Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: December 2016

40 years on from Tbilisi

📥  Comment, News and Updates

2017 will see the 40th anniversary of the Tbilisi conference and declaration which, at the time, we seen by many to be full of promise for a better future.  We shall no doubt be urged to remember Tbilisi and celebrate the event, even though it was a T+35 conference a mere 5 years ago.

I spent week in Tbilisi around the Millennium (well after the eponymous event).  As this was before I started blogging, the world was spared a running commentary on my never to be forgotten experiences which included disenfranchised millers, chained bears, and the world's best bread.  I did write a fragment in 2012, however.

But how to remember Tbilisi?  I suppose it depends whether you want to celebrate it as a landmark event which changed how we see the world, or whether you want to use the opportunity for a sober analysis of how effective / ineffective an event it was at changing the world.  You could do both at a pinch, but the hurrahing might drown out the sober analysis.  In very many ways the world might be said to be a better place than in 1977 (and a worse one), but was this anything to do with Tbilisi?

Expect much more on this as the year unfolds.  Meanwhile, click here to see a Soviet video nasty about the original.  Much better with the Russian commentary turned off.


PISA scores too high in Peru

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Peru's education minister is in trouble just when the country's PISA scores have risen sharply.  The Economist called it a "small act of national suicide".  It's article begins:

"FOR most of this century, Peru’s economy has shone: income per person has doubled in the past dozen years. But education failed to keep up.  In 2012 Peru ranked last among the 65 countries that took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests the reading, maths and science proficiency of 15-year-olds.  Fortunately, Peru then found an outstanding education minister.  Jaime Saavedra, an economist whose mother was a teacher, spent ten years at the World Bank, rising to be vice-president for poverty reduction.  Appointed three years ago to the education portfolio, he was the only minister to keep his job when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski replaced Ollanta Humala as Peru’s president in July.  He has generalised a previous pilot plan to link teachers’ pay to performance, overhauled teacher training and school management and begun a crash programme of repairing dilapidated school buildings.  He has also championed a law passed in 2014, which for the first time subjected universities to minimum standards for probity and educational outcomes.  Mr Saavedra’s stewardship has brought results.  Performance in national tests has risen sharply.  The latest PISA figures, which were released on December 6th, confirmed this trend: Peru was the fastest improver in Latin America and the fourth-fastest in the world.  Far from celebrating this achievement, the following day the opposition majority in Peru’s Congress subjected Mr Saavedra to an 11-hour interrogation, conducted with the manners of a playground bully.  On December 15th it was due to vote to sack him.

He's not in trouble, of course, just because of the PISA results (which no one in Congress seems to know much about), but for other reasons as well, but you'll need to read the Economist for the detail.  Meanwhile, Mr Saavedra's equivalents in Wales and Scotland paddle on serenely, knowing no one will be sacking them any time soon despite their lack of achievement.


The education of girls

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The education of girls is a key priority within the sustainable development goals that the UK has signed up to.  It has been a recent priority for DfID as well, as part of the UK's international aid programme.  A recent report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact [ICAI] casts doubt on the policy's impact and effectiveness and makes for difficult reading.

In its introduction to the report, ICAI says:

ICAI’s latest review into marginalised girls found that DFID has made a substantial commitment to girls and improving their life chances across its education portfolio. This included investing significantly in programmes such as the flagship Girls’ Education Challenge fund.

However it also found that too many programmes performed poorly against their original objectives, losing the necessary focus on girls, particularly marginalised girls, and in some cases abandoning targets for supporting girls altogether.  Reasons for the loss of focus included:

  • Girls’ education objectives being displaced by competing priorities.
  • A lack of influence by DFID on the focus of government-run education programmes in certain countries.
  • Poor design of girls-focused interventions.
  • A lack of expertise on the part of delivery partners in tackling education for marginalised girls.
  • Difficulties with implementing in challenging environments.

The review also found that DFID’s approach to value for money risked creating an incentive to focus on the easiest to reach rather than those most in need, such as vulnerable girls, which was inconsistent with its commitment to ‘leave no one behind’.  Overall DFID’s performance was graded as ‘Amber-Red’ – requiring significant improvement to ensure a clear, strategic direction, and to tackle a pattern of underperformance.

ICAI made a series of recommendations for improving DFID’s performance in supporting marginalised girls.  DfID should:

  • develop a clear strategy for supporting marginalised girls in education.
  • monitor programmes to ensure a focus on girls’ education is not lost.
  • provide guidance on value for money when targeting marginalised groups, including how to combine equity considerations with cost-effectiveness.

