Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: October 2013

RSPB Disconnect

📥  Comment, New Publications

I’ve been reading the RSPB’s new survey of 8 to 12 year olds and their conclusions that only 21% of them are as “connected to nature” as the RSPB thinks they need to be.  This is based on a survey of some 1100 youngsters, using a conceptual frame established by US academics:

Chen-Hsuan Cheng, J. and Monroe, M. C. (2012) Connection to Nature: children’s affective attitude toward nature. Environment and Behavior 44(1): 31–49

I got rather confused with the questions the children were asked.  I wondered why, for example, all the following terms were used across the 16 questions, and whether they all had distinct meanings:

nature,  natural environment,  natural world,  outdoors,  environment

It’s possible to make a clear distinction between “environment” and “natural environment” (think street and forest), but if there is a difference between “nature”, “natural environment”, and “natural world”, it’s not at all clear to me what it is, and I wonder why three (potentially confusing) phrases were used.  Were the differences explained to the children, I wonder, …

As a general rule, if you ask daft questions, you get the answers you deserve.  A few examples.

I enjoy touching animals and plants

As the correct RSPB answer to this is “agree” or “strongly agree”, and it is a survey about “the natural world”, this seems to be encouraging youngsters to touch wildlife, which seems completely bonkers.  I’m thinking here, not just of rats and other vermin such as squirrels, but also of swans and geese, cows, horses, … .  Madness.

Then there’s ...

People do not have the right to change the natural environment

As you have to agree with this to get a positive score, it seems to rule out all sorts of everyday activities, such as gardening (which RSPB encourages in another question).  Does it mean I should stop pruning my fruit trees?  Or maybe fruit trees are out – after all, they are hardly natural.

I could go on about this conceptual confusion, for example about this: I like to see wild animals living in a clean environment, but …

Then there’s what the survey doesn’t say.  There are no questions about exercise which is odd given how much youngsters seem to run, scoot, climb and bike about whenever they manage to escape the house.

The report says that the average score was 1.05 out of 2 (a dismal 0.97 in Wales), and that RSPB believes that a score of 1.5 is a realistic and achievable target for every child in the country.  Umm.  Of course, a positive in all this is that now that we know what the test questions are, NGOs can tweak their policies and practices towards these to ensure the 1.5 target is met.

Just keep away from all those rats.


My Beijing keynote

📥  Talks and Presentations

My keynote at the 6th Beijing Forum on ESD was about the problem of identifying sustainable development indicators that focus on the contribution of education; that is, ESD.  This is the text of the talk ...

The Development of ESD indicators – exploring frameworks and criteria

The issue of writing indicators for both sustainable development and for ESD is one that UN agencies and national governments have struggled over for some time.  In terms of sustainable development, this is particularly important if we are to know whether we’re becoming more sustainable – or at least less unsustainable, and whether policy and strategy need to be changed.  This is a significant challenge, but a necessary one.

The use of indicators is now widespread, but it carries considerable risk.  Both the rationale, that is, the need for good information, and the risk that we will measure the wrong thing, are noted here:

Where there is no reliable accounting and therefore no competent knowledge of the economic and ecological effects of our lives, we cannot live lives that are economically and ecologically responsibleWendell Berry

That which is good and helpful ought to be growing and that which is bad and hindering ought to be diminishing.  ...  We therefore need, above all else, ...  concepts that enable us to choose the right direction of our movement and not merely to measure its speed. EF Schumacher

We try to measure what we value.  We come to value what we measure.   Donella Meadows

The challenge is just as great in relation to ESD, as it is for sustainable development itself, if we’re serious in thinking that ESD can make a contribution to sustainable development, as well as to student learning.  Conceptually, this is all complex.  However, it is something that practitioners, school leaders, and policy-makers need to consider as they promote ESD beyond the Decade in the global action programme for educational reform and development.  I shall explore these issues and the criteria for an ESD school indicator framework based on both theoretical and pragmatic perspectives.

