Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: May 2012

A view from 1979 – 33 years on

📥  Comment, New Publications

Attached is an extended version of the editorial I have contributed to the 100th edition of NAEE's Environmental Education.  Quite a milestone.

The text looks back to what HMI were saying in 1979 about environmental education and the curriculum in their Curriculum 11-16: supplementary working papers.  When I re-read this text last year, I was struck just how neglected the arguments are, and by how pertinent some of them remain.  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."

And it ends with HMI emphasising the importance of subjects:

“It is the proper part of academic disciplines to establish the main conceptual frameworks within which progressing learning and increasingly sophisticated understanding may be developed.”

… adding that separate or combined subject approaches are both valid and necessary.  Significantly, however, they return to an earlier point and add:

“There is also a responsibility to ... recognise that the needs of the individual and of society require co-operation (however devised) in the study of many significant issues, or something will be lost.”

This certainly implies that the single subject approach has its limitations, and limits.  Thirty-three years on, that is a truth still to be fully appreciated – as is the focus that HMI placed on stimulating social (as opposed to individual) action.

So it seems pellucidly clear that, not only do HMI’s musings remain valuable, but that there is also still an important job for NAEE to do.  The text is here:  NAEE EDITORIAL.


Guardian green

📥  News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

It is notoriously difficult to capture education activities focused on sustainability in a picture – quite often they look like a bunch of people sitting around talking – an accurate reflection of reality in many ways.  So well done to the Guardian for choosing a picture of a field and a wood to illustrate its forthcoming webchat on whether students benefit from green universities.  The piece begins ...

Universities may have good intentions – but in practice, being eco-friendly isn't always high on the agenda.  Following on from next week's launch of the People and Planet Green League – which ranks universities to show how well they manage their environmental impact – we will be hosting a live Q&A with sustainability experts and students.  Join us ... to discuss the ways in which universities can tackle their carbon footprints – and how students can benefit from green policies.  Would you consider a university's environmental record before applying for a degree? Perhaps your own university has introduced a successful scheme.  ...

The experts and students (rather dismissive that, considering how much the NUS knows about all this) are:

Debby Cotton is head of educational development and pedagogic research at Plymouth University.

Danielle Gufferty is vice-president of society and citizenship at National Union of Students, and campaigns on environmental and ethical issues.

Gill Coleman is co-director of the sustainability and responsibility programme at Ashridge Business School.

Dr Chris Seeley is co-director of the sustainability and responsibility programme at Ashridge Business School. He is also a faculty member for the Ashridge doctorate in organisational change.

Louise Hazan is the creator and compiler of the People & Planet Green League and supports students campaigning to improve the environmental record of universities.

Darren Twort is the environmental officer at Oxford Brookes Student Union. He is studying environmental management.

Not at all the usual suspects, then, thank goodness.  Though why there are two from Ashridge representing the same programme is a puzzle.  Equal ops gone wild, maybe.  Sadly, I shall be away ...


Pre-Rio perspiration

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Last week, the 5th International Conference of the Living Knowledge Network issued a Communiqué on Sustainability, Knowledge and Democracy – an initiative of the 'Big Tent' Group of international networks.  Some have lauded this, but I fear it's not for me.

It's heady stuff in a right on, fashionably progressive, 1970s, paradigm-challenging, sort of way.   Eventually, after I'd waded through its turgid prose and cliché, I did find myself nodding at points, particularly about universities and community.  But, oh for a decent editor who understood about understatement – and about brevity being the soul of wit.  The trouble is, I suppose, when you have so many groups involved, everyone want their points in there.  Here's an extract ...

We begin by expressing our deep concerns about:

The continued destruction of our common home, our planet Earth, Our over dependence on technological solutions that may result in misleading claims about positive impact on the environment, Ways that the dominant global economic system with its unitary focus on economic growth results in increased inequality, loss of jobs, alienation from both land and each other, The persistent exclusion of the dreams, potential and contributions of the socio-economic bottom billion people of our world, ... .

We are ... aware that universities are complicit in the creation of our planetary problems but we also believe that knowing that communities and higher education institutions working together can play a significant role in the attainment of sustainable development.

We call for action to:

1. Challenge existing paradigms, structures and practices, by:

a) Recognizing that knowledge and expertise exists outside of the institutions of higher education.  Communities and the earth itself are intellectual spaces where knowledge is created. Decolonizing our minds and our institutions is one significant step to acting on this awareness,

b) Acknowledging that 'community' or 'civic' engagement, has to mean more than just people.  Community includes the environment and all the rest of nature,

c) Promoting the concept of an 'Ecoversity' whereby higher education institutions themselves are transformed into integrated holistic communities and where research, teaching and action functions are no longer separate

d) Breaking down the silos of knowledge creation and moving to co-creation of knowledge between the university and community,

e) Being open to ideas such as appointing community scholars, and creating smaller universities, and

f) Working towards new disciplines for a new world.

