Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: January 2017

UKSSD’s open letter to the Prime Minister

📥  Comment, News and Updates

UK Stakeholder's for sustainable development [UKSSD] wrote an open letter to Mrs May last week.  It was published in the Times.  It's here:

Dear Prime Minister,

As a group of businesses investing in making our economy fit for the future, we support sustainable development in the UK. This is essential for our long-term prosperity and the wellbeing of generations to come.  The UK Government played a leading role in developing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and adopted them just over a year ago. As businesses, we’re ready to take responsibility and work with the Government to make sure the SDGs are delivered in the UK and around the world.

Sustainable development will create jobs, increase competitiveness and secure the natural resources our economy relies on.  We support your Government to:

  • Demonstrate to business your commitment to deliver the SDGs in the UK
  • Work with businesses to deliver the SDGs, creating a transparent reporting framework and clear benchmarks
  • Require all departments, not only the Department for International Development, to work with business and other stakeholders to develop an SDG delivery plan

Together we can build a fairer, sustainable and more prosperous Britain.

Yours sincerely,

I was struck by three things.  The first was the clunky wording, but I'm used to that.  The second was that I'd not heard of ~50% of the companies that signed it (but I do live a sheltered life), and the third was that were no (as far as I could see) education bodies involved.  Not even the ubiquitous EAUC was there, although it is now a member of UKSSD; nor was UUK.  What does this say?  Well, it might say that this was just about business and what it can do.  But education is a business, and it is certainly working to "build a fairer, sustainable and more prosperous Britain".  I also wondered where was the TUC, but that's another story.



Bigging himself up, bigly

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I'm well known for my toleration and generosity of spirit, for my forbearance and my willingness to see the best in everybody.  I can even believe that there might be some good in the new president – somewhere, secreted away, and that something useful might emerge from his policies, maybe by misadventure.  But when he said "bigly" as in 'We're gonna do this bigly', enough, I thought.   Then his explainers-away tried to say that he actually said, "big league" which made it worse as only alternative facts can.

But then, I mused, it is odd that hugely is ok, as are enormously and largely, so why not bigly, pausing only to note that largely has little to do with size.  And so I went to the dictionaries and found:

Bigly: In a tumid, swelling, blustering manner; haughtily; violently.  "He brawleth bigly ."

Websters (1913) says that this comes from Thomas More.  Apt really.  The president spake more than he knew ...


Sterling on the SDGs

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading Stephen Sterling's recent piece in the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development (Vol 10.2).  It's here, and downloadable.  This is the Abstract:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are viewed in the context of Johan Rockström’s work on planetary boundaries at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. This work sets a double challenge to educational policy and practice: to embrace and help achieve the Goals, but also to work towards a deeper change in consciousness which can reconcile people and planet.  The role of education is more profound and comprehensive than is recognized in the text of the SDGs as regards its potential to address their implementation.  Education requires a re-invention, and re-purposing so that it can assume the responsibility these challenges require, and develop the agency that is needed for transformative progress to be made.

In many ways it's familiar stuff, but because it's written in the context of the SDGs, it's a new take on an old theme.  It complains about the goals, especially the education one saying, rightly, that this has little to do with sustainability in the sustainable development sense.  This is unsurprising as that goal and the myriad targets it embodies were written by those in UNESCO who are focused on education for all (EFA).  That is, by the 99% of the education staff within UNESCO.  The 1% who think about ESD hardly got a sniff.  That's because the 99% know that what they're doing is what really matters, both to UNESCO and the future.  The leaders of the 99% (NB, I concede that this number might be too high: more like 97%) don't believe that "Education requires a re-invention, and re-purposing so that it can assume the responsibility these challenges require, and develop the agency that is needed for transformative progress to be made".  They never have, which is why EFA has always had the lion's share of the cash.  They have never been swayed by transformation rhetoric, or seduced by talk of paradigm shifts.  Their's is the slow incremental grind of making progress at the margins in difficult places and trying to consolidate it.  My Tuesday blog about indicators show what their priorities are.  You only have to read these, and then compare it to the struggle they have when it comes to ESD.  I'll have more to say on their attempts to address this gap next week.

Sterling's article ends:

 "... There are only 15 short years to make a significant difference.  We are faced with an unprecedented and huge learning challenge at every level, in which educational policy and practice need to play a pivotal role.  How do we ‘reorient our systems of knowledge creation and education’?. ... How do we ensure that education for these extraordinary times can manifest a culture of critical commitment — engaged enough to make a real difference to social-ecological resilience and sustainability but reflexively critical enough to learn from experience and to keep options open into the future? ..."

Indeed.  Well, almost.  But how?  Given that society changes education and its emphases faster than society is changed by education, all this will not be achieved from within slow-shifting, bureaucratic education systems, but, if at all, in the political sphere.  And the more we delude ourselves with talk of a "burgeoning consciousness oriented towards local and planetary well-being and the public good" – a phrase Sterling quotes – the less likely we are to understand this.