I’ll begin by saying something about indicators in general before moving on to sustainability and ESD as, what you can say in general must also apply in particular to ESD indicators.  Indicators can …

  • simplify or distil complex information
  • monitor or account for the performance of systems
  • measure the state, direction and rate of change
  • act as a ‘warning’ system
  • raise awareness and communicate information
  • stabilise processes – particularly implementation
  • aid accountability, governance, decision-making, dialogue
  • address stakeholder interests about the state of the system

Indicators summarise information, measure change, raise awareness, warn of problems, aid communication, and help decision-making, and need to be written with clarity, and to be developed systematically.  This is the logic to their generation ...

  • Indicators have to be linked to desired outcomes (which may be short- or longer-term).  They indicate the extent to which outcomes are met
  • Such outcomes have to be linked to particular purposes (objectives)
  • Purposes (objectives) have to be linked to overall organisational aims / vision / mission
  • Key evaluation questions have to be posed, where indicators answer such questions.

To evaluate is to form a judgement about progress made towards purposes, and indicators help us understand the value of such judgements.  We use indicators to show the extent to which desired outcomes are met.  In our professional practice, the idea and use of key performance indicators is now commonplace.  But this does not make their use easy, or uncontroversial.

While it’s important to have indicators, it’s also important not to accept uncritically what they appear to tell us, particularly in contexts where complexity and uncertainty are the norm.  Let me illustrate this.  The UK had 68 sustainable development indicators before they were changed 6 months ago.  The indicator for education was the proportion of 19 year-olds with Level 2 qualifications and above.

This is easy to understand, and to measure, but what does it really tell us?  Probably, only the proportion of 19 year-olds with particular qualifications, as there’s no obvious link to whether we’re developing on a sustainable pathway.  The new indicators remove this problem as they don’t mention education directly at all.

These are the 12 headline indicators that are high-level outcome measures which capture priority issues in line with the ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development.  These are organised in terms of economy, society, and environment, with 4 headline indicators each.


Economic prosperity / Long term unemployment / Poverty / Knowledge & skills


Healthy life expectancy / Social Capital / Social mobility in adulthood / Housing provision


Greenhouse gas emissions / Natural resource use / Wildlife: bird population indices / Water use

There is an implicit reference to education as part of the knowledge and skills indicator under “Economy”.

Human capital stock & Human capital per head

Where human capital is defined as “the knowledge, skills, competencies and attributes embodied in individuals that facilitate the creation of personal, social and economic well-being” (OECD, 2001).

This is not straightforward.  There’s no clear link to sustainable development, and no mention of ESD.  It’s much the same as the old indicator.  Although it is more sophisticated, it’s now much harder to make sense of – and to measure.

Because of this limited view of human capital, we find that a lifetime of education and training will count as a contribution to sustainable development, whether or not there’s any focus on sustainability – that is, any ESD.  This seems strange.  However, it also means that, even if there is ESD, it will not be acknowledged.  This seems even stranger.

There is, of course, a much bigger problem which applies to all indicators.  It’s been suggested that such headline indicators represent a sort of barometer or compass bearing.  For example, if all the indicators can be lined up so that they’re all pointing in the right direction, then we can conclude that we’re making progress along the sustainable development pathway.  It’s a pleasing, and reassuring, metaphor.

However, there’s a major problem with this view:

  • If the headline indicators are broadly negative, we can tell that the overall position is not sustainable.
  • Unfortunately, this does not mean that when they are all positive, the position necessarily is sustainable.
  • Indeed, it is even possible that positive indicator results will operate perversely to move us off a sustainable pathway.

In other words, if you fail to meet an indicator, then you know there’s work to do; if you do meet it, however, there’s always uncertainty about how appropriate the indicator was in the first place.  And there’s the risk that positive results will send the wrong message.  For example, if we were to succeed in keeping the global temperature rise below, say, 3o C, we’d still have to wait for years to see whether that had been enough.

In this sense, using indicators is rather like looking in a car’s rear-view mirror.  It enables us to see where we’ve been – to see how well we’re driving – to see something of the progress we’ve made.  On a good journey, there will be a clear road behind us.  On a bad day, however, we will see the crashed cars and the bodies in the road.  The mirror alerts us to how we’ve been doing so far, but tells us nothing about what’s ahead.  The point here is that though mirrors – and indicators – are useful, they are an imperfect guide to the future.  You need to keep your eye on rear-view mirrors – to ensure that they don’t distort what has happened.  The same applies to indicators.

