Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: March 2017

New ESD Case Studies from UNESCO UK

📥  Comment, New Publications

The UK's National Commission for UNESCO has published a series of case studies on ESD:  Good practice in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the UK: Case Studies.

The Introduction says:

"Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is described by UNESCO as enabling us to address present and future global challenges and create more sustainable and resilient societies by changing the way we think and act.  This requires quality education and learning for sustainable development at all levels and in all social contexts.  This report provides a series of case studies from across the UK that illustrates how ESD has been used to influence the people and communities involved.  The studies are drawn from formal education, community engagement and the private sector.  Each case study provides a brief description of the activity and, where possible, draws lessons and identifies opportunities for scaling up the approach to a regional or national level."


"This policy brief seeks to showcase good practice in ESD from across the UK.  The case studies are offered as examples to the UNESCO Secretariat, other Member States and ESD practitioners of approaches to ESD which can be applied in different educational and social contexts."

The Cases focus on:

  1. Engaging schools in sustainability: Eco-Schools, England
  2. Learning for sustainability and teacher training: The General Teaching Council for Scotland’s professional standards
  3. Students as change agents: National Union of Students UK
  4. Institutional change programmes in higher education: the UK’s Green Academy change programme
  5. International education through distance learning: the post-graduate Education for Sustainability programme at London South Bank University
  6. [i] Disadvantage and ESD: Down to Earth Project in Wales; [ii] St James’s Community Forum, Belfast
  7. Education business partnership and professional practice: Bulmer Foundation and Heineken
  8. Aligning Welsh business and sustainability: Cynnal Cymru- Sustain Wales

I should declare an interest in that I wrote the first draft of Case 3, although I don't really see it as ESD.

You will find it all here.  When you read it, you might wonder whether it's long enough.  That is: are these the only examples that could be found?  Or might more have been made of the contexts that are explored?  Or could each have been just a bit more analytical.  Then you might wonder if they are really about ESD, as opposed to education more generally.

My own view is that publications like this, no matter how useful, are no substitute for the form and structure of the two in-depth studies that UNESCO UK published in the years before the 2010 election, or even for the Policy Brief written in 2013.  Again, I've an interest to declare in all these).  That said, it's good to see something published on education by UNESCO in the UK.


More on UNESCO competencies

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about UNESCOs latest and rather surreal publication on learning outcomes.

The whole thing is couched in the language of competencies, as is rather too-Germanic for my taste (that is not a political judgement).  This seems a key passage:

There is general agreement that sustainability citizens need to have certain key competencies that allow them to engage constructively and responsibly with today’s world.  Competencies describe the specific attributes individuals need for action and self-organization in various complex contexts and situations. They include cognitive, affective, volitional and motivational elements; hence they are an interplay of knowledge, capacities and skills, motives and affective dispositions. Competencies cannot be taught, but have to be developed by the learners themselves. They are acquired during action, on the basis of experience and reflection (UNESCO, 2015; Weinert, 2001).  Key competencies represent cross-cutting competencies that are necessary for all learners of all ages worldwide (developed at different age-appropriate levels).  Key competencies can be understood as transversal, multifunctional and context-independent. They do not replace specific competencies necessary for successful action in certain situations and contexts, but they encompass these and are more broadly focused (Rychen, 2003; Weinert, 2001).  The following key competencies are generally seen as crucial to advance sustainable development (see de Haan, 2010; Rieckmann, 2012; Wiek et al., 2011).

  • Systems thinking competency
  • Anticipatory competency
  • Normative competency
  • Strategic competency
  • Collaboration competency
  • Critical thinking competency
  • Self-awareness competency
  • Integrated problem-solving competency

Whilst I wonder what happened to bildungs kompetence which seemed all the rage a few years ago, this exhausting list also misses out what, for me, has to be the most important  competency: Competency competency, without which you cannot be competent at handling competency – if you see what I mean.


Troubles in the USA

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The details of the Trump administration's proposals around environmental protection (and education) are becoming clear.  This is what the Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education [NAAEE] had to say to its members last week:

Dear Friends:

The work you do couldn’t be more important than it is right now.  And the opportunity to stand up for what you believe couldn’t be more important than it is today.

The Administration’s budget, as many of you know, was released last week, and included massive cuts for education, environmental protection, science, STEM, the arts, after school programs, social innovation, and so many other areas that enhance our work in environmental education to create a more just and sustainable future.  It also specifically cuts funding for environmental education in EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and other federal agencies that have supported environmental education, under every administration, for decades.  Although the proposed cuts are deep, Congress needs to approve the budget and we are working tirelessly with our Affiliates and other partners to restore funding for environmental education in the 2018 budget.

