Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: March 2015

So, what is a curriculum and what can it do?

📥  Comment, New Publications

Given the curriculum and accountability chaos unleashed by the government’s education policies, it is timely of Routledge to make Michael Young’s editorial from a special issue of the Curriculum Journal – "What is a curriculum and what can it do?" freely available.

It begins:

Despite the widespread use of the term ‘curriculum’ in educational research and policy, the questions in my title are not easy to answer.  Furthermore, as is indicated by the papers in this Special Issue, there is little consensus among specialists in the field.  An attempt to answer them, however, is worthwhile because much writing and research about the curriculum is devoted to saying what it ought to do, and what its aims are, with less regard for what exactly a curriculum is that might fulfil those aims.

Although it's about schools, it applies to wherever the word curriculum is used, mis-used and abused.  Essential reading, therefore, for those trying to introduce ESD etc, etc to universities where the idea of curriculum remains underdeveloped.


How best to smell a rat

📥  Comment, New Publications

It's an old joke, and the answer is 'from a safe distance'.  However, if you're a charity trustee or a company non-exec director trying to exercise your scrutiny function, you often have little option but to do just that.  You are reliant, in other words, on what managers and tell you, most often in reports.  Getting good at reading between the lines is something you need to do.

The Guardian had a good piece about this the other week.  This was written in the light of issues at HSBC which illustrated how easy it was for scrutinisers not to be fully informed by managers, whilst being paid well for it.  I have, you will appreciate, no experience of these high finance dealings, but I've sat on a number of charity, NGO and school boards (and still do), and there is one thing that most of this experience tells me – there is a tendency for those who chair such boards to get very close to senior managers – whilst not being paid for it.  This is completely understandable, and I make absolutely no claims of corrupt or undue influence.  However, to a degree, it means that the scrutiny function has to be carried out not just in relation to senior management, but in terms of the relationship of those managers and the chair of the board.


Education, Climate and Environment – a new guide

📥  Comment, New Publications

Evidence-on-Demand A new DfID Topic Guide is available that "sets out the existing knowledge around the links between education, climate and environment [and] highlights the two-way relationship between these key areas."  These include:

  • The risks and opportunities posed by environmental and climatic factors on educational supply and demand at all levels (primary, secondary, tertiary) and modes (formal and informal).
  • The role education and educational infrastructure can play in building the resilience of communities (particularly poor and vulnerable population groups) to climate and environmental change, and
  • The potential opportunities provided by low carbon technology and environmentally-sensitive construction and design in that process.

Whilst there is much in this guide, I was disappointed not to find a decent summary.  It ends with a list of "opportunities".  See what you think:

Research and policy in education, environment and sustainable development – these areas have a long and rich history – beginning in the 1960s – which represent a wealth of knowledge and expertise on approaches to teaching and learning, curriculum development, and working with diverse communities around the world on environmental issues. The lessons learned from this research are directly applicable to educational responses to climate change, and emerging research on education, climate change and resilience represents a significant new area for future learning and development.

International networks of EE/ESD educators – these rich communities of practice, knowledge and understanding can be usefully drawn upon in formulating educational responses to climate and environmental change. Tapping into this expertise can help to build local and national capacity as well as to support mutual and organisational learning. Examples of key networks include the MESA network in Africa, UNESCO schools networks, the UNESCO Teacher Education Network, Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO’s network of ESD educators and facilitators, and United Nations University’s Regional Centres of Excellence in ESD.

Existing national ESD strategies – As a result of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development most countries now have national ESD strategies, although in many cases these have yet to be embedded or implemented. These existing policy frameworks provide important opportunities for embedding climate and environmental issues within educational programmes, and these can be usefully drawn upon and further strengthened in the future.

International community of DFID-funded development, educational, environmental and climate change experts and students – This includes a number of large alumni networks which could also be drawn on for further expertise and action in their home contexts. The UK Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, for instance, was established in 1959 and awards over 900 scholarships and fellowships for postgraduate study and professional development to Commonwealth citizens each year. These stakeholders and experts are well placed to provide locally relevant and culturally appropriate support and advice.

