Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: February 2015

Why is Bristol Europe's Green Capital for 2015?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Bristol is Europe's Green Capital for 2015, but you have to wonder how this came about as its sustainability credentials seem pitifully few.  In the BBC's most recent Costing the Earth, Tom Heap explored these issues.  Clearly, the award was granted as much on future promise as past performance.  Perhaps that's as it should be.  It's a key reason why London got the Olympics, for example.

What those interviewed wanted from the 'green capital' experience, varied a lot, but legacy featured strongly.  There was a strong critique of too much emphasis on arty-fatty stuff (think blue plastic whales), and a persistent desire for an amelioration of some of Bristol's many problems.  Grid-locked traffic, and resultant poor air quality, were mentioned a lot, and the programme ended by wondering whether fewer children and old folk would die from the polluted air by the end of the Green Capital experience.

School education got a small mention.  One school was (inevitably, perhaps) measuring local air pollution, and there will be an 'education programme' that will feature Shaun the Sheep.  Umm.  This is being piloted in Bristol and then it's going nation-wide next autumn.  Details were sparse, but it did not sound encouraging.  Let's hope it's more than another dust-gathering teacher pack.  Oddly, there was no mention of the great contribution that the two universities are making which is something I have mentioned before.  That, too, promised to go national.

The programme confirmed that it would return in 2016 to see what had happened.  That might be way too soon.



Bad Day at HEFCE – Good one at Bath

📥  Comment, News and Updates

HEFCE announced on Wednesday that its Deputy CEO, Steve Egan, is leaving and will be taking up a new post at Bath as Vice President (Implementation).  I'd say that's ...

Bath 10 – 0 HEFCE

Eat your hearts out all you top-green-leaguers!  The Bath website noted:

The Vice-President (Implementation) role will catalyse institutional innovation and the implementation of University strategy.  Part of the senior management team Steve will engage with a wide range of internal stakeholders to effect corporate change, but will also have an outward-facing influencing role, co-ordinating policy input to government and national bodies and ensuring that we are positioned to exploit opportunities and respond to emerging challenges.  Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor, said:

“We are delighted to appoint someone of Steve’s stature in the Higher Education sector to this vital new role.  Through his leadership, energy and experience, we have confidence Steve will shape and drive campus-wide policy and culture change projects, transforming any structures and business practices that could become a barrier to institutional success in a rapidly evolving, global Higher Education market.  His knowledge of the sector and the challenges and opportunities it faces are second to none. I’m very much looking forward to working with him.”

Meanwhile, HEFCE quoted its CEO, Professor Madeleine Atkins, saying:

Over the last 12 months, the HEFCE senior management team has been strengthened through the organisational changes that have taken place, and as a result, myself and the HEFCE Chair Tim Melville-Ross have decided to share the responsibilities of the Deputy Chief Executive among other Directors rather than making a new appointment to that specific role.  There will be some changes to reporting lines which we are currently working through, and we will update staff in due course.

What does all this mean?  Well, two things seem reasonably clear:

[1]  there will be even less emphasis on all that sustainability nonsense at HEFCE which is quite a triumph for the CEO

[2] whatever it is that Steve will be implementing at Bath, it won't be ESD.



Deep Learning and the rise of the machines

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

I watched a TEDx talk by Jeremy Howard on deep learning and the rise of the machines.  You can see it here.  Prepare to be just a little bit impressed.  It might have been coincidence (or media-smart machines at work), but there has been quite a bit of coverage of deep learning recently, and of associated things such as success in the Turing Test.

It was a great talk by Howard, I thought. I did wonder about his use of the word "understand", however. What sort of understanding are machines capable of now?  Is it still at the autistic end of things?  How's their emotional intelligence?  Not that many humans are much good at that.  None of that was clear to me.

I suspect that when the NHS has stopped having to worry about illness, because deep learning has fixed it all, there will still be huge queues for counselling for those of us traumatised by machines.  I'd say never stray far from the off switch.


