Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: May 2014

To E SD or to ESD? This seems to be a question

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Should ESD be about sustainable development at all?

An odd question to ask, perhaps, and many will think the response a no-brainer, as we watch coasts crumble and sea levels rise, the skies grow darker yet, and poverty and injustice stalk the planet; but, for others, this is all far too obvious.  Take this recent comment from an international ESD guru:

"It is a mistake to present ESD primarily as the inclusion of sustainable development issues in the curriculum.  It will switch off many colleagues and also be critqued by ESD experts familiar with best practice in the field.  Efs (sic) is as much about new ways of thinking and engaging as it is about knowing and doing."

Well, heaven forfend that we should upset ESD experts.

Whilst there is obviously something in all this, we do need to ask:  "thinking and engaging" about what – and why?  Given that schools exist to help students prepare for what follows (whether further study, training, work – or just life), in sustainability terms, this suggests that a creative emphasis on the development of skills of critical thinking, dialogue and debate – stressing the iterative nature of learning, participation and decision-making throughout life – ought to be at least as great or even greater than that on the what, remembering that some focus on content is needed so as to have something to be critically thinking, dialoguing and debating, about.

Getting all this in some sort of credible, useful and age-appropriate balance is the trick, and remains work in progress.


Watch your language

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

The Guardian reports that university researchers recommend saying global warming rather than climate change if you want to influence Americans.  The two terms are often used interchangeably but they generate very different responses, according to researchers from Yale and George Mason Universities.

The term global warming resonates far more powerfully, triggering images of ice melt, extreme weather and catastrophe.  Mention climate change, however, and many Americans switch off.  The researchers found naming the issue as global warming rather than climate change made it easier to communicate with Americans being 13% more likely to say that global warming was a bad thing.  It's said that George W B swapped the term climate change for global warming in 2002, on the advice of a political consultant because it was a less  frightening idea than global warming.  I heard President Obama last night hedge his bets by using both phrases in the same sentence.

Over here, there was a similar process, but for the opposite reason.  The campaign in the late 1990s by high-profile insider-activists to replace global warming by climate change [actually, rapid climate change, though the rapidity tends to get lost] in discourse of all kinds was based on the idea that too many people thought that global warming would mean warmer weather, and therefore might well be a good thing, and might even lead, as it has, to much planting of pinot noir vines across the south of England.  I remember thinking at the time that the problem with a discourse around climate was that its very essence was change – and had been from the beginning.  Thus there was a risk of confusing people more than we needed to.  And anyway, the climate is changing (rapidly) because of global warming, and is thus a secondary issue.  And anyway, anyway, the earth is only warming because of the way we are buggering up the biosphere through our economy, and so even that's only a symptom, and not the cause.  Back to basics anyone?  Back to environmental education?



Remembering Peter Martin discomforting an audience

📥  Comment, New Publications

In an FT [1] review of Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, by David Harvey, and Utopia or Bust: a guide to the present crisis, by Benjamin Kunkel, Martin Sandbu raises a point about the viewing of difficult and seemingly intractable issues as fundamental 'contradictions', as Marxists are won't to do, as opposed to seeing them as being amenable to trade-off, as neoclassical economists would tend to argue.

Sandbu argues that most of the contradictions that are set out in Harvey's book work just as well as trades-off that can be calibrated in a conventional way, and don't need an assumption of ultimate economic implosion that Marxists seemingly always have to anticipate.  in other words, capitalism need not be doomed as an economic system.

Sandburg has a passage very pertinent to our present predicament which is worth quoting in full:

"Unlike Marxists, [conventionally trained neoclassical economists] assume that a social outcome can be found that perfectly balances any 'contradictory' considerations – where the increased risk to the planet is exactly offset by the value of the extra growth, for example.  (Whether free-market capitalism can implement the optimal solution to this problem in practice is another question)".

Quite.  Sandbu criticises both writers for a blinkered distinction between capital and labour, and thus for overlooking a large group of people who are both wage-labourers and capital owners (I write as one such – if modestly in every sense), and ends his review thus:

"The omission is serious: if there is a fundamental contradiction (rather than a trade off) between the interests of capital and labour, how this group resolves it is surely crucial."

Whilst reading the review, I was reminded of WWF UK's Peter Martin who would routinely tell audiences that he looked forward to the overthrow of global capitalism – although not quite yet; that is, not until his pension had been fully paid.   This was always an discomforting moment for those who thought about it – although not everyone did, or still does.