Wider policy linkages – Links are also increasingly being made between international efforts in education and the environment, quality, and Education for All (cf. Wade and Parker 2008; UNESCO 2014; Education First Initiative). Although the details of the post-2015 international development agenda have yet to be fully determined, there are also clear indications that greater attention will be focused in the future on the links between education quality and sustainable development (cf. UNESCO & UNICEF 2013). The convergence of these key international agendas – and their shared objective of providing education which develops human potential to address future change and challenges – provides excellent opportunities for innovative interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration.

Umm ...



No publication for old(er) men

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading Monitoring Education for Global Citizenship: A Contribution to Debate, but it's no publication for old(er) men.  It's near-unreadable on screen because of the PDF formatting, and you need a magnifying glass to read the paper copy.  It's (un)clearly meant for the visually unchallenged and acute; maybe there's a message there.

It is a publication from DEEEP, which is "a project of the DARE Forum of CONCORD, the European Development NGO confederation."  DEEEP says:

As facilitator of the European development education sector, DEEEP and the CONCORD DARE Forum aim to be a driver for new transformative approaches to development and education through working towards systemic change and active global citizenship.  We believe that research has a vital role to play in promoting innovation within the field of education.  We adopt a participatory, cross-sectoral approach to our research which enables us to explore a range of different perspectives and approaches to change. We regularly publish reports and articles with academics and practitioners that stimulate innovative thinking about new paradigms for development and education based on global justice.  Our publications target development education practitioners and academics, civil society organisations and anyone interested in education and social change.

Are you following this, because I'm not sure I am.  This report says that it ...

"sets out to provide a stimulus for further thought, work and debate in the design of assessment frameworks for an education that supports people in leading fulfilling lives in a changing, globalised world, and in particular within the context of debates around post-2015 universal targets and indicators that are relevant to an education for global citizenship (EfGC)."

It addresses the following questions:

  1. What are the key differences and similarities between diverse forms of ‘adjectival educations’ that contribute to, or generally express themselves as allied to an ‘education for global citizenship’?
  2. What do they contribute to an education for global citizenship?
  3. How, if at all, do they interpret the notion of ‘transformation’?
  4. What do practitioners consider to be the major challenges and opportunities for monitoring (transformative) education for global citizenship?
  5. Which approaches and means of monitoring and assessing transformative education for global citizenship appear to be feasible?

In terms of overlap and difference, the report says this:

"The origins and key characteristics of development education, global education and global learning, human rights education, and education for sustainable development are explored, leading to statements about their commonalities and contributions to an education for global citizenship. These commonalties appear to be particularly in the areas of their shared global orientation, pursuit of personal and/or societal transformation, active and enquiry based teaching and learning methodologies, and overlapping content.  …

Although the different educations may have their different histories and speciality interests there is much that they share – particularly at the broader end of their spectra. Apart from a global perspective, pedagogies and interests in transformation there are also a number of overlapping and closely related content issues."

I waded through this and came to Figure 1.  This shows DEEEP's view of these four overlapping educations, and content of mutual concern ...

Development Education

  • global development
  • inequality
  • views and perspectives of the marginalised
  • economic/political reform
  • education for and in development
  • engagement in economic/political change

Global Education/Global Learning

  • global outlook
  • multiplicity of perspectives
  • futures
  • personal development
  • education for problem solving
  • engagement in shaping the future

Human Rights Education

  • human dignity
  • economic, social, political, and cultural rights
  • rights and responsibilities
  • education for and in rights
  • engagement in actions for justice

Education for Sustainable Development

  • people-nature interdependence
  • future focus
  • common agendas for sustainability
  • education for sustainability
  • personal and societal behaviour regarding production and consumption

... which looks much better as a graphic.

You will have your own views of all this, but I think it lacks conviction.  I'll content myself with three comments:

1. the contrived nature of the "education in / for  ..." constructs: eg, "education for and in rights"  Really?

2. the strange lack of overlap between these four segments. It seems that they have been written in order to maximise difference.

3. the absence of these "common agendas" in three of the segments.

You do have to wonder whose interests all this serves.


Lessons in waste management from Wiltshire Council

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Wiltshire Council is a unitary authority that covers the whole of Wiltshire where I live; this now excludes Swindon thereby relieving all of us of a dreadful responsibility.  WC is run by the Conservatives who are more or less successfully keeping the council tax down by being lean or mean, according to your point of view.