Sustainable Development Goal 4 – a comment

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As you know, the UN is planning to replace the Millennium Development Goals with 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  One of these (Goal 4) relates to education and learning.  Stephen Sterling has contributed to a recent report critiquing the goals, and he doesn't much like Goal 4 which is to:

"Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all."

Amongst Sterling's points are these (p. 29):

"This goal is both an end and a cross-cutting means.  That is, achieving this goal is desirable in itself for the evidence-based reasons given above. What is much weaker in the current articulation of the goal and its targets is education as a vehicle or instrument for change. Education can play a vital role in bringing about sustainable change over time because it is change which is owned by affected and participating stakeholders.

The goal currently emphasizes education in terms of its potential economic and social benefits – there is no recognition that education through awareness raising, training and capacity building can help protect environmental quality and lead to wiser resource use; only Target 4.7 mentions sustainable development as such.

This goal would benefit greatly from extended wording to reflect the fact that most educational policies and programs do not yet reflect the purposes and goals of sustainable development, and some even exacerbate sustainability issues. For many education policies and programs, a radical re-alignment towards sustainable development and sustainable futures is required."

Sterling then recommends that SDG 4 be revised to read:

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning ... opportunities for all, and further, review and reform the purposes, methods, and values that underpin all education and training policies and programs with a view to reinforcing the integration of culturally relevant education for sustainable development as a critical means of assuring a more sustainable future.”

His point, of course, is to get SD / ESD into the goal, as opposed to hiding it away, as UNECO has done, in target #4.7.  This target currently says:

#4.7 – by 2030, ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

This is a classic, breathless, UNESCO grab-bag where a lot of stuff (that UNESCO doesn't really understand) is packed whether it coheres or not (it doesn't).  Sterling suggests (his edits in bold):

#4.7 – by 2030, ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development through education for sustainable development programmes which promote sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

Too much promotion, of course, but, more importantly, the way this is phrased means it is something (if you believe in ESD / etc. / etc.) that teachers will need to do, not learners.  What learners (that is, people) have to do, is to act through how they live and work, and interact.

Anyway, hands up those who think UNESCO's panjandrums will take a blind bit of notice.




Sustainable Development Goal 4 – the detail

📥  New Publications

This is Sustainable Development Goal 4:

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

These are the 10 targets:

4.1 – by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

4.2 – by 2030 ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

4.3 – by 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

4.4 – by 2030, increase by x% (sic) the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

4.5 – by 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations

4.6 – by 2030, ensure that all youth and at least x% (sic) of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

4.7 – by 2030, ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

4.a –  (sic), build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

4.b – by 2020 (sic), expand by x% (sic) globally the number of scholarships for developing countries in particular LDCs, SIDS and African countries to enrol in higher education, including vocational training, ICT, technical, engineering and scientific programmes in developed countries and other developing countries

4.c – by 2030, increase by x% (sic) the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially LDCs and SIDS

See this, for a recent report on the proposals (and for Stephen Sterling's critique), and this, for a comment from me.


New SDGs "risk failure without clearer targets" says new report

📥  Comment, News and Updates

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 risk failure without clearer, more measurable targets that are based on the latest scientific evidence, a report from the International Council for Science and the International Social Science Council, has warned – as Reuters and others, note.

The 17 SDGs are set to replace the 8 Millennium Development Goals.  However, the report says that the 169 targets related to the draft goals rely too much on vague language, and would be more effective if set against numerical indicators.  The research concludes that only a third of the targets were well defined and based on the latest scientific evidence, while more than half needed more work; 17% were deemed weak or unnecessary.  The report was concerned that some goals would have unintended negative consequences on others if they were pursued separately.  The targets and goals are here.

Goal 4 is of particular interest:

"Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all".

The chapter in the report on this is written by Stephen Sterling who makes the crucial point that the goal and targets are strong on access to education, but weak in terms of viewing education and learning as a key part of engaging and helping address the 16 other SDGs.