The Guardian's coverage of this story is here, and previous coverage here.  Meanwhile, a Times editorial on this situation ends like this:

"No one is suggesting that delivering such change in places such as northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan is easy.  The attempted murder by the Taliban in 2012 of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the heroic advocate for girls to be allowed to attend school in her native Swat Valley, stands as a horrifying illustration of the depravity of the medieval tyrants opposing progress.  Combating such barbarism, however, was and is the entire point of funding a programme aimed at educating the girls suffering brutal repression.  Generous fees were no doubt paid out by Dfid to its advisers to help the department decide that such a programme was a good idea.  And so it is.  When it came to the hard grind of actually implementing this programme, the evidence in the report today suggests that Dfid bottled it.  If Priti Patel, the development secretary, was not yet convinced of the shortcomings of the ministry she leads, the scale of the reforms she must make should now be clear to her."

As for me, well, I'd like to think that those interested in Global Learning will be highlighting this report to its members and audiences.


The 100% solution

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The following was contributed to an EAUC forum by Dave Krugman:

I think the challenges that universities are having in cutting absolute targets whilst increasing estate size brings up the global conflict between growth and climate change.  Since we cannot grow the atmosphere and oceans, we need to address absolute targets if our goal is to actually fight global warming and ocean acidification.  Using relative targets is important to explain the larger picture yet will side step the whole point if it becomes the dominating metric.  One thing to keep in mind is that UK universities represent only around 0.4% of the UK's carbon emissions yet represent almost 10 times (4%) of the voting age population.  This means our advocacy efforts should be leveraged to address carbon reductions beyond our estates.

Indeed; or as I once heard an American VC say: "We may have only 2% of the carbon, but we've 100% of the students."  I hope EAUC will take such points more seriously than it usually does in its plans.


Making Nature — how we see animals

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is what the Wellcome Collection says about its new exhibition: Making Nature — how we see animals ...

The question of how humans relate to other animals has captivated philosophers, anthropologists, ethicists and artists for centuries. This exhibition will bring together over 100 objects from literature, film, taxidermy and photography to examine the historical origins of our ideas about other animals and the consequences of these for ourselves and our planet.

As someone with a keen interest in our troubled relationships with other animals (and with each other), it looked like it was probably an essential visit.  That was until I read Charles Foster's review in a recent Spectator — then I definitely knew it was.  If you're going, as I did the other week (another mental preparation for that Defra meeting), you might read this first.  It begins:

‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him?’ asks the Psalmist.  It’s a good question.  God Himself doesn’t give a very satisfactory answer.  In one breath he insists that humans are a little lower than the angels, made in His own image, but also (in a formulation as bleak and more terse than any modern reductionist’s) that they are made of dust, and to dust they will return.  Darwin tells us a similar story.  We don’t have to flip back too many pages in our family albums, he says, before we see furry, feathered and scaly faces.  But then he draws an exuberantly branching tree of life, rooted in stardust, and tells us that we’re perched on the topmost bough.  It’s not surprising that we’re confused.  This confusion is at the bottom of all our neuroses.  Our predominant feeling is the queasiness of ontological vertigo.  We know ourselves too well, and read the newspapers too diligently, to believe that we’re gods.  And yet our pride, and our love of literature and old churches, convince us that we’re not mere beasts.  We see human deaths as more morally significant than animal deaths.  We hold ourselves to different standards: we can tolerate cannibalism in wolves, but not in ourselves.  We’ll do anything to reduce the queasiness.  ...

Indeed we will.  Foster says that one way of asserting some reassuring control over the wildness out there — and hence the wildness in us — is to classify and to collect and lock up (in zoos), to experience electronically (courtesy of David Attenborough et al), to embody them in soft toys.  Foster's review ends:

This is a bracingly philosophical exhibition: a rigorous exposition of the phenomenologist’s axioms that context matters profoundly, and that each of us creates a universe. If you know you’re a wild thing, go along to meet some more of the family and to see what others think of them — and so of you. If you don’t know you’re a wild thing, go along to realise that you are.  "‘The most dangerous worldview,’ wrote von Humboldt, ‘is that of those who have never viewed the world.’ ‘Or themselves,’ I’m tempted to add. But my addition is unnecessary, as Making Nature so brilliantly shows.

Get yourself down to the Euston Road ...


Transforming our World: one PISA result at a time

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that Learning for Sustainability Scotland's AGM will have an Sustainable Development Goal theme.  The focus is:

Transforming our World: Responding to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals through Education

It's on Thursday 19 January 2017 [1300 to 1630] at Moray House School of Education.  LfSS say:

The theme looks at how you can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland and beyond through your work.  Scotland has signed up to take action on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across all of its activities.  SDG 4 is specifically about education through all aspects of life, and internationally Learning for Sustainability is considered at the heart of each of the 17 Goals.