Accuracy, timeliness, clarity, field of view, and ease of access, are all crucial qualities in an indicator (and a mirror), and the view you have should be both valid and meaningful.  A constant danger is that you produce indicators that are easy to measure, but which lack intellectual and policy coherence.  This is particularly true of ESD.  The potential benefits and risks of ESD indicators are probably the same as for any indicator.  These are:


  • You can get (useful) information on steps taken, and progress made, against aims and targets
  • You can then change policy / practice in the light of information


  • You may be measuring the wrong thing
  • The information you get may be misleading
  • It may take considerable time to know whether this is so

So much is straightforward, and applies to ESD as it does to, say, biodiversity.

Both of these need a conceptual frame if indicators are to be developed.  With biodiversity, the link to sustainable development seems clear, but to what extent is this the case with ESD?  This is the UK’s new headline indicator measure for bird populations:

Indicator measure: Wildlife: Bird population indices - farmland birds, (b) woodland birds, (c) seabirds and (d) water and wetland birds

Rationale: Natural capital includes those elements of the environment that yield resources and ecosystem services, but we cannot determine our entire capital of natural resources and instead have to focus on selected aspects of the natural environment and changes in its state.

The rationale here is that populations of key species of birds are a good indicator of the broad state of wildlife and the countryside because they occupy a wide range of habitats and have key positions in the food chain.  This seems sound because the conceptual framing of biodiversity is robust.  We’re using bird population measures to infer information about much broader issues – which is sound indicator practice we should bear in mind for ESD.

There is, for example, little ambiguity about bird populations, though there will be methodological issues in the estimation of their numbers.  We are, of course, really interested in how these indicator values change over time, with upward trends being desired.

So what can we say about an indicator for ESD?  We might start by asking about the relationship between ESD and sustainable development, and whether it is sufficiently conceptually robust?   You will have your own views on this.

Here are two frameworks from the literature illustrating how we might both think about ESD, and research its effectiveness:

ESD is … Teaching which develops in students an understanding of the nature of society and its relationship with the environment, together with the capabilities and potential to promote justice in the distribution of economic, social and environmental assets, now and for the future.

ESD is … Teaching which contains a significant element of work related to either or both of the natural environment and natural resources, plus a significant element of work related to either economic or social issues (or to both).

The first of these is about students developing an understanding of the nature of society and its relationship with the environment, and sees sustainable development primarily in terms of increasing equity and global social justice.  The second has a prime focus on the natural environment and natural resources, and sees sustainable development more in terms of reducing the environmentally unsustainable impacts of economic and social development.  Are both these ESD?  Can both be ESD?  If so, are they poles on a continuum of ideas, or mutually inconsistent and competing views?  Either way, any attempt to generate indicators for these two frames would lead to different outcomes.

A lot of the thinking about ESD indicators has been at the system level, and has been about structures and quality assurance.  And there’s always a temptation to cover a lot of ground – to try to identify every aspect of what is being considered.  But this is always a mistake as it results in so many indicators that they obscure rather than illuminate, as any meaningful signals are lost in the noise of communication.

We can think of ESD indicators at different levels.  Three possible levels are: an institution, a course of study, and the actual learning that results.

The following sets out a number of attributes that might characterise an educational institution that takes sustainability seriously; that is, issues around sustainability …

  • have a high profile across the work of the institution, and in its community links
  • are fundamental to, and integral across, the institution’s work rather than being add-on or fragmented
  • are raised in different settings, as appropriate, and treated as holistically as possible
  • are focused on building students’ capability for critical and independent thinking for the future

As possible precursors of indicators, these seem fine, up to a point.  But they are generic.  They mention, sustainability, but are not obviously about it, and other ideas could be substituted: health, or enterprise are both possibilities.  For example, if you replace sustainability by health & well being in the above, it still makes sense, and so it seems that this cannot be specific enough.

The risk in all this is that we have an approach to ESD indicators where they don’t really relate to sustainable development.  So, perhaps more detail will help.  The following attributes seem to be characteristic of an institution that is orientated towards sustainability.