Given that all this comes from those interested in Education for All (EFA), as opposed to EfS / ESD / LfS / EE / LSD / EEfSD / SDE / DE / GL / GDE / HRE / etc. / etc., that is no surprise.  At heart, all this is a reworking of the enduring tension between EFA and EfS / etc. / etc.

UNECO has always seen EFA as the prime target, in part at least, because everyone understands what it means which has never been the case with EfS / etc. / etc. .  It looks as if nothing has changed.

For the detail of Goal 4, see this, and for a comment on Stephen Sterling's critique, which is on pages 27 to 30 of the report, see this.



Opportunity and Cost – and Opportunity Cost

📥  Comment, New Publications

I once knew a man who never asked his children a straight question such as "Would you like an apple?"  He'd always say something like: "Would you like an apple or an orange?"  That is, he'd always make it clear that there were choices to be made, and that choosing one thing usually means not having the other.  He did this because he knew that daily life was all about making such choices, and thought his children ought to start early.  That is, he wanted the notion of opportunity cost to be something they understood.  He was, of course, an economist by trade.  My (non-economist) mother had a refinement on this process, but that's quite another story.

Steve Gough's new book has an informative passage on opportunity cost on pages 50/51 which deals with Scotland's incommensurate policies on [the value of] wind energy and wilderness.  His take on opportunity cost is that:

"the true cost of anything is the best alternative that could have been obtained instead."

See also this from the library of economics.

Here's the quote:

"... WWF Scotland is a strident supporter of the development of wind power. ...  However, others with an interest in environmental matters take a different view.  The Mountaineering Council of Scotland opposes wind farms on the grounds that they despoil wild land.  The interests of each organization form part of the opportunity cost of the policies promoted ... by the other, and these are in turn informed by value judgements in a climate of  uncertainty.

This is a sound basis for ESD2, and so it's unsurprising that Steve goes on to ask: "What should children learn?  Who should decide?"  His own response is this:

"What we can say is that they should not learn simply that renewable energy is good, unspoilt wild land is good too and they should expect always to have both.  They need to be equipped to choose where such choices are unavoidable. and to understand the consequences of choice."

Just so.  Such a pity, then, that current policy in England eschews such an informed approach.  Senior DfE representatives wrote this recently:

"Schools may incorporate sustainable development in their teaching within the broad framework of the citizenship curriculum.  Additionally, the new programmes of study for geography and science cover this issue from key stage 3 and focus on the key concepts in science and geography, rather than political, economic or social debates on this topic.  In order for children to develop a firm understanding of climate change, it is essential that it is taught as a carefully sequenced progression, starting with the fundamental concepts and relevant background knowledge which underpin this topic."

Only someone who's refused to think about the significance of any of this could write such tosh.  It would make me wish for change at the next election, if I thought things would get any better.  Hard Times, indeed.

London's new Crystal Palace

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

The Guardian ran a piece the other day about The Crystal.   They termed it: 'Children of change: empowering learners through education for sustainable development'.  Control of the contents was not the Guardian's, but rested with The Crystal which is a sponsor of the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards and the business futures hub.  Contributors to the piece used the opportunity to promote ESD.  How odd, then, that the Crystal doesn't mention this in its educational materials which, more oddly still, perhaps, are located on the Siemens website.  But, hey, this is the new London whose iconic buildings are increasingly part of the globalised – or neo-liberal, according to taste –  world.

The teacher materials might not mention ESD, but they are all about teaching about sustainability in and through The Crystal.  They are full of references to sustainability and cities: population, urbanisation, climate change, energy, smart grids, waste, well-being, transport, and democracy.  They promise a rich experience.

What to make of this conundrum?  Is the Crystal completely out of touch?  Or is it that they didn't feel inclined to use abstruse and otiose jargon that no one's heard of?

Answers on a postcard to UNESCO ...



