Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: October 2014

Have you got Global Whatever it is?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I had an email recently from Tom Franklin, Think Global’s CEO.  Maybe you did too.  He invited me for lunch (and an AGM).  Sadly, I was busy.  I was struck that his very short message included all the following phrases:

global learning / global issues / global citizens / global competences / global citizenship skills / global skills (twice)

This got me wondering what all these mean and how distinct they are.  What are the differences, for example, between global competences and global skills?  And how do global citizenship skills and global skills differ?  And do you have to be a global citizen to have global citizenship skills? Or do you become a global citizen through developing global citizenship skills?  Answers on that postcard, please, to DfID.

Perhaps you have to have global literacy to understand all this.  That could be where I’m going wrong ...



More on Skills Mapping

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote yesterday about the problems of identifying 'sustainability skills'.  I noted that the world is full of people with so-called sustainability skills such as 'critical thinking' but that many such skills are purpose and value-neutral.  It all depends on how they are used in the world.

It was good to see, therefore, that IMEA has done its own critical thinking about all this and come up with a skill set that is reasonably focused.  An IEMA survey of over 900 organisations indicates that only 13% of companies are fully confident that they have the skills to successfully compete in the sustainable economy.  Tim Balcon, CEO of IMEA noted:

In the new business world, environment and sustainability can no longer be a bolt on, it needs to be part of businesses’ DNA.  IEMA is launching its campaign “Preparing for the Perfecting Storm – Skills for a Sustainable Economy” to shine a light on this issue and catalyse action to address the skills deficit.  Businesses need to urgently turn what is a growing and prevailing list of challenges into opportunities. The most effective way of grasping this opportunity is by ensuring that all businesses have access to a new set of skills – environment and sustainability – to ensure that UK plc and businesses globally can transition and survive in this new economy,”

Peefect Storm provides some informative case studies.  IEMA’s skills framework includes the following:

  • Skills for leaders to be able to integrate sustainability into long-term decision making
  • Enhanced skills and capability of environment and sustainability professionals so they can embed sustainability throughout the organisation and its value chain, e.g. foresight and horizon scanning, building the business case
  • Increasing environment and sustainability knowledge and understanding of all other workers, so they can play their full role.

Whilst this is a good start, they are only headings.  What is the detail, I wondered.  There are certainly 'skills' exemplified in the case studies that are set out, but there isn't a list of them anywhere – as far as I could see.  Maybe there isn't a list.  Maybe the idea of a list is nonsense.  Perhaps, we're seduced by lists into thinking them necessary?  Maybe it's all contextual, contingent and conditional – like life in many respects.

To be continued  ...


Skills Mapping on an ESD programme

📥  Comment, News and Updates

At a summer meeting with a university's ESD team, we heard that its students have described the skills they see relating to sustainability.  The ESD team noted that these could be applicable to just about any subject area, echoing the idea of sustainability as a place where many subjects intersect and overlap.  They stressed that these are enablers not prescribers – "a new kind of student learning journey,  ... discovering voice".

The skills identified by the students are:

  1. Future thinking
  2. Interdisciplinarity
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Social / collaborative thinkers
  5. Making a difference
  6. Creative solutions
  7. Innovation
  8. Empowerment
  9. Self belief
  10. Partnership
  11. Empathy
  12. Self efficacy
  13. Adaptive capacity – evidence based thinking – the ability to handle risk, uncertainty
  14. Holistic /integrative thinking
  15. Personal ethical code
  16. Vision, motivation and resourcefulness

When these came up in the meeting, it struck me that none of the items had anything particularly to do with sustainability in that they did not relate, specifically, to economic, social or environmental issues and their intersection.  When I mentioned this, the immediate response was that these skills had everything to do with sustainability.  For example, a sustainable society would need people and structures with critical thinking skills, etc, etc – you know the argument.

Well, it might, but that's not the same thing.  As David Orr might have (and probably has) pointed out, the world is full of people with these skills (and institutions that promote them) who are often part of the problem.  Many of these skills are purpose and value-neutral.  It all depends on how they are used in the world, a point which the ESD team acknowledged.