A social learning community with a systemic view of the world and a heightened sense of place that …

  • has a growing awareness of its environmental impact, and has a strategy for optimising the efficiency of its buildings and steadily reducing its need for natural resources and its creation of waste
  • uses these as foci for learning and skills acquisition and to enhance social cohesion
  • values outdoor, environmental, experiential and exploratory learning as a means of effectively engaging with real-world issues in authentic settings
  • is outward-looking, where work in embedded in the local context (socially, economically, environmentally, and culturally), with tangible links to real communities across the world

Here we see a focus on environmental impact, on reducing natural resource use and waste, and on how facilities are used for learning and social cohesion.  There’s a focus on outdoor and experiential learning, and on engagement with real-world issues in authentic settings.  Here, even though sustainable development is not mentioned, these seem more obviously about it that the previous set.

So, what about the next level: courses or programmes of study?  What can we look for in these?  This is more tricky, although you might think it should be straightforward.  Can’t we just look at what curricula and schemes of work say?  This is an approach that is used in some parts of Europe.  But is it really enough to see whether terms such as ‘sustainability’ are mentioned, or whether there’s a focus on the interplay of social, economic and environmental issues?

But just relying on counting things does not seem enough.  After all, it’s what teachers do with such programmes that tells you whether the experience has a sustainability focus, and, whether the learner experience is any good.  In a similar way, as well as estimating numbers, you have to ask how healthy and viable bird populations are.  This brings us to the question of what people actually learn from all this.

So, can we say anything about how that might be framed?  Here’s one possible frame for ESD learning that sees such outcomes in terms of Knowledge and Understanding, Skills, and Attributes:

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understanding interconnections
  • Natural systems and their limits
  • Structures and societies


  • Theoretical skills
  • Putting theory into action
  • Persuasion and conflict resolution


  • Attitudes & Behaviours

This is a conventional way of viewing such things although the sub-headings used here show a particular emphasis on understanding systems and interconnections, and on bringing about change.

The following is another way of thinking about knowledge and understanding that seems to show a different emphasis …

  1. Interdependence – of society, economy and the natural environment from local to global
  2. Citizenship & stewardship – rights, responsibilities, participation and co-operation
  3. Needs and rights of future generations
  4. Diversity – cultural, social, economic and biological
  5. Quality – of life, equity and justice
  6. Sustainable change – development and carrying capacity
  7. Uncertainty, and precaution in action

Whilst it seems possible to develop a large number of indicators based on all these, is it sensible?   We’ve seen the problems with that sort of approach: you get a lot of information, but not much clarity.

There’s also another issue.  Stephen Sterling warns us about being too focused on determining or predicting the outcome of an action or intervention, because of complexity and uncertainty.

"In complex situations, it is simply impossible to determine or predict the outcome of an action or intervention.  We live in a culture interested in certainty, prediction, and control through setting measures such as 'performance indicators', and 'specific learning outcomes'.  Yet increasing uncertainty means that we need to become more comfortable with ambiguity and approximation."

Sterling says that we need to become more comfortable with ambiguity and approximation.  And learning is always complex, and its outcomes are not only uncertain, but largely indeterminate.  Thinking about birds again, we might remember that a few key species were a good indicator because they occupy a range of habitats and have key positions in the food chain.  Here, bird population measures allow us to infer information about much broader issues.  Can we use this approach for education and ESD?

Could we agree on a few key aspects of an educational experience that would allow us to infer information about its effectiveness in relation to sustainability?  If so, what should we look for?

Stephen Gough has argued that, because sustainable development necessarily implies a change in the models we use to live by, then any ESD programme should challenge these models by asking questions about how we live – and might live.  He said that we should try to ‘catch this change’ – the dynamic in the educational process, and focus on the choices that have been made in relation to change and to learning.  I wonder, do such choices and change offer the possibilities of being a useful focus for an indicator for education and ESD?

This brings me back to the question of what’s to count as sustainable development in the first place, and therefore what’s to count as ESD.  As this is where I usually end up, it seems a good place to stop.


My Week in Beijing

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It began with a 17 hour journey with the turning Earth across 7 time zones: Wiltshire to Beijing: door to door.  Once there, the days were ok – the nights not.