I'm almost tempted to go to see if anyone mentions Scotland's terrible PISA results (which are heading backwards to levels now enjoyed in Wales).  Surely, if learning for sustainability is as good as its cracked up to be, then it should be helping to improve the standard of education generally.  Is it?


Let's hear it for Alison McGregor

📥  Comment, News and Updates

To its great credit, BBC Radio has just had a series of programmes celebrating Alison McGregor, and the pioneering feminist work of Edinburgh's Fair Intellectual Club in the early 18th Century.  Forget Ada Lovelace; it's time to celebrate Alison McG, the young woman who thought of everything.


Liberal internationalists and global learning

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As, on my good days, I'm a liberal internationalist, I read Timothy Garton Ash's piece in The Gurdian: Liberal internationalists have to own up: we left too many people behind, with more than passing interest – as I do with most of the articles he writes, it should be said.  I may even have mentioned that before ...

Garton Ash writes:

"Populists channel [their] widespread grievances into paranoid paths.  But the grievances nonetheless have a foundation in reality and it behoves us to recognise that the causes do lie, at least in part, in free-market, globalised liberal capitalism as it has developed since its historical triumph in 1989."

There follows much interesting stuff about capital, Trump, bankers, the EU's contradictions, and Brexit.  He ends

"... effectively addressing the cross-border effects of globalised liberal capitalism will actually require more international cooperation, at the very moment when populist nationalists are leading so many countries in the opposite direction.  To remedy the unintended consequences of globalisation we need more liberal internationalism, not less."

Such collaboration is proving difficult, although the recent news about the updating of the Montreal protocol, and the ratification of the Paris Agreement, are welcome environmental counterweights to the social gloom in the EU, the Middle East, the UN, South Africa, and much of elsewhere.  However, when our news outlets have stopped obsessing about the US elections, and we've abandoned X-factor and Strictly, perhaps we shall be able to turn our attentions to all this.  Perhaps not, especially with capital gearing up for Christmas.

I thought about all this as I sat listening to the Oxfam input at the CPRT event in London the other week.  It seems clear that part of the trouble with the cross-border effects of globalised liberal capitalism is that they are seen and experienced in different ways by different groups of people because they are framed in different ways.  The dispossessed (and those who see themselves as such) tend not to see migration through a generalised global justice lens or in terms of a successful economy in the round.  Rather, they tend to see them through what they see as its effects (real and imagined) on them personally: jobs going to foreigners; local resources stretched thinly; lack of primary school places; a shortage of affordable housing; etc, whereas Guardian readers and Oxfam supporters tend to regard the global justice gains as of prime importance.

Global learning, meanwhile, always sides with the Guardian and Oxfam.




8 bien-pensant priorities for the future

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading A joint vision for Secondary and Higher Education for All in Europe.  This is a report on the SDGs from a formidable grouping, the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU), the European Students’ Union (ESU), and Education International (EI), to their members and partners.  Its purpose is to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

My first eyebrow was raised when I saw that this report covered both secondary and higher education and that a "joint" vision was proposed.  Given how different these sectors are, and that they have quite different purposes and cultures, is that wise, I wondered; or possible?

My other eyebrow joined in the calisthenics when I read the 8 policy priorities.  Here they are:

We recommend that all countries implement specific policies at institutional and national levels that ensure students’ as well as teachers and academics’ fundamental right to democratic representation in all decision-making bodies.  Students, teachers and academic staff should hold the majority of votes, as they know their system and context better than external stakeholders. 

Governments must ensure adequate public funding for research and education, including areas that do not yield economical but rather societal, environmental or intellectual contributions. This will secure a significant leap forward in education for sustainable development. Only by developing ESD as a horizontal approach for all research areas, we will be able to achieve the comprehensive understanding of our societies. 

In collaboration with stakeholders, countries should develop and implement National Access Plans, in order to tackle challenges of access and participation at both secondary and tertiary education levels. For higher education this has already been agreed within the framework of the Bologna Process (London Communique 2007, Yerevan Communique 2015), but this is yet to be realized.

Europe already has provisions in place that should help facilitate the recognition process of refugees without documentation of their skills. However, so far governments have to a large extent neglected the implementation and adherence to the Lisbon Convention. Now is an ever more pressing time for aligning national legislation and frameworks with the Lisbon Convention, and develop similar policies for secondary level education.

Ensuring quality continuous professional development for teachers and academics is essential for increasing the quality of education. This includes didactical and pedagogical skills as well as subject knowledge. All teachers in secondary schools should be trained and qualified. Continuous professional development should be publicly available and funded for teachers and academics at both secondary and tertiary level. 