News on the Sustainable Schools Alliance – and those doorways

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The latest edition of SEEd news contained a link to the Sustainable Schools Alliance [ SSA ] which is co-ordinated by SEEd.  Its membership is here, though I'm told this is out of date.

Much of its work is focused around the Sustainable Schools Framework which, you will recall, was something the previous government set up.  It had 8 'doorways'.  The framework was formally abandoned by the Coalition Government in 2010 – along with the rainbow motifs – but the SSA is keeping it alive, despite its being an inadequate way of framing sustainability in schools [ Note 1 ].

The SSA has added a 9th doorway – Biodiversity and Nature, and a recent SEEd blog gives more detail of this.  It includes this passage:

"When this government, through Michael Gove, dropped the [sustainable schools] initiative and support for it – we, as a sector were left to our own devices. Such was the interest that 300 organisations attended 4 stakeholder meetings in 2011 and 100 attended the launch.  It took another 2 years but we finally have found a model to make this work – the Sustainable Schools Alliance Board of 25 members ( a few places are left if you want to join this merry band!). The Board covers all aspects of sustainability, all approaches, all sizes of organisations and areas of England.  How do I know it is working?  People want longer meetings to network and work up other side collaborations, commit to actions, volunteer and make decisions decisively.  Do you know many networks like that?  And persistence and necessity has won the day.  Although I am also a great believer that you have to sow seeds ( sorry!) and then allow them to mature.  You also have to try to model collaboration and win trust – and that all takes time.  Especially since it is against the zeitgeist.  So do keep following the progress of the SSA – anyone can join, if you are a member of SEEd, we assume you are interested in the SSA. See what improvements based on the practice of the last 10 years are being introduced and what it can do for you."

Note 1

Here's a comment I made 6 years ago about the Sustainable Schools Framework and its troublesome doorways metaphor:

The DCSF's use of the doorway metaphor has meant that the language of its sustainable schools framework was already familiar to school leaders because it mapped squarely onto many recent policy foci; for example, healthy eating / citizenship / well-being / transport / energy / and social inclusion.  DCSF hoped that schools would see in the framework something of what they were already doing, and be encouraged to develop it further.  And the evidence (anecdotal at least) seems to be that this strategy has been effective in enabling schools to enter into thinking about sustainability and learning, sometimes for the first time.

That's what good doorways do, of course: they allow you to enter, but that's all they do.  Once you're inside, you don't usually then spend time looking back at the doorway.  So why do so many schools seem to be doing just that: reifying these 8 areas and building work around them?  This is not to argue that the doorway themes don’t matter, they do, but If you get the point about sustainability then the doorways have done their job. This is not something that DCSF seems fully to appreciate, given how much advice and guidance is couched in doorway terms.  For example:

  • "The Sustainable Schools strategy is made up of eight sustainability ‘doorways’.  Each plays a role in the curriculum and campus, but can also have a big impact on the whole community.  ... Each doorway may be approached individually, though schools will find that many of the doorways are actually interconnected."

Well, indeed they are.  They all are connected, and are merely access points into the life of the school as a whole.  They are convenient (and familiar) entrances onto the same space: the work and life of the school as a community – in its community.  This is a space that is both physical and cultural – and increasingly global.

The huge risk, however, is that too great a focus on the doorway metaphor can encourage a fragmented approach, and the presentation of a series of seemingly unrelated ideas.  Whilst it might encourage a coverage from a range of perspectives, this focus on doorways can militate against seeing connections, relationships, and consequences, and limit creativity.  All these are plausibly highlighted as essential qualities in ESD in Chris Gayford’s ... 3-year study of 15 schools for DCSF and WWF: learning-for-sustainability-from-the-pupils-perspective.

And once you've entered this space, and want to develop practice and understanding, you need the sort of help that the doorways (mere entrances, afterall) simply cannot provide: you need a way of thinking about sustainability in relation to education, schools, learning, and young people's lives, which means you need a way of thinking about sustainability itself; that is, you need a conceptual framework that is fit for purpose.

Has anyone seen a conceptual framework recently?