Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: November 2016

EAUC misleads the FE sector

📥  Comment, New Publications

I did as I was encouraged to do the other day and looked at the new SORTED resources on sustainability on EAUC's Sustainability Exchange website.  Its aimed at the FE sector, and the first thing that you read is this nonsense:

1.1. What is sustainability?
Sustainability is an ideal state where human activity does not degrade the environment, but maintains natural systems and resources for future generations.

There seems no point in reading the rest of what's there if it begins like this:  30 years of careful thinking traduced in 20 words.  If she were dead, Mrs Bruntdland would be whirling in her grave.

Does no one at EAUC know anything about sustainability?


Smart shoes

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I heard a bloke on BBC Radio 4 say that, in 10 years, you won't be able to buy a pair of shoes that don't have an IP address.  Smart in more senses than one, then.

I suppose the advantage of this is that you will never again lose that flash pair of trainers, and that you might be able to use your shoe as a phone to connect to your smart meter and turn off the fridge. What a prospect.  A boon for parents, perhaps, who will know where their children are and whether they really are doing all that exercise they promised.

I thought about this as I listened to John Loughhead at Bath the other week talk about UK energy and industrial strategy from his vantage point as Chief Scientist at the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [BEIS] – pronounced "baize", apparently.  Loughhead was surprisingly up-beat about about international collaboration and said that the UK would be making a big announcement at COP22 in Marrakech.  If we did, it got drowned out by trumpeting about Trumpism.  He was positive about battery storage, carbon capture, small modular nuclear reactors that you could order from IKEA (well, sort of), and smart metres.  A new role for chief scientists, I thought: being sent out of London to enthuse for your country.

Mind you, I'm still waiting to hear what the UK's big idea was – some 2 weeks after the event.  Of course, there were few fireworks at Marrakech, just a lot of promises from a lot of countries about what they'll be doing (and not doing) in relation to emissions.  It looked like very necessary tedium.  Over-shadowing it all was what President-elect Trump has said about climate change.  However, given that he seems to have taken up every possible stance, perhaps we should just wait to see and not worry overmuch in the meanwhile.  Apart from the money, that is.  Maybe we should worry about the money as many of the promises that economically developing countries are making are contingent on a flow of cash from rich countries to ease the transition – some $100bn a year, I think.  Much of that was set to come from the USA, and turning off a money spigot may well prove much easier than, for example, building a wall.





People and Planet speak to the world

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The boys and girls at people 'n' planet have released their 2016 league tables so that everyone can admire their performance – or keep very quiet about it depending where they rest.  As before, P&P have created class divisions (how appropriate) with a hierarchy within each class.  So, Nottingham Trent rides high at the top of the First Class (Honours, I guess), whilst Leicester only just manages to scrape in at the bottom.  Meanwhile, at the very bottom of the bottom is Trinity Laban Conservatoire.  Do you think their applications will drop away because of this dismal rating.  Me neither.

It's all very colourful and interactive.  Just let your mouse be your guide.


There's a call from Trump Towers. It's for YOU

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The phone rings; it's the Trump Transition Team (TTT, ardently armoured of alliteration) calling.  It's an invitation to Trump Towers to make a presentation to the President Elect and the team.  They say that their current plan is that, on Day 3 of the new administration, they will use Executive Order T 364 to abolish the EPA *, and they want your views.

At least that's what you think they say, except that it's much worse than this as you find out when you've recovered from a fit of the vapours, and ask them to start again.  It turns out they are planning to keep the EPA (under an Alt-Right Director**), but aim to prevent it from funding, or in any way supporting, environmental education because it's been a huge waste of money and effort.  The TTT has been instructed to find an expert who could make the counter case to the team.  They say that is mostly so they can say they've considered the issues, but add that they are also open to a change of mind.  You will have 5 minutes.

Two questions spring to your mind: [i] Should I go? and [ii] If I do, what should I say?

The first one is easily dealt with.  Although you'll be faced with utter disdain from your more bien-pensant colleagues, your fear your grandchildren more: "What do you mean, Gramps; you had the chance to save the world and you didn't go?  Geez.  What a *******."  Anyway, you've always secretly wanted to see inside Trump Towers.  The second question is trickier, especially as you'll have at most 400 well-chosen words to do this in, and you won't be able to use your favourite jargon.

But any environmental education researcher worth their salt could do this.  So, what will you say?



[*]  For any Brits not called Nigel reading this, the EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency.

[**]  The main policy priority of the new Agency will be to eliminate homosexual animals from the National Parks.  It's not clear at present whether this will include human ones.