It was rather fine weather, from a sunnyist point of view: blue skies, 19 Celcius, a cooling breeze – and the air was fine.  I say nothing of the climate, which is as mysterious as always.

As befits an egalitarian society, pedestrians don't have priority on the zebra crossings in China, but have to negotiate their passage with other users; that is with cars, buses, bikes and trucks.  It strikes me that some users, that is those travelling in steel boxes, are more equal in this enterprise than others.  The trick is to make sure you have a cyclist or two between you and the traffic while it shimmies around you.  It's much more interesting than the UK.

Sunday afternoon in the Temple of Heaven found groups of singers in various corners failing to avoid competing with each other.  It was wonderful to see (and hear), and I thought I recognised some of the tunes; 'The East is Red', that old Maoist favourite, was one, along with the more revisionist ...

'Let's hear it for a post-Marxist, neo-Gramscian inspired discourse analysis arguing for the re-articulation of sustainability to a new counter-hegemonic ‘re-imagining’ of nature'.

Yes!  NB, this is catchier than it sounds.

Here's a couple of extracts from the background papers for the Forum.  Here's a contrasting flavour:

"[In China], there are still some misunderstandings and academic prejudices towards ESD amongst researchers.  A number of principals and teachers are not motivated enough to engage in practising ESD, and their participation is not wide enough.  Due to the barriers from professions in vocational and higher education, it is still difficult to promote ESD comprehensively.  The guiding ideologies of non-formal education and informal education are too diverse to focus on ESD.  Special funds for ESD are inadequate."

... which sounds familiar.

"[Through] self-evaluation and expert evaluation of ESD implementation in schools ..., principles and teachers of many experimental schools ... have reached a consensus – ESD: A Road to Quality Education."

... which doesn't – at least outside UNESCO / HEAQAA circles.  Much more on this in other posts.

I heard with apprehension that the organisers have added explanatory Chinese characters to my carefully-constructed PowerPoint slides.  But it was all fine.  I’ll let others judge the quality of the talk itself.

The highlight of the week was a visit to No. 55 Model (ESD) high school which included a school dinner.  Schools are always absorbing, but this was a great morning which I'll say more about separately.

The week ended, if we discount another 11 hour flight / 26 hour day, with a walk on the Great Wall – a long-standing cultural 'want’.  We organised this from the UK, in the hope of avoiding visits to tourist knick-knack / kick-back emporia.  Successfully, as it turned out.

Back now in Blighty, I’ll just note that this walk was wonderful, though it was really a series of flights of steps which sometimes turned into staircases.  As I said, it was a cultural ‘want’ rather than any sort of ‘need’, and in sustainability terms, therefore, a complete indulgence.  We wore the wall away (a bit) just for our personal gratification.  And that’s the trouble with the useless Brundtland sustainable development  ‘definition’ – it has no bearing on the reality of human existence where a fulfilled life is not just about our wants.  It saddens me the degree to which Brundtland keeps getting trotted out as any sort of adequate conceptual framing of the issue.  We saw this at the Forum, but you don't have to go to China to see it – it's everywhere you go in the UK.  Inexplicable.


Insight from Manitoba

📥  Comment, News and Updates

You have to go all the way to Beijing to meet a man from Manitoba with radical insights into education and sustainability, but it was worth it, for this Leninesque perspective:

Sustainable Development  = ESD + Hydroelectricity

This is tough on mountain-lite states round the world, but great news for the Scots ahead of the Big Vote.  Maybe the idea of tectonic reparations is in order with the Have Hydro states donating to the most bereft.  The Netherlands and all those Pacific Island states would be quids (or GWatts) in.


Second Post from Beijing

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

A nice quote from Engels in Mr Tao Xiping's talk on the Strategic Value of ESD and its Future Development:

"We are punished for every victory over nature."

It would be nice to think so, as would be the notion of a reward for every act of empathy.  The latter is more likely at the personal level than the former, hence the nature of the problem of the human – nature problem: private benefit and public cost.

As I don't really know my Marx from my Engels, and I cannot find this quote, I cannot swear to its authenticity or context.