That said, it surely follows that some sort of value framing is needed if such skills are to be acquired in a way that renders them restorative, rather than destructive of, say, natural capital or social justice.  I couldn't see where such a framing has been adopted by the university as a whole, as it has, for example, by the University of British Columbia which seems to have a better understanding all this – on paper at least.

More to come on all this ...


Schooling for Sustainable Development in Europe

📥  Comment, New Publications

There's a new book around: ‘Schooling for Sustainable Development in Europe’ .  This

"... examines the implementation of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programs in schools across Europe. It describes and analyses how individual countries and the region as a whole have established teaching and learning methods to help students develop the competencies needed to be part of a sustainable society. The book also reflects on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) in terms of what has been done, as well as assessments of what more could be done, across Europe."

I should declare an interest, as I have written Chapter 4: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): A Critical Review of Concept, Potential and Risk.  This is the Abstract:

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) can be thought of as the bringing together of a wide variety of educational strategies aimed at addressing the existential problems of human socio-economic development.  But, as we near the end of the UN’s ESD Decade, what can we say about how ESD is conceptualised and interpreted; about its coherence and usefulness as an idea; about how well it fits within education systems and schools; about its potential as a strategy to change educational experiences across the globe; and about the uncertainties and ambiguities at its heart?  This chapter examines these questions and puts forward a number of issues for both practitioners and policy makers to consider in the UN’s post-Decade global action programme.

Think of this as my contribution to the end-of-decade celebration, although not everyone will like what this chapter says.  At its heart are three particular ideas:

1. If sustainable development only makes sense as learning, then effective ESD must always be a contribution to sustainable development, and our understanding of sustainable development will determine how we think about ESD, and, as Sterling (Pers. Com.) reminds us in a paper for UNESCO's celebratory end-of-Decade conference, about education itself.  It follows that, for ESD to have meaning, and therefore effect, it needs to be grounded within a conceptual framing of sustainable development itself. There are, of course, different conceptual framings of sustainable development, and so more than one approach to ESD will endure, and even UNESCO acknowledges that some of these will continue to resemble environmental and development education. This is as it needs to be in free societies as we struggle to make sense of what we have done, and keep on doing, to the biosphere's systems, flows, cycles and sinks. A good educationally-critical sort of question to ask a teacher, trainer or lecturer who says they are involved in ESD is how what they are doing relates, and contributes, to sustainable development. If they cannot provide a convincing answer, then scepticism is in order about whether they know what they are doing, and whether learners will benefit as much as they might expect, or at all.  Another question would be to ask whether they think of ESD as a process or something to be taught, with appropriate conclusions being drawn if the response is the second of these.

2. Educational institutions need to prioritise student learning over institutional, behaviour or social change whilst making use of any such change to support and broaden that learning.  In this sense it is fine for a school, college or university to encourage its students to save energy, create less waste, or get involved with initiatives such as fair trade (or Fairtrade), provided that these are developed with student learning in mind, including an umbilical link to their actual studies.  To do otherwise is to forget why educational institutions exist.  Being restorative of social or natural capital is laudable, but not if it neglects or negates the development of appropriate human capital, i.e. student learning.  Doing all this in collaboration with students, and with the communities within which institutions are socially, economically and environmentally embedded, will aid everyone's learning, and perhaps even sustainable development.

3. Being socio-economically transformative remains an ideal, with being restorative of natural and social capital examples of would-be welcome outcomes.  There is, however, little sign of such transformation's being achieved any time soon, or, indeed, that UNESCO is particularly convinced that it's a necessary goal for ESD.  This is, perhaps, just as well as the evidence that ESD could lead transformation is not convincing.  Indeed, why should it be, when it is a focus on sustainable development that is needed for a transformative effect, not a process of education such as ESD.  It does seem persuasive, however, that a focus on transformation, per se, is not necessary to make progress towards that goal, and that it is small-scale, on-the-ground developments that are needed to create the conditions for transformation.  The ground-breaking work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with its circular economy focus, is an example of such an initiative.  Although not couched in the language of sustainable development, this is transformative in nature, and it is setting about its educational business by working within business and educational organisations.


Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth

📥  Comment, News and Updates

If you are reading this, you probably missed the coming together of the world's leading miserabilists in New York at the weekend.  Never, mind, think of all the carbon the world saved by your not going, and the tedium you were spared.  Here's the programme, anyway.

