Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: July 2016

Education, sustainability post-2015

📥  Comment, New Publications

A new series of UNESCO reports is promised: the GEMs [Global Education Monitoring] reports.  These will monitor "the state of education in the new framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)".  They replace the Global Monitoring [GM] reports (GMR).

The first report is: ‘Education for people and planet – creating sustainable futures for all’.  It has a thematic and a monitoring part.  The thematic part focuses on examining interrelationships between education and key development sectors.  It determines which education strategies, policies and programmes are most effectively linked to the economic, social, environmental and political priorities of the new sustainable development agenda.  Part 2 establishes a monitoring framework for education post-2015, and examine key financing and governance challenges for the post-2015 era.

You can read the concept note that underpins the report here.  My guess is that the report itself will say nothing new or useful if the following is anything to go by:

"The 2016 report will define education’s role in the broader sustainable development agenda, and reflect consultations and partnerships with non-education specialists working in other development sectors.  This will provide perspectives on other sectoral needs and ensure the integration of education in other sustainability initiatives."

Oh dear ...


The liberal, the neoliberal, the illiberal and the Higher Education Bill

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Here's John Blewitt on the imperfections in the new higher education Bill working its way through parliament.  He argues that if universities are going to be successful in "shaping any sustainable economic alternatives to the neoliberal consensus which drives the climate crisis, then our education system has to shake itself free of market forces."

To be completely free (as implied here) is always going to be difficult in a liberal (in the nicest sense) market economy, and as with most people who write about the neoliberal turn, Blewitt fails to distinguish between the merely liberal (huzzah!) and the neoliberal (boo!).  Blewitt also vests far too hope in ESD, given that most universities have no idea what it is.  ESD cannot even save itself, let alone universities.

All that said, I've not much time for this Bill because of its authoritarianism which entrenches the power and control of an unaccountable state bureaucracy over supposedly autonomous institutions.  That is, it's an illiberal measure that will diminish our universities' power to influence society and the wider world for the greater good.

If the Bill gets onto the statute book, the only thing to do might be for universities to declare their independence of the state and all its demands.  Then, of course, they'll be able to follow ESD to their heart's content – should they want to, which seems most unlikely.




6 (possible) reasons to ban GM plant cultivation in the EU

📥  Comment, News and Updates

These reasons are those of the Green group in the EU Parliament, not mine.   You can read them here.

This is their shot across the bows of the EU Commission which recently submitted to the EU standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed (which sounds a bit like Ofscoff), three draft regulations aimed at renewal of the authorisation of cultivation within the EU of three GM maize varieties.  The Greens don't like the idea.

And here is Mark Lynas's response to all this.  Wonderful teaching aids, all.  As to where I stand on all this – actually it's right next to Lynas who's not pro- or anti-GM; just pro-science.  Just so.  And to think that we'll soon be leaving all this behind – well, the EU bit of it.

Lies, damned lies and UNESCO website headlines

📥  Comment, News and Updates

"G7 education ministers reaffirm commitment to ESD" was the headline in a recent UNESCO briefing (the ESD ZOOM Newsletter).  Clicking on the 'more info' link, however, takes you to this headline:

"G7 Education Ministers reaffirm commitment to quality education"

... which is not quite the same thing.

In what follows this headline, there is one brief mention of ESD in the context of the GAP, with the rest of the long article being about EFA much more broadly.  Confirmation, then, that there are lies, damned lies and UNESCO website headlines.  Confirmation also, perhaps, that the old tension between EFA and ESD is still being played out within UNESCO, with EFA – of course – still winning.