Many of you have asked how you can help support the programs that you care about without taking a political stand.  It’s important to remember that environmental education is a non-partisan issue: Environmental education does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action, but focuses on creating a nation of learners and thinkers who are civically engaged and are actively working to protect environmental quality, promote social equity, and strive for shared prosperity for all.

The note went on to advocate 6 areas of action:

  • Meet, Write, and Call Your Members of Congress: Your Voice Counts!
  • Take Part in the Marches, Town Hall Meetings, and Other Activities that Support Your Work and Values: Numbers Count
  • Join NAAEE’s Action Network and eePRO: Participation Counts
  • Get Involved in Your Community: Civic Engagement Counts
  • Submit a Proposal for Puerto Rico: Collective Impact Counts
  • Donate to NAAEE: Your Support Counts

The first seems the most crucial.  All of these are the sort of things that those based in the USA can do, but I'm wondering what I can do.  I'm minded to write to the US Ambassador to 'the Court of St James' saying how wanton and shocking all this seems.  What are you doing?



Tedious Learning Objectives from UNESCO

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been trying to take seriously UNESCO's latest output on the Sustainable Development Goals, but it's hard going.

UNESCO says that its new publication, "Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives, targets policy-makers, curriculum developers and educators, and that it contains learning objectives and suggestions for classroom activities to address each of the SDGs as well as guidance on how to integrate ESD into policies and teaching. You can download it here if you really want to.

In a Foreword, UNESCO's Deputy Director writes:

"... This publication is designed as a guide for education professionals on the use of ESD in learning for the SDGs, and consequently to contribute to achieving the SDGs.  The guide identifies indicative learning objectives and suggests topics and learning activities for each SDG. It also presents implementation methods at different levels, from course design to national strategies.  The guide does not aim to be prescriptive in any way, but to provide guidance and suggestions that educators can select and adapt to fit concrete learning contexts.  ..."

This ends:

"I am confident that this guide will help to develop sustainability competencies for all learners and empower everyone to contribute to achieving our ambitious and crucial global agenda."

Well, I suppose someone has to be.  I'm not, as I doubt that many not on the UNESCO payroll will read it; indeed, those millions who take UNESCO's shilling but who know that ESD is a dead-end, won't be reading it either.  All this might well have a greater impact had it focused on 'education' rather than 'ESD', as it then would have had an appropriate audience in mind – that is, all those involved in education across the world – as opposed to the pitiful few who know anything about ESD.

But even so, it's doubtful that they'd take much notice as what's set out here is clearly written by insiders for insiders, and done so with an astonishingly uncritical eye.  Here's one example.  It's in Table 1.2.2. and sets out the cognitive learning objectives for Goal 2 “Zero Hunger”:

The Learner:

  1. knows about hunger and malnutrition and their main physical and psychological effects on human life, and about specific vulnerable groups.
  2. knows about the amount and distribution of hunger and malnutrition locally, nationally and globally, currently as well as historically.
  3. knows the main drivers and root causes for hunger at the individual, local, national and global level.
  4. knows principles of sustainable agriculture and understands the need for legal rights to have land and property as necessary conditions to promote it.
  5. understands the need for sustainable agriculture to combat hunger and malnutrition worldwide and knows about other strategies to combat hunger, malnutrition and poor diets.

There are also 5 socio-emotional learning objectives and 5 behavioural learning objectives about this Goal as well.

You really do have to ask: which learner is this?  Is it a 16 month old toddler in a Koln nursery school?  A 7 year old in a New York elementary school?  A benighted teenager in a Lahore madrassa?  A masters student in politics at Sciences Po?  A trainee teacher in Durban?  A student in a Sydney grammar school?  An undergraduate in Milan on an Italian Fine Art degree?  A vocational education track student in a Stockholm high school? ...

It is of course Everylearner, and therefore none.  My favourite among all the 255 [17 x 3 x 5] learning objectives is this:

"The learner is able to understand that with changing resource availability (e. g. peak oil, peak everything) and other external shocks and stresses (e. g. natural hazards, conflicts) their own perspective and demands on infrastructure may need to shift radically regarding availability of renewable energy for ICT, transport options, sanitation options, etc."

But it was a hard choice ...



The Mississippi's orphan tears

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The NAEE blog, on March 16th and March 24th, carried stories about rivers getting legal status as people.  The rivers in question were the Whanganui river in New Zealand and the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India.