Post(card) from Beijing

📥  Talks and Presentations

The 6th Beijing International Forum on begins in two hours with ceremony, and with welcomes from:

Niu Chunshan, Deputy Mayor, People’s Government of Beijing Municipality

Xian Lianping, Director, Beijing Municipal Commission of Education

Liu Limin, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China

Abhimanyu Singh, Director, UNESCO Beijing office

In what promises to be a busy day, these will be followed by presentations on:

Strategic Value of ESD and Its Future Development

Shaping the Education for Tomorrow: Lessons Learnt From 10 Years of ESD

Characteristics of ESD in China and Policy Options

Education for Sustainable Development: Education towards the Future

The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: What have We Accomplished? Where are We Going?

Towards ESD National Focal Point—Practices and Reflections from Dongcheng

ESD Regional Implementation Practices

ESD Beyond 2015 – Emerging Patterns and Newer Horizons

ESD from the Perspective of Environment

ESD and the Quality of Education

And then a banquet!


A dull report from Accenture

📥  New Publications

Here’s an Accenture survey of about 1000 CEOs, with an analysis of what they think about sustainability.  Not much, it seems.  I found that ...

– companies think they’re only really able to learn from each other

– universities aren’t relevant

– no one talks about values

– and there’s no mention of skills.

Heady stuff.


Enlightenment anyone? The clue is in the name

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A new campaign c/o The Art of Positive Change:

A new social media campaign, launched as a result of the Powered by Nature Awards – an initiative of IUCN CEC and ALCOA – encourages people to turn off their lights and turn on their senses.   With cheeky humour and simple graphics, the campaign “Better in the Dark” invites community contributions to the question: What things are better in the dark? Stargazing? Hide and seek? Sleeping?   Once appliances are switched off, so the story, we can finally see the stars and connect to  nature and the people around us.   Ultimately, this will help us to save energy and take better care of our environment.   Mostly, “Better in the Dark” is an invitation to engage playfully with sustainability and experiment: What happens when we turn the switch?    The accompanying video provides one possible answer (skinny dipping).  For those that need more light in this situation, it continues, LED torches might be the way to go. From the campaign description: “When the time for new light comes, we will waste no rays.  The sun shall power our lives, and no longer will we burn up the dark energy from deep below. ” Check out the “Better in the Dark” campaign at or on Facebook and Twitter.

Madness, of course, no matter how "playful": muggings, burglaries, road accidents, rapes, lootings, twisted ankles, broken bones, and more.  All these will increase.  What is it with this nostalgia for the benighted squalor and dangers of the middle ages?  Why did we bother having an Enlightenment?  Well, the clue is in the name ...


That good old UNESCO shimmy

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A while back, I received this email:

A message from the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Secretariat

Hello everyone, The monitoring and evaluation process for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) is designed to capture a variety of activities related to ESD and take stock of the growth of ESD throughout the DESD. The final assessment and report will summarize and highlight the accomplishments of the DESD, convey lessons learnt and point the way for post-Decade efforts.

In order to help UNESCO prepare the final DESD report, please provide us with your inputs by answering before 31 October 2013 the online questionnaire.

Key Stakeholder -- Questionnaire UN Decade of ESD Final Report

Thanks in advance for your participation.

UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Secretariat

2014 UNESCO World Conference on ESD --

I was, of course, flattered by the "key stakeholder" tag, and duly did all the clicking, and got this:

Key Stakeholders -- UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Final Report

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to be held in Japan in November 2014 will mark the end of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD, 2005 – 2014) and celebrate its achievements. In view of the end of the DESD, UNESCO is preparing a final report on the Decade, which will take stock of the growth of ESD throughout the DESD.

The UNESCO World Conference on ESD to be held in November 2014 in Japan, which will mark the end of the DESD, and therefore the monitoring and evaluation effort, are based on four themes.

  • Celebrating a Decade of Action
  • Reorienting Education to Build a Better Future for All
  • Accelerating Action for Sustainable Development

Setting the Agenda for ESD beyond 2014

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD):

  • allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.
  • touches every aspect of education including planning, policy development, programme implementation, finance, curricula, teaching, learning, assessment, administration, etc
  • is called by many names in national and local contexts. In some places, Environmental Education (EE) and other related “educations” (e.g. global education and climate change education) are defined and practiced to include socio-cultural and economic aspects alongside environmental aspects. Such efforts should be included in the responses to this questionnaire.