2. Increase the accountability of higher education by:

a) Shifting accountability from authorities and funders to citizens, involving community at all levels of Higher Education governance,

b) Linking our academic work with environmental social movements and to related movements against poverty, towards a solidarity economy,

c) Ensuring that people have an understanding of the interdependencies between environmental, social and economic forces and the skills and abilities to meet sustainability challenges, and

d) Moving beyond eco-branding by holding institutions accountable for the trademarks, brands and media around sustainability that they display.

3. Understand the connections of our local practices within a global framework ...

It ended ...

We live in turbulent times; our world is changing at accelerating speed.  Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Universities have a responsibility to look after the well-being of the planet, not as stand-alone beacons of knowledge, but as places where wisdom of communities, eco-systems and the academy work together in partnerships for a world that is more sustainable and just.

Well, all the right words are there, but there are just far too many of them.  We can expect even more as Rio approaches.


56 Up

📥  Comment, New Publications

I viewed the first two episodes of Michael Apted's 56 Up with nervous anticipation of a wonderful TV venture – one I have been watching since the late 1970s when the early programmes were used on Bath's pre-service teacher education PGCE as an illustration of the link between class and disadvantage and the struggle to escape them.

In those early shows [ 7 / 14 / 21 Up ] explorations of class and disadvantage (and advantage) were not hard to find;  indeed it sometimes seemed that the children had been identified with that in mind – and I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case to some degree.  Much, but not all, of it was harrowing – but that was in the editing, of course, which skilfully blended hope with despair, those two sides of life's mintage.

I watched the first episode of 56 Up with particular nervousness because I feared that modern ITV would bugger it up, bringing 21 century reality TV values to bear, but, not so, though they do describe it as "entertainment", I note, on their web pages.  Still harrowing in parts, though, but that's mostly the flashbacks.

In recent years, if you're my age, watching these programmes has been a bit like looking at a reflection of your own life.  The early programmes began with an intonation of the alleged Jesuit maxim: Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man, and it seemed clear that the programmes were testing out that idea – and maybe still are.

Well; not proven, I'd say; but there's evidence enough of both the kernel of truth within Philip Larkin's overly-dystopic maxim about parents' baleful influence, and of how determined people can survive it all and thrive nonetheless.

No such thing as a free education after all

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This week's Economist reports that the Scottish government is having to raid FE budgets (and other unspecified pots) to keep its universities afloat.

Scotland may be able to write education policies, but it is still subject to financing decisions made in Westminster.  University budgets for teaching are to be slashed by 40%, a gap that will be filled in England by raised tuition fees.  In Scotland, other pots are being plundered to ensure universities stay competitive with England’s.  A three-year funding settlement agreed in February will boost university coffers — but will cut spending on further education colleges and mature students by 14% and raid other budgets.

There's also a plan, it seems, to impose a management charge – that is, a fee – on a select group of foreigners  – that is, EU nationals – if the Eurocrats can be squared.  The paper notes ...

The Scottish Parliament has identified a £39 billion hole in its budget between now and 2025.  The price of free education is rising.

What larks!


How green is your poster?

📥  Comment

Here's an educational question, if not yet an existential one: should you laminate your poster, or not?   This will be a question which, for many, is a no-brainer in that it's obviously something not to do because it isn't actually necessary: lamination doesn't make the poster any easier to see or read, and it makes ethical disposal difficult if not impossible – by composting, for example, unless the laiminate is biodegradable – which it isn't.  And it inevitably adds to costs, significantly.

But laminated posters are more durable, aren't they, so if you're going to use the poster more than x times, then lamination might be wise and cost-effective.  Questions, questions, ...

So, it seems clear that if were biodegradable, the added cost marginal, and you need the poster again, then lamination might be considered.  There must be an algorithm here somewhere.


Coming to a vending machine near your children

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Yesterday's Guardian reported that a survey by the School Food Trust [SFT] has shown that 89 out of 100 academies suveyed are selling high sugar / fat / salt snacks (aka junk food) that do not conform to the 2008 school nutritional guidelines established by the last government, and controversially relaxed by the current Department for Education [DoE] for their preferred academies and free schools.

Up to now, the government has claimed that there is no evidence that academies are abusing "the trust" that the DoE has placed in them, and so it will be instructive to see how they react to these findings.  Rubbishing them is usually an attractive initial option.