Up to now, WC has provided everyone with a fortnightly garden waste collection service funded by the council tax.  Despite my numerous compost heaps, I am a very regular user, not only of this service, but also of the local recycling centres.  However, WC's finances are now under pressure.  A public consultation about garden waste collections showed that people overwhelmingly preferred a slightly reduced service to an additional charge.  Despite this, WC has decided it has to charge £40/ year for the service – for those that continue to want it.

This is a happy outcome for WC executives as the council tax will not be going up, and a promise will be kept.  However, a key question is: what will those with limited green waste do?  Pay the £40, get in the car and drive to a recycling centre, or find other ways to get rid of their waste.  An increase in roadside tipping is predicted by some of those opposing the change, as is a reduction in overall recycling rates (reported to be, currently, a miserable 52%).  This will be a less-happy outcome, but is seen by WC to be better than being seen to raise the tax.  It estimates that 20% of residents will pay the charge, and that, at these levels, the cost saving will be £800,000.  We shall see.





Walter Leal's very special day

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Are you an academic who can't think what to say?  Or one too idle to do your own preparation?  Don't despair, Walter L has the answer(s) for you – and they're free.

Walter sent an email to his many followers (it didn't come to me) saying that preparations for the 3rd World Sustainable Development Teach-in Day on 25th March, are complete, and that over 100 powerpoint presentations from sustainability experts from across the world that were presented at WSSD-U-2014, are now on-line.  These, Walt says, can be used as a basis for lectures.

In his usual under-stated fashion, W goes on to say that the Teach-in Day will "unite the global sustainability community", and "cater for all time zones".  It will, it seems, be "a very special day." Huzzar!


Curriculum and low expectations

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In England, no matter how secular you are of mindset, you always know when Easter's approaching because the teacher unions and professional associations hold their annual conferences to which the educational great 'n' good are invited.  Here's the line-up for the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) which was held last week.

The Secretary of State [ Nicki Morgan ] used her address to attack the soft bigotry of low expectations; that is supposed cultural determinism: youngsters from deprived homes will not succeed, so there's no point in expecting or helping them to; theirin lies only disappointment and frustration, the argument goes.  This is a phrase that the previous Secretary of State has also used.  Ms Morgan wondered aloud why some children from deprived backgrounds succeed in some areas of the country, but not in others, even when they are close by.  It's a good point.

Inevitably, there were questions to her about school funding (also unevenly distributed, not only between the 4 bits of the UK, but within them).  More interestingly (from this blog's perspective), there was a question about curriculum – or at least, about influence on, and control of, it.

The Independent reported that Ms Morgan ...

"rejected demands from head teachers for ministers to give up their control of the curriculum, arguing that only democratically elected representatives should decide what children should be taught in schools."

It seems that the head teachers had called for an independent commission of teachers, parents, employers and politicians which would review the curriculum every five years.  Interesting, if dangerous. stuff.

I wrote this a while back:

"Curriculum is concerned with how we think about the social purposes of education.   If we think one way, we will have a certain kind of curriculum; if we think differently, the curriculum itself will be markedly different.  ...

Curriculum is always a selection from culture, and by its very nature involves a compromise between competing social goals (eg, cultural transmission (or rejection) / social change (or not) / employment and employability / personal fulfilment and well-being).  Wise societies choose carefully and re-think their choices from time to time, especially when faced with social or economic challenges.  The need for sustainable development is thought by many to be such a point of choice – though not, I suspect by current ministers."

I thought it was an odd response from the minister as schools have already significant control over the school curriculum (though not of the  – notionally slimmed down – national curriculum).  The ASCL clearly wants that control extended which is fair enough, and given to what sounds like an unaccountable quango, which surely isn't – unless they are proposing the body be elected, which they are surely not.

Yet Morgan is right, in a representative democracy, to stake a claim for the government as a representative of the country as a whole.  The situation at the moment is a partnership of sorts between the centre (a national curriculum framework and legally-established, over-aching goals, and the periphery (individual schools with freedom to interpret and extend).  This question of 'who selects?' is an old one, and is probably unresolvable as, although inter-stakeholder tensions persist, they also shift from time to time.

I briefly wondered whether this putative commission would be likely to better at encouraging a serious focus on environmental and sustainability issues in the curriculum, but saw no compelling reason to think it should.