When I got into the questionnaire, however, I discovered that Unesco wasn’t interested at all in what I thought.  It wanted to know what my “institution” thought, and expected [a] that I would know, and [b] that I’d have the authority to tell.  Neither is the case, and so I abandoned the process around Question 2 (of 36).

Although I felt misled, that was no reason to go on and mislead others.


UNESCO-UNEP's Environmentally Educated Teachers – once the priority of priorities

📥  Comment

In 1987, as part of its International Environmental Education Programme, UNESCO-UNEP published: Strategies for the Training of Teachers in Environmental Education [Vol 25 of the programme], a summary of whose recommendations was subsequently made available in 'Connect XV(1) pp.1-3, 'Environmentally Educated Teachers – the priority of priorities'.

The Connect article began with sentiments that we all might agree with, more or less, ...

"The role of environmental education in the care of the environment is crucial.  What of the role of the teacher in environmental education [EE] — rather, of the environmentally educated teacher in the vital process of education, before and after, in and out of school?  Is it not, arguably, the priority of educational and, certainly, environmental priorities, as experience increasingly instructs us?  For in this connection, environment must be conceived in its entirety – natural and built, personal and collective, economic, social and cultural, technological, ecological and esthetic."

It continued:

"Ministers at the [1977] Tbilisi Conference logically concluded that EE should be an obligatory part of pre- and in-service teacher education and pertinent to the area — urban or rural — where the teacher was going to practise.  This is still to be universally applied."

35 years on, it still is, of course.  The original UNESCO-UNEP paper said this (p.28) in relation to the competencies required of an effective environmental educator:

"The initial steps in designing training programmes at either pre or inservice levels must include a definition of the desired teacher product.  The most functional way to define the product is in the form of expected behavioral competencies – associated knowledge, skills, and attitudes which are necessary in order to effectively teach environmental education (E.E.) programmes.  The descriptions of E.E. competencies found herein have been selected on the basis of two criteria: (1) they represent unique applications of knowledge, attitudes, behavior and/or skills to E.E.; or, (2) they are general education competencies pertinent to E.E. as well as other disciplines, but are not adequately developed by most existing teacher education programmes.  Therefore, the competencies proposed here are in addition to the general knowledge, attitudes, and skills expected of an effective educator."

The authors of the Connect summary could not bring themselves to use the notion of a "desired teacher product".  Rather, they talked about 'results' ...

"Practical initial steps in designing EE training programmes for teachers include definition of the desired result.  This in turn involves the most functional way of defining the desired result, namely, in terms of desired teacher competencies, which may be divided into two linked categories: (1) foundational competencies in professional education and (2) competencies in EE content."

The rest of the Connect paper was taken up with a summary of what UNESCO-UNEP thought that these competencies should be:

A Foundational competencies in professional education

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be able to:

  • apply a knowledge of educational philosophy to the selection or development of curricular programmes and strategies to achieve both general education and EE goals. (General education materials and methods may sometimes need merely to be "environmentalized" to achieve both objectives);
  • utilize current theories of moral reasoning in selecting, developing and implementing E Ë curricula which will effectively achieve EE goals. (Teachers should be competent to use appropriate strategies to allow learners to recognize the role of values in environmental decision making, clarify value positions and understand the valuing process);
  • utilize current theories of knowledge/attitude/ behavior relationships in selecting, developing and implementing a balanced curriculum which maximizes the probability of desired environmentally aware behavior changes in learners. (A balanced curriculum takes into account such aspects as ecological factors vs. trade-off costs, etc.);
  • utilize current theories of learning in selecting, developing and implementing curricular strategies to effectively achieve EE goals. (The methodology of EE as well as the nature of many EE goals is problem solving. A pragmatic approach on the part of teachers to theories of learning development, such as Piaget's, can do much to increase EE effectiveness in such methodologies and goals as environmental problem solving);
  • apply the theory of transfer of learning in selecting, developing and implementing curricular materials and strategies to insure that learned knowledge, attitudes and cognitive skills will be transferred to the learner's choices and decision making concerning lifestyle and behavior. (The ultimate goal of EE is to produce environmentally literate citizens who are willing and capable of taking positive environmental actions in their lifetime);
  • effectively implement the following methodologies to achieve EE goals: interdisciplinarity, outdoor education, values clarification, games and simulation, case-study approaches, community resource use, autonomous student and/or group investigation, evaluation and action in environmental problem solving, and appropriate teacher behaviors when handling controversial environmental issues;
  • develop and use effective means of planning for instruction;
  • effectively infuse appropriate EE curricula and methods into all disciplines to which the teacher is assigned;
  • effectively evaluate the results of EE curricula and methods in both cognitive and affective domains.