[1] "Capital Contrdictions". Financial Times.  Life & Arts, May 3rd 2014 p. 8


What's 'fair' about Fairtrade? Discuss

📥  Comment, New Publications

The Guardian reports that a study sponsored by the UK government has cast doubt on the effectiveness of Fairtrade in East Africa.  Generally, the study found, wages were higher on farms that were larger, commercial and not Fairtrade-certified.  Even comparing different smallholder sites, wages were generally lower in the areas dominated by Fairtrade producer organisations.  Social projects, paid for partly by the Fairtrade premium, were found not to provide equal benefit to all.  The researchers also reported that many of the poorest did not have access to facilities.  In one Fairtrade tea co-operative the modern toilets funded with the premium were exclusively for the use of senior managers.

The study also found that young people were widely used as labourers on both Fairtrade and other farms.

"When wage workers aged over 14 years were interviewed, a very large proportion of them said they had been working since the age of 10, or even earlier. … What is clear ... is that very significant numbers of young, school-age children are having to work for wages in the production of agricultural export crops, including Fairtrade-certified commodities."

The authors said a combination of idealism and naivety could explain why Fairtrade did not reach the poorest people in Ethiopia and Uganda.

"One possibility is that Fairtrade producer organisations are always established in significantly poorer, more marginalised areas where an accumulation of disadvantages means smallholder farmers are unable to pay even the paltry wages offered by smallholders in other areas without Fairtrade producer organisations".

One of the authors of the report has an article about the research in Sunday's Observer.

Fairtrade International said the report's conclusions were unfair and generalised.

"In several places it compares wages and working conditions of workers in areas where small-scale Fairtrade-certified tea and coffee farmers were present with those on large-scale plantations in the same regions.  The report itself identifies farm size, scale and integration into global trade chains as major factors influencing conditions for wage workers, but then its conclusions appear to be based on unfair and distorted comparisons between farms and organisations of dramatically different size, nature and means.  When comparisons are based more on like-for-like situations, such as the study's own analysis of Ugandan coffee in small scale coffee production set-ups, it finds key areas where workers in areas with Fairtrade-certified farmer organisations in fact had better conditions compared with those in non-certified, such as free meals, overtime payments and loans and wage advances for workers.  This is in sharp contrast to the more generalised conclusions being presented by the School of Oriental and African Studies team."

Whatever the accuracy or justice of these different views, this looks like the sort of report and comment that should be welcomed and used by all global learning programmes in English schools – the sort promoted by DfID and the ubiquitous Pearson – if they want young people to be able to judge the merits of Fairtrade (and fair trade).  But will they?  As Paul Vare and I argued in Education for Sustainable development: two sides and an edge (published by DEA as a Thinkpiece), schools have sometimes been more keen on promoting Fairtrade (ESD1-style) as a socio-economic strategy, than critically examining it (as in EDS2).  This is an opportunity to redress any imbalance.


If you had £93.50 to spare ...

📥  Comment, New Publications

... would you spend it on WL (F)'s new book?  Me neither, even though it has been digitally water-marked.   The book, according to the normally reliable SDRN, is

"... published as part of the award-winning ‘Climate Change Management Series’, led by Professor Walter Leal, deals with emerging issues related to climate variation, climate change and adaptation technologies, with a special focus on Latin American countries. Presenting a variety of adaptation strategies and projects currently being undertaken and implemented, the book showcases how Latin American nations and other countries around the world are struggling to meet the challenges of climate change.  Further, it documents and analyses the main challenges and lessons learned in these countries, serving to disseminate knowledge beyond the region and enhance international research and policy cooperation."

None of this, even if true, suggests that there's any good reason to read it.




No time for PISA

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There was a headline in the Guardian recently which ran:

Global school tests under attack as OECD accused of killing 'joy of learning'

It began:

 Leading academics have accused the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of acting as an unaccountable super-ministry of education which kills the "joy of learning" and turns schooling into "drudgery".   A letter signed by 120 leading academics and teachers from 12 countries – including Britain, the US and Germany – argues the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests on 15-year-olds distort the curriculum, reduce teachers' autonomy and increase children's stress levels.

What tosh!  In England at any rate, this 'joy' was killed a long time ago by teachers preparing youngsters for GCSEs and their equivalents.  The idea that they'd also have the time to include PISA tests as well is ludicrous.  I note that no one from Wales signed the letter – probably because they rather like the idea of teaching children how to pass PISA tests – it's a strategy (their only one I think) for rising up the PISA league table.





Selibra cineris coacta cani – the last indignity of death

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I'm no great fan of Druids, particularly the Wiltshire set who always seem to be claiming far too much for themselves in terms of their presence in, and influence on,  antiquity, and even pre-history.  Time spent in the museum in English Heritage's rather good Stonehenge visitor centre will dispel all illusions on that score.

But, being wrong about some things doesn't mean that they have to be wrong about everything, and I think I have fallen into this trap on a number of issues which makes me think that a further look at their claims is warranted – well, up to a point.