The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country seeks a new Chair

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There is now an opportunity for the right individual to join The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country as Chair of Trustees.  What's unusual, is that the Trust has made the person spec publicly available.  Here it is:

In this post the individual will have a unique opportunity to make a real difference to the natural environment of the area leaving a lasting legacy for future generations. The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country has a clear strategy and work plan over the next five years. Key aims are to ensure:

  1. Space for nature is protected, restored, created and valued.
  2. Everyone is connected to nature.
  3. The natural environment is at the heart of planning, policy- and decision-making
  4. We are an effective organisation.

The Chair of Trustees will be a natural leader and mentor, have significant experience chairing a diverse board to bring everyone together to achieve the Trust’s vision and goals; will be a strategic thinker, passionate about wildlife with strong inter-personal and relationship building abilities. Will be well connected to networks including business across Birmingham and the Black Country and can demonstrate experience of leading an organisation to achieve success.

In summary, the Trust is looking for a dynamic, capable Chair of Trustees with demonstrable experience to be able to achieve the following:

  • Recognise and respond to the needs of the Trust to provide good strategic governance.
  • Influence others across a wide range of sectors – (business, voluntary, community, statutory) to achieve benefits for the conurbation’s wildlife.
  • Play an important role in extending and deepening the Trust’s networks.
  • Develop fundraising relationships.
  • Support income generation and the development of a financially sustainable business model.
  • Act as an ambassador for the Trust so that the Trust becomes recognised as the primary advocate for biodiversity and the natural environment across Birmingham and the Black Country.
  • Support and complement the role of the Chief Executive Officer in developing and delivering the Trust’s agreed business plan.
  • Lead Trust Council in managing its financial exposures and risk.
  • Support and develop the Trust’s network of partnerships with business, education, and local communities.
  • Lead a diverse group of individuals to form an effective team of Trustees using diplomacy and commitment.

Outgoing Chair Peter Shirley MBE says:

“This Trust leads nature conservation in Birmingham and the Black Country and it is a pleasure and a privilege to be the Chair.  Astute and enthusiastic leadership is needed more than ever to ensure that the Trust extends its reach in a world increasingly inimical to wildlife.”

Indeed it is.


The SDGs as a radical curriculum alternative?

📥  Comment, New Publications

This is the presentation I made at the CPRT conference last week in a small group session about global leaning and sustainable development, chaired by Kevin Bailey:

The SDGs as a radical curriculum alternative?

The sustainable development goals were agreed by the UN last December, and the world has signed up to them.  They are about transforming people’s lives.  They follow on from the reasonably successful MDGs but are both more extensive and less well defined.  It’s widely agreed that they have the potential for focusing attention on ways to address, and perhaps even resolve some of the huge range of problems the world faces today.  In particular, the breadth of the issues covered by the Goals has the power to be bring teachers, students, leaders and external activists together.  That’s because the SDGs seem to offer a currency and a means of exchange that all can understand and get involved in.  For example, every UK university already has teaching and research that is focused on a range of the Goals, usually in partnership with others.

But what about schools?  A recent conference in Germany explored the idea of a school where learning based entirely around the Goals.  This was a so-called global goals curriculum.  But we have to ask, is this just another marginal approach that will distract people from the issues?  Or is it something quite radical that could really be an effective approach to transforming lives?  This transformation idea featured in the UN Secretary-General’s recent synthesis report about sustainable development.  Here’s the report’s title, which shows the challenge:

The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet.

Let me risk being provocative at the outset by saying that I think that these ideas are in the wrong order.  I’d have put it like this:

The road to dignity by 2030: protecting the planet, transforming all lives and ending poverty

That’s because, unless we protect the biosphere from the damage we are doing to it, there’s no chance of ending poverty.  Indeed, it will increase.  I also think that we’re more likely to end poverty by transforming lives – rather than the other way round.  This is an extract from the Secretary-General’s report:

  • Transformation is our aim.
  • We must transform our economies, our environment and our societies.
  • We must change old mindsets, behaviours and destructive patterns.
  • We must build cohesive societies, in pursuit of international peace and stability. ...

There is no mention of education, but how do you do all this without education?  The Secretary-General’s report went on to say that all this is possible if we mobilize political will and the necessary resources, and if we work together.  But the gulf between this vision, and where we are now, seems to be getting wider week by week.  So, how are we to do, what seems like a hugely difficult task?

For many, this will seem like a call for nothing less that the development of new worldviews to address, what some call, the sustainability problématique.

How can we all live well, without compromising the planet’s continuing ability to enable us all to live well.