The March 24th post cited an Economist feature on both these developments, and quoted how the article ended:

Days after the law passed, an Indian court declared two of the biggest and most sacred rivers in India, the Ganges and Yamuna, to be people too.  Making explicit reference to the Whanganui settlement, the court assigned legal “parents” to protect and conserve their waters.  Local lawyers think the ruling might help fight severe pollution: the rivers’ defenders will no longer have to prove that discharges into them harm anyone, since any sullying of the waters will now be a crime against the river itself.  There is no doubt that of the 1.3bn-odd people in India, the Ganges and the Yamuna must be among the most downtrodden.

Will this idea spread, I wonder?  Perhaps even to the USA where the Mississippi has surely cried enough orphan tears for rivers everywhere.  Giving it First Amendment rights as well would seem in order.  After all, the US deems corporations to have legal rights as people, so why not rivers?  Sadly, I suspect that expensive lawyers are already queuing for two blocks for a chance to ridicule this idea.


a WEEC whose days are long

📥  Comment, News and Updates

News came the other day of a day-long workshop for WEEC participants on the question of what environmental education is, should be, and either might or must become.  Such a "is, should be, and either might or must become" confection can only have been dreamt up by a committee tired of arguing.  The blurb continues:

Drawing on local to international perspectives, expert contributions and debate, we invite participants to re-engage this question at a critical juncture in the politics of the environment.  The workshop uses three distinct markers from historic to contemporary international policy developments to engage these questions:

  • it is 40 years since the UN’s Tbilisi Declaration on the framework, principles, and guidelines for environmental education at all levels.
  • since the end of the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, environmental education has been positioned as central to a wide range of initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Action Programme, and Climate Change Education.
  • on May 26, 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme secured over 200 national signatories to a resolution entitled, “Investing in human capacity for sustainable development through environmental education and training” during the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

The workshop is for environmental educators, activists, scholars and researchers.  It will include invited panels and participatory discussion sessions that:

  • investigate how we understand environmental education, including its origins, turning points and contexts for development;
  • debate key considerations from the past to present and into the future, from the worlds of practice, policy and scholarship; and
  • strategize for impact across a diversity of possible approaches, new directions and future scenarios for the field.

Sadly, however, you have to go to WEEC in order to participate.  The email that brought these glad tidings came with a photograph of a woman with her face buried deep in her shawl, clearly distressed at this news.




A balanced view of balance

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Balance / balanced is one of those ideas that everyone seems to understand, and the word can conjure up an image: maybe of a seesaw, or a pair of weighing scales.  In one sense, it's obvious how these work, but that's only because we have an understanding of Newton's gravitational theory; this understanding may be intuitive or conceptually-based.

However, this is not the sort of balance that we mean when we speak of a "broad and balanced curriculum" as the 2002 Education Act does in England.

The idea of a balanced diet is nearer to the 2002 use of balance because understanding the idea of a balanced diet requires a theory of nutrition that allows you to know what to include in a diet, and in what proportion.  Without such a theory there's a risk that you will consume a range of things that will not do you any good.  It seems that a lot of us do this nowadays.

And thus it is that, without a theory of curriculum, there's a risk that you will study and learn things that will not do you much good.  Thus, when the Head of Ofsted talks about 'deep' and 'rich' but does not mention 'balance', alarm bells should ring.

I have written to Ofsted and to the DfE to ask what's going on.



Paul Kingsnorth argues for a defence of loved things

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading a piece by Paul Kingsnorth in The Guardian.  It's a reflection on environmentalism in an age of globalisation, and begins thus:

"Last June, I voted to leave the European Union. I wasn’t an anti-EU fanatic but I was, despite my advancing years, still something of a green idealist. I had always believed that small was beautiful, that people should govern themselves and that power should be reclaimed and localised whenever possible. I didn’t think that throwing the people of Greece, Spain and Ireland to the wolves in order to keep bankers happy looked like the kind of right-on progressive justice that some of the EU’s supporters were claiming it represented. ... .

Some people, when I told them that I’d voted to leave, looked at me as if I’d just owned up to a criminal record. Why would I do that? Was I a racist? A fascist? Did I hate foreigners? Did I hate Europe? I must hate something. Did I know how irresponsible I had just been? Had I changed my mind yet? I needed to go away and check my privilege.

The eruption of anger that followed the vote, on all sides, was surprising enough. But what was also surprising to me was the uniformity of opinion among people I had thought I shared a worldview with. Most people in the leftish, green-tinged world in which I had spent probably too much time over the years seemed to be lining up behind the EU.  The public intellectuals, the Green party, the big NGOs: all these people, from a tradition founded on localisation, degrowth, bioregionalism and a fierce critique of industrial capitalism, were on board with a multinational trading bloc backed by the world’s banks, corporations and neoliberal politicians.  Something smelt fishy. ..."