One such point is certainly their view that the human bones that English Heritage have on display at Stonehenge ought to be re-interred.  Whilst I reject the Druidic claim to kinship with these bones, I have come to the view that they are right about interment.  What changed my mind about this were two lines in a poem which I read recently.  This is by John Meade Falkner with the title: Selibra Cineris Coacta Cani, which translates (I'm told) as 'Reduced to half a pound of white ash'; that being all we all end up as, one way or another.

The poem is the story of an antiquarian dig in Dorset where the bones and funery items of a Celtic-British fighter are found, and dug up for display.  However, the bones proved too fragile to be handled, hence the half a pound of white ash, and ...

Poor chief!  and so his frame was spared
The last indignity of death,
To lie with bones set fair and squared,
With glass above and cloth beneath.

In some museum hall, a prize
Of fallen faiths and people gone,
For rustic loons with open eyes
To gape and gaze and laugh upon.

I read this and immediately questioned my view of English Heritage and 'its' bones.  So,  shame on you, English Heritage, despite your being fully in tune with contemporary museum practice – and well done Druids for reminding us of what's right in simple human terms.


I have edited this post following helpful (as ever) feedback from the splendid World Heritage Trails.


#NewDealforWork – #butisitthinkingaboutsustainability?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

To coincide with celebrations for International Workers’ Day, NUS recently launched a Commission on the Future of Work which is a call for evidence from students and stakeholders from across the private, public and not for profit sectors on the challenges and solutions to student and study-leaver employment issues.  NUS President Toni Pearce says:

“At a time when the cost of studying is steadily rising, and being educated at post-compulsory level no longer offers the long-term employment guarantees it once did, many students and study-leavers across the UK are understandably anxious about the future they face.  In response, and in the build up to the 2015 general election, NUS will be placing an increasing emphasis on student and study-leaver employment issues and the need for a #NewDealForWork for the next generation.”

The Commission on the Future of Work seeks evidence on the key challenges facing students and study-leavers, employers, educational bodies and other stakeholders, as well as proven solutions as well as aspirational ideas for solutions.  It will investigate the experience of students working while studying; the experiences of study-leavers in labour market after they have finished studying; and the relationship between working while studying and working after finishing studying.

It will explore issues around the job market for students and study-leavers within the following three themes …

  • Creating new opportunities – How can more jobs and opportunities be created?
  • Quality opportunities – How can issues around pay, progression, terms and conditions and other quality issues be improved?
  • Pathways to work – How can we help students and study-leavers from all backgrounds get into work?

The findings will guide NUS's campaigning on employment ahead of the general election, and the Commission will make recommendations to a range of organisations including government and political parties
, employers, civil society organisations
, the education sector
, and the student and youth movement.

NUS will be collaborating with The Work Foundation to write up the findings and recommendations.  The Commission will be convened by a panel of experts who bring high level experience and insight on the labour market, the education sector and youth sector more generally.  Members include ...

• Toni Pearce, NUS President (Chair)

Professor David Blanchflower, Professor of Economics, Dartford College

Michael Davis, Chief Executive, UKCES

Dr Adam Marshall, Executive Director, British Chambers of Commerce

Paul Nowak, Assistant General Secretary, TUC

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive CIPD

Dr Tessa Stone, Chief Executive, Brightside Trust

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters

Dupsy Abiola, CEO and Founder, Intern Avenue

Dave Simmonds, Chief Executive, CESI

Sue Ferns, Chair, Unions 21

Catherine Sermon, Employability Director, Business in the Community

On the face of it, this should have sustainability and the green economy written through it like Cleethorpes through a stick of rock.  But will it?  Just how joined up is NUS in its thinking about tomorrow?  And where is Sara Parkin when a Commission needs her?


Madeline by name – but mandoline by nature?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Rumours abound that the new(ish) HEFCE CEO, Madeleine Atkins, has been slicing and dicing the funding council's commitments to sustainability.  She wants, it's said, more of a hard-edged focus on the environment and less attention given to fluffier social justice stuff so beloved of ESD experts.

But is this true?  Well, I never believe rumours unless I've started them myself – then it's a moral obligation of sorts – but we'll find out soon enough when the Council's long-awaited sustainable development strategy is finally unveiled, and inside(r) stories can be told.


There are orderly queues forming in Manchester

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The outline programme of WSSD-U-2014 to be held in Manchester this September is now available

As the conference maître d, Walter Leal (Filho) has not managed to find anyone good enough to provide the inaugural lecture, he's going to give it himself.  His title is

"Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education: reviewing needs"

I can hardly wait.  I'm told orderly queues are already forming.