We might differ, however, perhaps widely, on what the outcomes of such transformation ought to be.  We also might differ on how it’s to be achieved.  And differ, as well, on the role of education within it.  The UN report does address education.  It says this …

It is important that young people receive relevant skills and high-quality education and life-long learning, from early childhood development to post-primary schooling, including life skills and vocational education and training.

Of course, this is just to restate the 4th Goal.  Clearly, many educators think that education is the key to transformation, and this idea was a strong theme of some of the meetings leading to the Paris Agreement on climate change, although not of the Agreement itself.  If so, then a focus on the Goals will be necessary.  The mix of policies and practices necessary to achieve these will involve all kinds of social groups and institutions working together.   These will be public and private, governmental and NGO, local, national and international, and large and small.

It’s clear that many groups already see the goals as a conceptual frame around which to build their policies, strategies, and evaluation.  For example, the UN Global Compact has produced, with others, a ‘SDG Compass’ to help business maximize its contribution to the Goals.  And many universities are already beginning to use the goals to bring their activities together.  For example, teaching, research, student activitism, work with community groups, a focus on social accountability, and institutional business practices.  As one activist said to me:

“these internationally agreed goals give focus to the often sprawling scope of sustainable development.”

The Compass idea could be very helpful here, and all the universities I know well already focus directly on issues represented by the goals.  It’s less easy in schools, of course, but those interested in global learning might say that this is exactly what they have been doing for some time.  The advantage of a focus on the goals is that they make SD more concrete.  After all, unlike ESD, which is, at best, a mysterious process, they are real, and you don’t have to go round persuading people of their merits.  So, what can schools do?

Well, if we’re to think about what schools might do in relation to the goals, it’s important, first, to think about outcomes, and at a basic level, perhaps we have 4 kinds of responsibility as citizens:

  • understand that the Goals are important
  • think about these in relation to people’s lives and interests
  • weigh arguments and discuss possibilities and practicalities
  • get involved whilst reflecting on the appropriateness of actions

So what can schools do as a preparation for such a citizenly role?  And what are the practical ways forward?  Perhaps educators also have four kinds of responsibility:

  • help learners understand why the goals ought to be of concern to them
  • enable learners to gain plural perspectives from a range of viewpoints
  • provide opportunities for an active and critical exploration of issues
  • encourage learners to come to their own views and to get involved

Doing less than this seems neglectful; doing much more runs the risk of indoctrination as we need to stimulate without prescribing.  And we need to see conceptual frameworks as scaffolding to build learning around, rather than as cages to restrain ideas and creativity.  This is, of course, a liberal educational view that puts student learning first.  This view says that educational institutions must always prioritise student learning over institutional, behaviour or social change.  It also says that we should make use of any change that’s happening, to support and broaden that learning.  In this sense, it’s fine for a school, college or university to encourage its students to become involved, and through that involvement, enhance social justice, save energy, create less waste, promote biodiversity, etc.  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 learning.  Thus, a successful liberal education today will be taking these goals seriously in everything it does.  At its heart will be students asking critical questions of society, of their institution, and of their learning – looking for the need for change, and getting involved.  In this sense, schools are important in nurturing thinking and learning about what might constitute appropriate futures, and in helping students develop skills and competences by doing so.

But there are limits.

Jensen and Schnack make the point with force that the crucial factor must always be what students learn from participating in such activities.

“… it is not and cannot be the task of the school to solve the political problems of society.  Its task is not to improve the world with the help of pupils’ activities. …  The crucial factor must be what students learn from participating in such activities …”

So, our young people can be helped to understand the issues, to understand how to make themselves heard, and how to make a difference.  And this can be in schools across the age range.  Paradoxically, it may well be through such small-scale, on-the-ground, open-minded, developments that the potential for transformation may well be enhanced.


More than just Jesuits

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote yesterday about Jesuitical tendencies in Liverpool that were on show at the Cambridge Primary Review Trust event last week, but there was more to the conference than that.  I liked the way that the whole thing was organised with time well balanced between plenary and small groups, and the groups each focused around one of the 8 priorities that the Cambridge Primary Review Trust saw for the development of the curriculum.  Sustainability was one of these.  The others were: Equity – Voice – Community – Aims – Curriculum – Pedagogy – Assessment.  At the heart of it all was a talk by Robin Alexander which you can read here.

There were two sessions focused on sustainability / global learning, and, along with Ben Ballin and Fran Martin, I made a contribution to the second of these.  Fran and Ben discussed the work they'd been involved in with other countries (including Spain and The Gambia).  Ben talked about a pedagogy of global learning; Fran, about the inter-cultural dimension of teachers' learning about global issues of hunger, poverty and sustainability.