Rankings, other kinds of “league tables” and mechanical use of learning outcomes have proved to be misleading as indicators of relative or absolute quality. The testing regime takes resources away from teaching and learning, causes stress among students as well as teachers and academics, and has created its own industry of companies profiting without being held accountable. It is time that governments reject the testing regime and instead rely on national curriculum and quality assurance systems, institutional decisions, and the academic community as a whole to foster conscious and skilful graduates from both secondary and tertiary education.

The key to further economic and social development in Europe lies in education. However, quality education cannot be achieved without sufficient funding, something the Education 2030 Framework for Action also emphasises. Governments therefore must meet the target of spending 6 percent of GDP or 20 percent of the total public expenditure on education. This will help reverse the trend of decreased spending per student that we have been witnessing following the financial crisis. The key to further economic and social development in Europe lies in education.

A number of donor countries rely heavily on scholarships to boost their Official Development Aid (ODA). With increased attention to the UN’s recommendation that 0.7 percentage of the GNI should be allocated to ODA we worry that the tendency will only increase, but we simply cannot accept that scholarships should be counted as ODA, since historically the donating countries are the ones who benefit the most, and it will harm the equitable approach to scholarships. Therefore, we recommend that need-based scholarships are created and not counted in the ODA contributions.

Much left-liberal sentiment is on show here amidst all the usual virtue signalling.  There's a touching faith in ESD, and in the lack of need for accountability.  Who, apart from nerds like me, will read this?  And what, if anything, will they do?  What's certain that there will be much solidarity on show.



It was PISA Tuesday

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Monday 5th December was the International Day of Soil.  Tuesday 6th December was the day the latest PISA results were released.  From Soil to Toil.  UK schools hover around 15th to 20th in the international league.  England does best (if that's the right word) with Northern Ireland a close second; the Scots are going steadily backwards, thanks, some say, to Curriculum for what passes for Excellence [Note 1]; the Welsh are below the PISA OECD country average for everything, despite everything and the promise of ESDGC.  Here's a handy, if brief, guide to the UK scores from WalesonLine.  As a rough guide, a gap of 30 PISA points is the equivalent of a year of schooling.  Compared to England, the gaps for Wales are: Science – 27   Reading – 23   Maths – 15.  Mind you, perhaps the more pertinent gaps are those between the UK and those at the top of the table.

In relation to Wales, here's Dylan William's pre-publication comment on why we shall learn very little from the scores.  I found this insightful until I got to the last part of his conclusion:

"The truth is, despite all the heat that will be generated by discussions of the Pisa results, we will learn little.  Whether this year's results are better or worse than those from 2012, whether Wales performs as well as our industrial competitors, doesn't really matter.  We need to improve education in Wales because of the profound changes that are taking place in society and work.  Our world is becoming more and more complex, and so higher and higher levels of educational achievement will be needed to be in control of one's own life, to understand one's culture, to participate meaningfully in democracy, and to find fulfilling work. Like many others, I will be looking at the Pisa results when they come out on 6 December.  But I won't be trying to figure out how to improve student achievement in Wales, because we already know what we need to do.  We need to create a culture in which every teacher in Wales accepts the need to improve - not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better - and when teachers do their jobs better, their students are healthier, live longer and contribute more to society.  There is no limit to what we can achieve if we support our teachers in the right way."

"We need to create a culture in which every teacher in Wales accepts the need to improve" and, presumably, to understand how to do that, and why it's proving so difficult.  I wondered what "the right way" is, and whether everyone understands.  Here's the BBC's John Humphries exploring the wheres and whys of education in Wales right now.

Meanwhile, the Times (on Wednesday) sort of agreed:  "The fundamental requirement for world-class schools is simple: world-class teachers".  Well, it may be a fundamental requirement, but it's surely not the only one, which invites the question of whether a 21st century education needs to deal with 21st century issues.  That is, what part does curriculum play in all this (lack of) success?  Expect a return to this issue ...


Meanwhile, here's a letter about the Scottish state of play to The Times last week from Dornoch:

"There are many able state pupils in Scotland who would gladly swap their incessant group work, pair work, peer-review sessions, poster-making and “life skills” classes for some academic rigour.  These pupils are clearly being short-changed under the Curriculum for Excellence as they are denied the quality of education that so many of their counterparts in England are now receiving."

I also read that the outgoing chief of Ousted has accused the Scots of holding the UK back in the PISA stakes.  Cheeky.  Given that Curriculum for Excellence is an SNP policy initiative, to criticise it is to criticise the SNP; however, because the SNP is standing up for Scotland, to criticise the SNP is to criticise Scotland – and therefore to be un-Scottish.  Things have come to a sorry state in North Britain.