And here's Mark Lynas on:

"... the rank hypocrisy of well-fed intellectuals flying in from all over the world to bemoan the march of technology.  I mean, where do even you start on all the ironies?  The fact that it’s promoted on the web?  That no-one is coming by horse?  That Vandana Shiva might have missed the party had she had to row over from India in a canoe?  That electricity will no doubt be an essential part of the logistics of the proceedings? ..."

It reminds be of a bloke I saw on South African TV during the 2002 Earth Summit.  He'd flown down to Jo'burg from Lagos just to bemoan the world's use of oil.  Well behind irony.

When is sustainability more than just efficiency?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Economist's Schumpeter blog recently carried an article "A new green wave" which suggests that "a few pioneering businesses are developing sustainability policies worthy of the name."   Really?, you might think.  Is that news?  Surely this has been going on for years?  What about the much trumpeted Plan A, for example,

The point Schumpeter makes is that many corporate sustainability plans are modest – little more than adhering to current regulatory norms and attempts at greater efficiency, in terms, for example, of energy savings, cutting waste, and streamlining logistics – which, the blog argues, should be being done anyway.  Quite.  These are the no-brainers which increase sales and profits, and enhance shareholder value in the immediate term – or, if you're a university, help institutional margins, and bring PR (and, on a good day, even educational) value.

But, Schumpeter says that these are evidence of efficiency (not sustainability) policies and plans because they have little actual effect on the environment or social equity.  That is, as the Economist might have said but didn't, they do nothing to restore natural or social capital.  This seems a good test, and is a point I find myself making now and then.

Schumpeter says that none of this puts "sustainability at the heart of what the firms do".  The purpose of the blogpost was to identify firms that are starting to go beyond this limited point and which are part of "a new wave of sustainability plans" where targets relate, not just to the company, but to suppliers and customers, and are about society at large and not just the environment.  Another test, I think.

In all this, sustainability is becoming "a core part of their strategy" and not just a "green way to cut costs".  Schumpeter says that whilst these new policies may not pay for themselves in the immediate term, they do act to boost the long-term fundamentals of a company (or university).  Still, you can see why they are marginalised by ultra-cautions, nervous managers – and by those whose minds are fixated by the tyranny of quarterly data – or, dare I say, annual national student survey (or green league) scores.

The column ends with this:

The first wave of sustainability rewarded itself.  The new wave will not do that.  It is more akin to investing now to have a licence to operate in future, when consumers, lobbyists and regulators will be ever more demanding about the way firms behave.  That does not mean the new wave will not reward its adopters.  But it will boost their long-term competitive position, rather than their short-term profits.  Unlike the rewards of the superficial first wave, those of deeper sustainability could take years to sink in.

It seems obvious to me that all this applies as much to universities as to other businesses, although we might have to adjust the language a little.



Letter to HEFCE's CEO

📥  News and Updates

Professor Madeleine Atkins
Chief Executive Officer
Higher Education Funding Council for England
Northavon House
Coldharbour Lane
BS16 1QD

Dear Professor Atkins

In 2009, Hefce published an updated strategic statement and action plan on sustainable development in the higher education sector following feedback received on the consultation document HEFCE 2008/18.

This document [2009/03] contained the following sections:

#48. The greatest contribution HE can make to sustainable development is by enabling students to acquire the skills and knowledge that allow them to make a lasting difference. What they learn and what they are taught are therefore critical.

#74. It remains our view that the greatest contribution that universities and colleges can make to sustainable development is through the values, skills and knowledge that students learn and put into practice.

These statements were widely welcomed across the sector for their unequivocal view that student learning is not just fundamental to higher education’s contribution to sustainable development, but is also the greatest contribution that universities and colleges can make.  At the time, the Council was clearly in the vanguard of such thinking across the world.

It is, therefore, very disappointing to hear that these sentiments have been omitted from the final draft of the Council's 2014 Sustainable Development Framework.  I do hope that you can tell me that I have been misinformed, and that this is not the case.

Yours, ...

William Scott




Ministers not going to ESD Jamboree in Japan Shock

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This was to be the Sun's front page headline today, until a dead donkey story came up.