Time to let Henges talk to each other

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Whether this mad idea to have a second Stonehenge is still being considered is unclear (it was on the BBC website recently), but Graham Gould, of Salisbury City Centre Management, has described it as a "fantastic idea".  He is reported as saying:

"For tourism in Wiltshire, it will be a huge boost.  The new Stonehenge will compliment (sic) the old one.  The two can work together, without a doubt."

Enough said.

Catching up with Ted

📥  Comment, New Publications, Talks and Presentations

Well, with TED, and in particular Johan Rockström.  Here he is in 2010.  I was alerted to this by the Independent the other day with an article by Christopher Hooton about a paper published by Rockström in Science in January 2015.

The Indy's title was stark: "Earth has exceeded four of the nine limits for hospitable life, scientist claims", but the piece (and the paper) were more positive.  Hooton wrote:

Johan Rockström argues that we've already screwed up with regards to climate change, extinction of species, addition of phosphorus and nitrogen to the world's ecosystems and deforestation.  We are well within the boundaries for ocean acidification and freshwater use meanwhile, but cutting it fine with regards to emission of poisonous aerosols and stratospheric ozone depletion.  "The planet has been our best friend by buffering our actions and showing its resilience," Rockström said, "But for the first time ever, we might shift the planet from friend to foe."

Rockström's is a positive, not a doomsday, message.  He's confident that we can step back within some of the boundaries, for example through slashing carbon emissions and boosting agricultural yields in Africa to soothe deforestation and biodiversity loss.  "For the first time, we have a framework for growth, for eradicating poverty and hunger, and for improving health."

He sets all this out in the TED talk.  There are an awful lot of 'IF's around though.  It struck me that this would be a good introduction for anyone who'd just dropped onto the Planet from somewhere safer, or who'd been spending the last 30 years reading the Daily Celebrity.  I wondered how many TED talks get used in schools these days – or at least get pointed out to students for background, questions and critique.



What do you call a group of University Estates Directors?

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

I wondered this when I was at the recent seminar on Designing & Managing Sustainable University Estates that was hosted by NCUP – the National Conference of University Professors.

NCUP_logoI came to the conclusion that a 'concatenation' might be appropriate, given how much carbon seems to feature in their preoccupations and deliberations.  I found the (rather poorly attended) seminar more stimulating than I'd anticipated, and was particularly engaged by presentations from ...

  • Sue Holmes – AUDE Perspectives – The Sustainable Estate – The Challenges and Conflicts of Greening our University Estate
  • Marcella Ucci – Sustainable Development: Impacts on Space & Place in Higher Education
  • Richard Jackson – The Importance of Caring for our Universities Estate with Effective Facilities Management
  • William Box – Smart Metering and Behaviour Change; and
  • Jo Kemp – Student Participation in the Universities Green Agenda

I had the task of commenting at the end from the perspective of student learning, and I was gratified by how many mentions that students got during the day – though their learning was less of a focus; Jo Kemp was an exception, here.

I also used ideas from the Economist's Schumpeter column which, last summer, said that a few pioneering businesses are now developing “sustainability policies” worthy of the name.  The point being made was that many sustainability plans are just attempts at greater efficiency in terms of energy, waste, and logistics.  These are obvious things which increase sales and profits, and enhance shareholder value in the immediate term – or, if you're a university, help financial margins and bring institutional prestige.  And, on a good day, bring educational value.

But, Schumpeter says that these are not about sustainability because they have little actual effect on the environment or social equity.  They do nothing, in other words, to restore natural or social capital. This seems a good test.  Schumpeter says that, currently, few organisations put sustainability at the heart of what they do.

The point of the article was to identify those that are starting to go beyond this limited point and which are part of "a new wave of sustainability plans".  Here, targets relate, not just about the organization itself, but to suppliers and customers, and are about society at large and not just the environment.  Another test, I think.

In this, sustainability becomes "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.  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."

It seems obvious that all this applies as much to universities as to other businesses.  Note, in particular, notice that word, consumers, which brings us back to students and learning, and the communities universities serve.   As Jo Kemp had pointed out students are rightly becoming more demanding of everyone in universities.  They are developing higher expectations in a wide sense which apply, not just to what they learn, and how, but to how the institution interacts with them.

I concluded by saying to those who'd survived to the end that, whatever a university job title may say, students are now everyone's concern, and everyone has a role in educating them.