I added some context about the SDGs, and I'll set out what I said later in the week.  Of course, not everyone thinks that the SDGs are a good idea – Goal 5, for example, Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls hardly gets a fair hearing in many parts of this benighted world.  I got to wondering whether there are any of the goals that everyone might agree with.  I came up with Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.  But is that right?  Surely, the devil is in the detail, and would everyone really agree with the "sustainable management" part of this?  That sounds like a good global learning discussion.


Give me a child until they're three ...

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

... and the world will be a nicer place.

That seemed to be the message from one of the presentations I listened to at the Primary Education: what is and what might be conference last Friday.  The excellent event was organised by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and was very well attended.

The assertion, which out-Jesuits the Jesuits in its scale and ambition, came from Liverpool John Moores University during a sustainability and global citizenship discussion group which also included inputs from Oxfam (who have produced all the resources that a jaded teacher could ever need, but would never have time to read) and the Global Learning programme (funded by our friends at Pearson who, coincidently of course, sponsor the Cambridge Trust).  It was a good (interesting / challenging / energetic / passionate / ...) session that was well chaired by Ben Ballin in difficult circumstances as we were banished to the rear of a large auditorium where another group was meeting.

There was the usual plethora of "globals" on offer" global this and global that and global the other, as if the world had run out of adjectives.  I'd like to go to one of these events one day when the word global is banned.  I joined in the fun by asking (after all three presentations) this question:

"If education for global citizenship gives rise to global learning, and if global learning results in global citizenship, what does global citizenship lead to?  Does it lead, for example, to people voting for progressive politics?"

On reflection, it might have been rather too subtly phrased, but I have thought for a while that's exactly what Oxfam (and others) have in mind.  DfID too, whose sponsorship of the Global Learning programme is clearly aimed at buying support for the policy of having 0.7% of national income spent on overseas aid (or whatever we're supposed to call it these days).  But will that policy survive the new regime at DfID?  Indeed, will the the Global Learning programme?  Will Pearson's fiefdom?

Keep tuned for this compelling everyday story of internationalist folk.


The price of coal

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The 8th of November might have been a good day for American coal, at least in the short term.  But the previous year had been quite good as the Telegraph reported last week with the global price of coal rising 100% during 2016, and the price of coking coal going up by 250%.  Thus outfits like Glendora and Anglo American have had a good year as well.  But the Telegraph ends its report with:

"If you were lucky enough to receive a lump of coal last year, I'd say it was time to sell."

Maybe.  Meanwhile, here is Alex Glasgow's take on the price of coal from the magisterial 1960's drama, Close the Coalhouse Door.

Close the coalhouse door, lad. There's blood inside,
Blood from broken hands and feet,
Blood that's dried on blackened meat,
Blood from hearts that know no beat.
Close the coalhouse door, lad. There's blood inside.

Close the coalhouse door, lad. There's bones inside,
Mangled, broken piles of bones,
Buried 'neath a mile of stones,
And there's no-one there to hear the moans.
Close the coalhouse door, lad. There's bones inside.

Close the coalhouse door, lad. There's bairns inside,
Bairns that had no time to hide,
Bairns who saw the blackness slide,
Oh, there's bairns beneath the mountainside.
Close the coalhouse door, lad. There's bairns inside.

Close the coalhouse door, lad, and stay outside.
For Geordie's standin' on the dole
While Mrs Jackson, like a fool,
Complains about the price of coal.
Close the coalhouse door, lad, and stay outside.

Here's the definitive rendition.


A new university in Wiltshire

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that Wiltshire is to have a new university – its first.  This will be c/o James Dyson who, fed up with the lack of engineers to choose from for his business, has decided to do something about it.  His Dyson Institute of Technology [DIT] will begin by having its degrees validated by Warwick (why not Bath, I wondered), but there are plans (new legislation permitting) to become an institution in its own right.

He will pay his students who will work alongside his company's engineers.  I think it may be over-subscribed.  The fear must be, however, that rather than pull new students into engineering, it just takes students from existing courses, although introducing new capacity will militate against that.

The Wiltshire Gazette & Herald (required reading round here) said this:

"Jo Johnson, universities' minister, said: "The Dyson Institute of Technology will not only offer students the chance to study on cutting edge degree level programmes, it will also play a vital role in educating the next generation of much needed engineers.  "Our reforms in the Higher Education and Research Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, will ensure students can choose from a wider range of high-quality specialist institutions that can seek their own degree awarding powers and meet students' diverse needs; providing employers with the skilled graduates that will drive future productivity and the economic prosperity of our country."

I hope that the DIT will have sustainability at its heart, and that it will work with local schools to draw as many students as possible from Wiltshire.