as to its own values and ideas, if it is to be successful and make a difference.

Of course, it could just be poor drafting, where "equip" actually means "work with people's own interests and ideas to develop ...", with all the caveats set out in the paragraph above.

But if it does, why not say so?   Otherwise there's the temptation to think that UNECE's coinage (or do I mean ESD's?) is so much base metal.