It seems that no member of the UK government is going to the End-of-Days conference on ESD in Japan in November.  Not even the joined up Scots are going, or the much less connected Welsh – they are still working on their pre-post-PISA strategy, of course.  The Scots are sending Edinburgh's Pete Higgins, but he's no Nicola Sturgeon.

Should we complain?  Or should the hard-pressed tax-payer be grateful that the jollying budget is kept for another day.  Unusually, this seems a clear message from HMG, and consistent with previous actions and current policy stances.  Having ignored the decade for so long, it seems very late to go (literally) to the party now.

I'm told that, "Can you explain ESD to me?" is said to be the question that every UKIP candidate dreads.

For the record, here's what they're missing:

With just one month to go before the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan, all Permanent Delegates and Observers to UNESCO in Paris were briefed on 13 October on preparations for the event so far.  Chaired by Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education, the meeting focused on the details of the conference which will mark the end of the UN Decade of ESD (2005-2014) and launch the Global Action Programme GAP, endorsed by the 37th UNESCO General Conference.  Mr Tang said: 

“The GAP on ESD is a concrete step to implement an important outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, where Member States committed to promote Education for Sustainable Development and will integrate sustainable development more actively into education beyond the UN Decade of ESD” 

Of the 1,000 expected participants at the global conference in Nagoya, 868 have been confirmed from 120 countries. Out of a total of 81 participants at the ministerial level, 68 Ministers, mainly representing Ministries of Education and Environment, have also been confirmed. The conference will host four plenary sessions and a high-level roundtable over a 3-day period, with 34 workshops, 25 side events and 42 exhibition booths.  Under the banner of “Learning Today for a Sustainable Future,” the conference aims to secure a Roadmap through the GAP, to allow government representatives and other key stakeholders to formulate new proposed goals and objectives, priority action areas and strategies.  The conference will close with the announcement of the Aichi-Nagoya Declaration.  Mr Tang also referred to the conference as the beginning of a new chapter on ESD:

“This will be an important event in UNESCO’s contribution to the post-2015 agenda and its outcome will be brought forward to the World Education Forum, taking place in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in 2015”.

Prior to the conference in Nagoya, key meetings will be held in Okayama, Japan, between 4-8 November, including a Youth Conference and an event where over 200 students and teachers from 34 countries from the UNESCO associated schools will gather together to share experiences and exchange views on ESD.  They will generate their own contribution for the Nagoya Conference.

Although it's a terrible muddling of metaphors, I fear we may not have heard the last of "A Roadmap through the GAP".


There's a really good living to be made out of climate change

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

There was evidence for this aplenty in Oxford the other day as the idea and practice of capitalism came in for another routine bashing.

That's a great thing about capitalism, of course, it affords niches not just for business and social enterprise, but also for commentators and critics, to help our understanding of social and other phenomena.  That's why "literally" (according to the breathless bloke who introduced them) many hundreds turned out to hear Naomi Klein and Vivienne Westwood tell them how tough life was going to be under climate change.  If you have a strong stomach, you can see the event here, introduction and all.

I could not bear listening to it all, but I think that I heard Klein say that capitalism would have to change and that whole industries would disappear.  Dear me!  Such insight.  I hope no one paid to hear this.  Reassuringly, re-inventing itself as times change, is what capitalism is quite good at.  There may still be hope ...


HEFCE's Sustainable Development Framework – an update of sorts

📥  Comment, News and Updates

You might be wondering what has happened to HEFCE's new Sustainable Development Framework – after all, the national consultation was many months ago.  Well, there is the inevitable passage through the Council's committees – not to mention their having to get a draft that was both reasonably meaningful and which could be squeezed past the new CEO's rather reductionist view of sustainability.

I am told, however, by those who know, that the publication of the new Framework is now being delayed until after the UNECSO's ESD Nagoya conference [10-12 November], as the End-of-Decade report is said to make enthusiastic noises about HEFCE, and make it look good – far better, probably, than it currently deserves; understandably, the Council wants to have the benefit of all of that.

And to think that HEFCE and its leadership of the sector was once world-leading.  Now, it's world-following in more senses than one.  Such a pity.