Priti Patel's challenge to her new self

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Before Priti Patel became the UK's new secretary of state for international development in the latest government changes, she had already set her new self a challenge.  Three years ago she said her department of state should be abolished.  But now she's in charge, what will she do?  The Times, for one, hopes that she's not changed her mind.  In a recent editorial, it said:

"The Department for International Development (DfID) should be a champion of state-of-the-art overseas aid and a symbol of British soft power.  Instead it has become a byword for mismanagement and waste.  Thanks to the government’s statutory duty to devote 0.7 per cent of GDP to foreign aid, one of the department’s principle duties is spending taxpayers’ money to ensure that the target is met.  This is a target embraced to alleviate suffering, serve Britain’s strategic interests and in the process give the country a good name.  In practice it has served to profit corrupt regimes and given aid a bad name. ..."

Sadly, it's not difficult to come up with examples of such excess; indeed, you only have to read the Daily Mail, which I occasionally force myself to do.  But it seems inevitable under present management that a proportion of our £12bn aid budget gets used for nefarious ends, or helping the Swiss banking system cover its costs.

In 2013, Patel suggested replacing DfID with a 'department for international trade and development' that would see trade have a greater emphasis than aid, and such a move would meet with approval from at least some expert advice on the economics of development.  Given that we now actually have a department for international trade, that would seem quite possible.  But will she do it?  Saying all this whilst insulated from the Aid movement's influence is easy; to continue to do so whilst immersed within it, may prove quite another.


Turbulent Times: Skills for a Global World – sort of

📥  Comment, New Publications

Turbulent Times: Skills for a Global World is a new report from OCR and Think Global.  You can find it on TG's website.  Their blurb says:

"Focusing on the views and understandings of employers, who can play a crucial role in supporting young people to learn and practise skills for a global world, we surveyed 500 business leaders from across the country and across sectors to build an up-to-date picture of whether or to what extent our young people are prepared to thrive both today and in the future.  While some of the findings are not altogether surprising (such as the fact that despite numerous interventions, important skills gaps persist; and that more needs to be done specifically to prepare young people for a global world); others were more troubling.  Most particularly, the report shows clearly that many employers themselves are out of touch with both the real global context in which their industries operate, and their own global role and responsibilities in preparing young people for international reality."

Here are the recommendations:

Employers need to understand the multiple purposes of the education system, and take their own share of responsibility for improving the work-preparedness of young people. They need to be more connected with young people, and work should be done to better understand mismatches between employer and young peoples’ expectation of work purpose and requirements. Employer bodies and associations should work actively to make employers aware of (and understand the relevance of) important global trends and developments.

Core skills remain vital; but curricula and careers advice must also include employability/soft skills. Schools should be more demanding of employers; and regulatory and qualifications bodies should highlight the importance of global skills and competencies in standards frameworks.

Government should be the facilitator for ensuring all stakeholders are engaged in the education and skills system rather than the determiner of requirements.  The focus of activity should be on how to ensure efficient and effective partnership working is developed and maintained.  To future-proof the education and training system, global and long-term perspectives must be adopted into curricula; and official projections for employment and skills in the UK (for example, from the ONS) should include specific consideration of global trends over the same periods studied in each projection.

Underwhelming, or what?  As for "future-proof the education and training system", I really did hope for better ...



Inching towards a sustainable university

📥  Comment, New Publications

Towards a Sustainable University is the title of Anthony Cortese's review of Designing the New American University by Michael Crow and William Dabars (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).  You can read it here in Great Transition.

As you would expect, this is a thoughtful review, and anyone completely new to thinking about universities and sustainability and their interaction would do much worse than starting here.  Cortese manages to be hopeful, despite the challenge involved, and it's nice to read a review from North America that looks beyond the usual institutional suspects for exemplification and inspiration.

The chalenge might be summed up thus: How can universities change themselves (and then society) whilst operating in a society that has unchanged expectations of universities?  His review ends:

"Thus, government, socially-committed industry, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector must join together in new ways to support the transition.  We need a grand bargain for higher education that deals with big issues like the marketization of higher education and its influence on research and pedagogy, and that focuses on creating a just and sustainable society.  This is key because few people in other sectors who lament the current state of the world realize the crucial role of transforming higher education in transforming society.  How can society make the transition without higher education?  It is the only sector designed with a long-term focus and the ability to provide the broad knowledge and skills needed by the global citizenry.  We must find ways to tap the full potential of this unique role to unleash the full power of higher education as a force for transformation.