Early signs are not good as the Department's instinct has been to attack other schools in what looks rather like panic.  According to the Guardian, the DoE declined to comment directly on the SFT's findings.  However, an indirect spokeswoman did say:

"We trust teachers – the professionals on the frontline – to do what is best for their pupils.  Many academies go over and above the minimum requirements and are offering their pupils high quality, nutritional food.

The School Food Trust's own research on all secondary school food shows that even with food standards in place, many maintained schools – far from being paragons of nutrition – are not meeting all the standards and are still offering cakes, biscuits, confectionery and noncompliant drinks to their pupils.  Clearly there is room for improvement in all schools – maintained schools as well as academies,"

Own goal I think.

So, well done to the SFT for giving Mr Gove a chance to put things right.


Neither sermons nor silence

📥  Comment, New Publications

The Green Alliance blog has an interesting post today titled:

Should the [UK] government advertise the “green switchover”?

'Advertise' here means communicate to a generally unaware public through TV in order to increase adoption of green initiatives such as the Green Deal energy efficiency scheme, the smart meter rollout, and the renewable heat incentive, all of which are part of its energy (reduction) strategy.

A bit of a no-brainer, you might think, given our understanding of how difficult it is to reach parts of the public, especially those who've not benefitted from ESD.  Trouble is, HMG has a bit of a downer on advertising (part of its austerity strategy).  However, as the Green Alliance’s new report, Neither sermons nor silence: the case for national communications on energy use, predicts, unless there's a co-ordinated approach to raising awareness the government is unlikely to generate the levels of take up it both hopes for and needs.  As Alastair Harper, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, said:

“It comes down to basic economics.  If you spend a lot of money making these policies happen but then don’t tell people about them you are not getting an optimal return on your investment.”

Quite so.  But it's not just a question of telling people, is it?  How about getting them talking about it?  What's the government strategy for doing this?

The report itself is a valuable review of past approaches to this sort of issue across sectors and interests.  It will likely be valuable for this, whatever government eventually does or doesn't do.


The Planet, its People and the Royal Society

📥  Comment, New Publications

The Royal Society's recent report, People and the Planet, had not had the sort of reception its authors might have wished.  The Economist was unimpressed, branding it a curate's egg:

... it might have been nice, in adopting the first and second MDGs as the report’s first and sixth policy recommendations, to mention that the goals have already been achieved.  The latest World Bank figures show that the MDG target of halving 1990 rates of absolute poverty was met in 2010, five years early. Another set of World Bank figures shows that the world is well on the way towards meeting its education goals and has already achieved the aim of gender equality in schools.

In general, the report is weak on the trade-offs (sic) between economic growth and pollution.  It is extremely desirable that the poorest people in the world should become less poor.  But it is practically unavoidable that as they do so, pollution will increase.  The question is by how much.  At the moment, the average African produces less than one tonne of CO2 equivalent each year; the average American produces more than ten times as much.  A report by Britain’s finest scientific minds explaining how the poorest could rise towards American standards of living without also rising towards American standards of pollution would have been extremely valuable.  Alas, this is not that report.

Others have been less generous.  Take Tim Worstall who points to inconsistencies and contradictions in the report:

The mismatch between the discussions of economic growth and resource consumption in the report is almost schizophrenic.  In the economics section, we've got recognition that these issues go beyond the simplistic stuff that the environmentalists parrot. Yet when we come to the summary and the suggestions, we find that resource constraints are binding in a manner that the economics section says they're not.

And so on.  He's particularly interesting on the issue of a steady state economy and growth ...

... a steady-state economy is not one in which growth stops: it is one in which resource use is limited but economic growth carries on indefinitely as we find new ways to add value to our limited resources.

Then there's GDP, Herman Daly, IPCC modelling, ... .

A useful report, then, that stimulates such debate.  Not quite what the RS had in mind though.


How much do you know about climate change?

📥  Comment, New Publications

Preparing for a talk on communicating sustainable development with the public, I've been reading far too many reports than are good for me.

The following is from a survey of attitudes and knowledge relating to biodiversity and the natural environment (2007 to 2011).  Results are based on 1,769 face to face interviews in England conducted in late March 2011, and similar surveys conducted in earlier years commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

No definitions or explanations of the concepts were provided to respondents; nor was any guidance given, as far as I can see, about what 'lot' / 'fair' / little / etc meant.

Respondents'  self-declared knowledge (%) of …

Climate change

Ecosystem services


A lot / a fair amount




Just a little




Nothing, have only heard of the name




Nothing, have never heard of it




So, what's to be made of all this?  Not much, I suspect.  I think it was Norman Lamont who remarked that anyone who thought they understood (the ERM) clearly didn't have all the facts.   The climate change figures seem in this vein, but then the wrong questions were asked, and there was no check on what people actually do understand.  Back to the drawing board, then ... .