Neo-colonial adventurism and the NUS

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A UK team of two (from EAUC and NUS), is heading off to Uzbekistan to sell them the delights of ESD.  You'd have thought that the Uzbeks had problems enough, but apparently not.  This is a British Council funded jaunt and you have to wonder whether there's a Brexit angle to it.  Did Dr Fox tip the B Council the wink that a trip to Central Asia in the snow was just what future UK trade needed right now?  Probably not; we may be short of trade deals, but one in ESD seems fanciful.

This is what EAUC has to say about it:

Next week sees EAUC delivering an important milestone in the development of sustainability across all universities in Uzbekistan in a partnership between EAUC, British Council, NUS and University College London.  Representing EAUC, Professor Steve Martin and Quinn Runkle for NUS, with support from Iain Patton and Jamie Agombar, designed the week-long workshop in Tashkent for Rectors, Deans, Support staff and students from all Uzbek universities.  The programme aims to draw out from participants what their institutions’ opportunities and challenges are, alongside articulating where they want to go in the future.  EAUC members are global leaders in sustainability and we recognise the benefits of sharing our collective experience and understanding.  We hope that our partnership with Uzbek colleagues will grow to give new opportunities and benefit UK and Irish members.

Here's the detail:

The first day of the workshop will be focused on systems thinking approaches to enhance the group’s understanding of sustainability and ESD.  The team will use diagram, drawing and mapping techniques to help participants to articulate their own understanding and broaden it to include all components of sustainability.  The second day will then go on to use case studies to demonstrate good practice, alongside asking participants to share their own institutions’ experiences.  The final day will use back-casting techniques and existing ESD frameworks to help participants to articulate their own next steps.  The output on day three will be a fairly detailed action plan which each person can take back to their institution for implementation.  Other meetings are planned with Government, British Council and Education representatives alongside national media outlets.

As I said: neo-colonial adventurism.  I thought that the more progressive, right-on sections of NUS were against this sort of thing.  Do they know about it, I wonder.



Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Indicators have been proposed for the Sustainable Development Goals from the UN's Sustainable Development Solutions Network:

Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for Sustainable Development Goals: Launching a data revolution for the SDGs

Such indicators are, of course, vital if we are to have a handle on success and progress.   There is much of interest in here and the whole thing is an informative read – clearly and obviously the product of much careful thought.

I read the Education section [4] with particular interest and the indicators suggested are mostly sensible as far as they go.  For example,

  • Primary completion rates for girls and boys
  • Percentage of children (36-59 months) receiving at least one year of a quality pre-primary education program
  • Percentage of children under 5 experiencing responsive, stimulating parenting in safe environments
  • Tertiary enrollment rates for women and men
  • etc.

But when it comes to sub-goal 4.7 which you'll remember is:

"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"

... you find this as the draft indicator:

4.1. [Percentage of girls and boys who acquire skills and values needed for global citizenship and sustainable development (national benchmarks to be developed) by the end of lower secondary] – to be developed

To be developed, indeed.  Indicators are usually said to have to be SMART:

Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable – specify who will do it.
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

But how SMART is Percentage of girls and boys who acquire skills and values needed for global citizenship and sustainable development (national benchmarks to be developed) by the end of lower secondary?

There are two problems here.  One is to identify the skills and values needed for global citizenship and sustainable development; the other is to measure their acquisition (by age 16).  The first needs conceptual coherence which I fear is lacking (though attempts will be made).  The second needs a mechanism which is wholly lacking.  You might think if only there were a secondary subject (compulsory of course) called global citizenship and sustainable development.  Only in your dreams, and my nightmares.


Contrasting images of the natural world

📥  Comment

Two images of 'nature' have caught my eye this last few weeks.  The first was a pic of tigers incarcerated at ZSL (London Zoo, that was) opening their christmas presents.  That is, tearing the Christmas wrapping paper off large cardboard boxes.  Just a bit of fun for the warders, I guess, but the anthropomorphic vacuity in this is such that there is really no need for further comment.

The second was a moving image.  Walking uphill on an absolutely silent Salisbury Plain towards the setting sun showed the land covered with long iridescent shimmering threads of spider silk as far as you could see.  They stretched from tussock to tussock, and bush to bush; such quiet natural industry.  There were no birds, no bangs, no traffic noise, no helicopters, just the silent silk.


Oxfam's careful arithmetic

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I got an email from Oxfam the other day.  You probably did too.

Its subject line said: "8 billionaires have the same wealth as half the planet."  Shocking, of course, if true.  And of course, it is.  Well, it is if you make certain decisions during your calculations that help you get an answer that's good for marketing.

What Oxfam did, it seems, was to base its calculations on net wealth, not actual wealth.  That is, assets minus debts.  It follows from this that some of the poorest people in the world are in the USA; that is, those with $zillions of debt.  Those getting by on £1.90 a day (but with no debts) are rich by comparison.