B Competencies in environmental education content

Level I : Ecological foundations

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be able to:

  • apply a knowledge of ecological foundations to the analysis of environmental issues and identify key ecological principles involved;
  • apply a knowledge of ecological foundations to predict the ecological consequences of alternative solutions to environmental problems;
  • be sufficiently literate in ecology to identify, select and interpret appropriate sources of scientific information in a continuing effort to investigate, evaluate and find solutions for environmental problems;
  • communicate and apply in an educational context the major concepts in ecology.

Level II: Conceptual awareness

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be able to select, develop and implement curricular materials which will make learners aware of:

  • how people's cultural or vocational activities (economic, religious, industrial, etc.) affect the environment from an ecological perspective;
  • how individual behaviors impact on the environment from the same perspective;
  • a wide variety of local, regional, national and international environmental issues and the ecological and cultural implications of these issues;
  • the viable alternative solutions available for remediating discrete environmental issues and the ecological and cultural implications of these alternative solutions;
  • the need for environmental issue investigation and evaluation as a prerequisite to sound decision making;
  • the roles played by differing human values clarification as an integral part of environmental decision making;
  • the need for responsible citizenship action (persuasion, consumerism, legal action, political action, ecomanagement, etc.) in the remediation of environmental concerns.

Level III : Investigation and evaluation

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be competent to investigate environmental issues and evaluate alternative solutions and to develop, select and implement curricular materials and strategies which will develop similar competencies in learners, including:

  • the knowledge and skills needed to identify and investigate issues (using both primary and secondary sources of information and to synthesize the data gathered);
  • the ability to analyze environmental issues and the associated value perspectives with respect to their ecological and cultural implications;
  • the ability to identify alternative solutions for discrete issues and the value perspectives associated with these solutions;
  • the ability to autonomously evaluate alternative solutions and associated value perspectives for discrete environmental issues with respect to their cultural and ecological implications;
  • the ability to identify and clarify their own value positions related to discrete environmental issues and their associated solutions;
  • the ability to evaluate, clarify and change their own value positions in the light of new information.

Level IV : Environmental action skills

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be competent to take positive environmental action for the purpose of achieving and maintaining a dynamic equilibrium between the quality of life and the quality of the environment (if indeed one can be separated from the other) and develop similar competencies in learners to take individual or group action when appropriate, such as persuasion, consumerism, political action, legal action, eco-management or combinations of these categories of action.


This was all rather demanding – and somewhat daunting – as Chris Oulton and I commented on in a paper in EER in 1995.  It remains so, even when you take this caveat into account from the original UNESCO-UNEP paper ...

"It may well be impossible for a single educational programme to effectively complete the training of teachers in all competency areas.  The need for continued development of these competencies will undoubtedly exist throughout the individual educator’s career.  Accordingly, these competency statements [ma]y be used to develope preservice programmes or continuing inservice programmes in E.E. teacher training."

Chris Oulton and I were particularly critical of the demands being made on teachers in relation to ecological knowledge and understanding.  We wondered, to cut a long story short, how all this could ever be developed, given the typical educational backgrounds of teachers, and the short time available for teacher education programmes (pre- or in-service).  We though it an impossible demand, akin to taking an ecology degree.  Further, we thought it an unnecessary one.  Speaking only for myself, I still do.  Unsurprisingly, nothing came of this, despite the eminence of the academics writing those long lists of what their teacher products needed to know.

Such fundamentalist ideas and urges have not gone away, as I shall illustrate in a follow-up post.