The timing is right for such deep and broad changes.  For the first time since World War II, higher education in the West faces serious financial constraints that are likely to persist and, in some cases, represent an existential threat.  The recent agreements by over 190 countries on the Sustainable Development Goals provide an unprecedented opportunity to examine how higher education can and must help lead, rather than follow, in the Great Transition. Business-as-usual higher education is a recipe for failure in a fast-changing world that calls for transformative action to serve the needs of a complex, interdependent, crisis-prone world in need of a new generation of bold visions, leaders, and institutions."

I wish I could believe that taking the SDGs seriously will provide this opportunity.  Whilst I am sure that doing so is hugely important for institutions and the world, business as usual is so entrenched that it will likely survive, even if what is taken to be "usual" will likely evolve.  A question is how quickly ...



Universities, the SDGs and EAUC

📥  Comment, News and Updates

EAUC asks, rather naively it seems to me, whether universities are doing any work around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], and it is working with a range of organisations, including the Regional Centres for Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCEs), Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS), and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE),

"to develop an understanding of the work going on around the SDGs in Universities and Colleges, and how it can be better supported."

Examples, EAUC says, may be strategic, operational, academic, or in terms of wider engagement.  Indeed they might.   Answers on a postcard please to .  A large card will probably be needed as it is clear that institutions are doing a significant amount of work in relation to all this across a wide range of disciplines in terms of research, teaching and outreach – and have been doing so for some time.

Perhaps EAUC should really be asking why it is having to play catch-up on what is already a significant agenda.



Vision 2030+

📥  Comment, New Publications

The final report of Scotland's LfS Group, Vision 2030+, has been released.  It is here.

The report "establishes a convergence between LfS and the Sustainable Development Goals as a direction for further policy development to 2030 (the 15-year period of the SDGs)".  It builds on the decision by Scottish Ministers to accept all thirty-one recommendations of the 2013 Learning for Sustainability (LfS) report which, you will recall, recommended  that:

  • All learners should have an entitlement to learning for sustainability
  • In line with the new GTCS Professional Standards, every practitioner, school and education leader should demonstrate learning for sustainability in their practice
  • Every school should have a whole school approach to learning for sustainability that is robust, demonstrable, evaluated and supported by leadership at all levels
  • All school buildings, grounds and policies should support learning for sustainability
  • A strategic national approach to supporting learning for sustainability should be established.

It would be churlish to downplay policy achievements like this, and the value of what has been produced, but foolish to think that it will necessarily lead to anything revolutionary.  Schools and teacher unions are well practised at having tokenistic solutions to top-down, bureaucratic diktats such as this, and the question is whether LfS will be the exception.


What's it all about, Valerie?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As no one seems to know what outdoor learning is for, the Institute for Outdoor Learning [IOL] is to be congratulated for confronting the issue head on at its 2016 conference on 14-15th October.

Valerie Hannon will be the keynote speaker.  She is a former adviser to the DfE and co-founder of the Innovation Unit.  Her publication ‘What is Learning For?’ (Yours for $38) has inspired the conference, it seems.  Hannon will examine what "need to be global, local, inter and intra-personal purposes of learning in the future", which seems to cover the bases nicely.

Andy Robinson, CEO of IOL says:

"We were inspired by Valerie’s paper to examine the relevance of our sector today [and] are thrilled that Valerie has agreed to help us explore this topic from the viewpoint of cutting edge educational practices. We propose to also examine these four purposes within our master classes, workshops and sessions in a practical and hands on way."

This year's conference is also a "joined-up affair" as IOL has collaborated with AHOEC – the Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres (which I confess not to have heard of).  The two organisations will both hold individual specialist days, coming together on the Friday for keynote session and other workshops and masterclasses.  Not so much joined-up, then, as loosely-coupled.  Looking forward to it already.