For the distasteful details go this Reuters' blog.  There's a nice graph which shows the problem with the Oxfam metrics.  And here is Ben Southwood on the issue:

Oxfam is once again misleading everyone with its punchy wealth inequality stats.  By Oxfam's measures, the poorest people in the world are recent Harvard graduates with student debt piles.  The bottom 2bn don't have zero wealth, but rather about $500bn of negative wealth.  The poorest person in the world is richer than the next 30% put together.  Having negative wealth may actually be a sign of prosperity, since only people with prospects can secure loans.  But there is a bigger issue with the narrative: more meaningful measures show greater equality.  Those in the middle and bottom of the world income distribution have all got pay rises of around 40% between 1988-2008.  Global inequality of life expectancy and height are narrowing too—showing better nutrition and better healthcare where it matters most.  What we should care about is the welfare of the poor, not the wealth of the rich."


Horse manure will bury London 9 feet deep by 1950

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

This was an 1894 headline in The Times, warning of the doom to come.  It features in a YouTube video by the authors of Resource Revolution: How to capture the biggest business opportunity in a century.

The horse problem is now hard to conceive.  Here's a comment from nofrackingconcensus:

Horses are lovely animals, but when crowded into cities they cause a variety of problems.  The 15 to 30 pounds of manure produced daily by each beast multiplied by the 150,000+ horses in New York city resulted in more than three million pounds of horse manure per day that somehow needed to be disposed of.  That’s not to mention the daily 40,000 gallons of horse urine.

Here's what the authors of Resource Revolution write:

The chance to meet soaring demand for oil, gas, steel, land, food, water, cement, clean air, and other commodities in a sustainable way by transforming how companies and societies prosper represents nothing less than the biggest business opportunity of the century.  A combination of information technology, nanoscale materials, and biotech with traditional industrial technology can unleash a step-change in resource productivity and generate enormous new profit pools.  However, capturing these business opportunities – and avoiding the disruption they bring – will require an entirely new approach to management.

Don't panic, seems to be the message as it's a bet against human ingenuity.  I decided not to do that a while back.


New madness from UNESCO

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that UNESCO, bored with having to sort out ESD's contradictions, is trying to invent a new acronym:

ECCAR – Education for climate change awareness and resilience

This is less catchy than a dose of flu, and about as welcome.  It all came out of COP24369 in Morocco last year (something I confess not to have focused my mind fully on).  If you can bear it, you can read all about it here.

Meanwhile, as a guide for the unwary, this is what we missed:

The top feature of the day will be a high-level panel debate entitled “Education—A key driver to scale-up climate action” (1.15pm to 2.45pm, Pacific Room, Blue Zone), in which UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova, HRH Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco, President of the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection, Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdallah, Minister of National Education and Vocational Training of Morocco, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa and a number of education ministers, will examine ways for education to enhance the implementation of the climate agenda and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs, which describe greenhouse gas emissions reductions agreed under the UNFCCC). ...

I wonder if anyone ever holds low-level panel debates?  Maybe those are the ones I was occasionally invited to sit on ...



Nature Schools

📥  Comment, News and Updates

You might (or not) have caught the BBC's brief news item saying that the Wildlife Trusts are planning to set up a Trust to run four nature schools.  The Nature Schools website says:

"A team led by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is working with specialist educational consultants to create a charitable company limited by guarantee called a Multi Academy Trust (MAT).  This MAT will apply to the Department for Education for permission to create four new primary schools in England.  These schools will be established through the government’s free school programme.  By writing the outline for their educational philosophy, the Wildlife Trusts can influence how the schools teach their pupils.  Our plan is for one school in the following locations; Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Devon (location to be confirmed), Chippenham, Wiltshire and Smethwick in the West Midlands.  If successful we intend to create more schools in the future."

This is a development to welcome.  The Nature Schools website says:

"Education is one of our charitable purposes – the reason why we exist.  Our long track record of delivering education to 100,000s of children each year has shown us the benefits of learning in a natural setting.  It has also demonstrated the limitations of this learning if it is a one-off addition to a child’s other education.  By using a school’s local environment as a place for learning and a medium for learning we believe children’s education will be enhanced.   At the same time we believe children's relationship with their local environment will be nurtured, strengthened and deepened

Commendably, the website also says this:

"Greener school environments (such as the presence of natural features in the playground) have been linked with better motor skills [1], psychological restoration [2], and rates of physical activity [3]

[1] Fjørtoft, I., Landscape as Playscape: The Effects of Natural Environments on Children’s Play and Motor Development. Children, Youth and Environments, 2004. 14(2): p. 21-44.,

[2] Bagot, K.L., F.C.L. Allen, and S. Toukhsati, Perceived restorativeness of children's school playground environments: Nature, playground features and play period experiences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2015. 41: p. 1-9.,

[3] Fjørtoft, I., B. Kristoffersen, and J. Sageie, Children in schoolyards: Tracking movement patterns and physical activity in schoolyards using global positioning system and heart rate monitoring. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2009. 93(3–4): p. 210-217.

How this evolves will be instructive, particularly seeing how DfE manages the permissions process.  The problem here is that, in order to set up an innovative free school, you have to pass all sorts of bureaucratic tests that have been designed to demonstrate just how mainstream (ie, un-innovative) you are.  Then there's the question of how to manage the balance between the outdoor and nature elements ... .  As I said, a development to welcome, but will it be environmental education ...