I have also noted all this for some time, and have put it down to solidarity with people (the toiling downtrodden masses across the globe) trumping – to coin a phrase – solidarity with the rest of nature – some of which also increasingly toils.  Sustainability is supposed to mean that such things cannot be separated.

So, when Kingnorth wrote this:

"Green spokespeople and activists rarely come from the classes of people who have been hit hardest by globalisation.  The greens have shifted firmly into the camp of the globalist left.  Now, as the blowback gathers steam, they find themselves on the wrong side of the divide."

... he is spot on.  This is how his (surprisingly hopeful) article ends as he draws culture back to centre stage where environmentalism is waiting:

"... any attempt to protect nature from the worst human depredation has to speak to people where they are. It has to make us all feel that the natural world, the non-human realm, is not an obstacle in the way of our progress but a part of our community that we should nurture; a part of our birthright. In other words, we need to tie our ecological identity in with our cultural identity.

In the age of drones and robots, this notion might sound airy or even ridiculous, but it has been the default way of seeing for most indigenous cultures throughout history. In the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, recently given the go-ahead by Trump, where the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters continue to resist the construction of an oil pipeline across Native American land, we perhaps see some indication of what this fusing of human and non-human belonging could look like today; a defence of both territory and culture, in the name of nature, rooted in love.

Globalism is the rootless ideology of the fossil fuel age, and it will fade with it. But the angry nationalisms that currently challenge it offer us no better answers about how to live well with a natural world that we have made into an enemy.  Our oldest identity is one that stills holds us in its grip, whether we know it or not. Like the fox in the garden or the bird in the tree, we are all animals in a place.  If we have a future, cultural or ecological – and they are the same thing, in the end – it will begin with a quality of attention and a defence of loved things.  All else is for the birds, and the foxes too."

There is undoubtedly something in this.


Kingsnorth’s new book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, is published by Faber which days this about the book:

Paul Kingsnorth was once an activist, an ardent environmentalist. He fought against rampant development and the depredations of a corporate world that seemed hell-bent on ignoring a looming climate crisis in its relentless pursuit of profit. But as the environmental movement began to focus on 'sustainability' rather than the defence of wild places for their own sake and as global conditions worsened, he grew disenchanted with the movement that he once embraced. He gave up what he saw as the false hope that residents of the First World would ever make the kind of sacrifices that might avert the severe consequences of climate change.

Full of grief and fury as well as passionate, lyrical evocations of nature and the wild, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist gathers the wave-making essays that have charted the change in Kingsnorth’s thinking. In them he articulates a new vision that he calls 'dark ecology,' which stands firmly in opposition to the belief that technology can save us, and he argues for a renewed balance between the human and nonhuman worlds.

Provocative and urgent, iconoclastic and fearless, this ultimately hopeful book poses hard questions about how we have lived and should live.

Blue Space

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Debra has funded two new projects:

1. Barriers to children visiting green spaces (Childhood Gateway Project)

There is a substantial and growing body of evidence regarding the benefits of spending time in and connecting to nature.  However, the evidence also suggests that a substantial minority of children do not spend any time in nature, with recent MENE data suggesting 1 in 9 may not have visited green/blue spaces in the last year.  Defra has therefore commissioned the Childhood Gateway Project to explore why some children are not spending any time in natural environments, and what could be done in practice to change this.  The project team is keen to review evidence relevant to these questions.  In particular, evidence is sought on:

· Audience - Who are the children who are not spending time in and connecting with nature?

· Barriers - What are the reasons why this audience are not spending time in and connecting with nature?

· Competition - What are they doing instead?

· Interventions - What approaches are being used (and by whom) to try to get this audience to spend time in nature, and what can be learned from these interventions?

· Trends - How have patterns of children spending time in and connecting with nature changed over time, and why?

The project is not seeking to review evidence on the benefits of spending time in and connecting with nature.  The project started at the end of February and will be completed in the middle of May.  It would be very helpful if you could send any relevant evidence to the Childwise-led research team - Jenny Ehren ( and Simon Christmas ( - by this Friday.


2. What works briefing on natural environment and health interventions

The aim of the project is to identify what works regarding the use of the natural environment as a setting or resource in health promotion, focusing on three topics:

· Urban people’s use of urban greenspaces

· Deprived and marginalised groups’ health related use of natural environments

· Children and young people’s natural environment based physical activity

Through a rapid review of evidence and current practice the project aims to assess:

· The effectiveness of interventions  - in terms of either improving health, wellbeing, quality of life or health behaviours (e.g. physical activity), or increasing health related access to or use of natural environments

· The facilitators, barriers and challenges to successful delivery

The project began at the beginning of February and will be completed in the middle of April.  It is being undertaken by Becca Lovell at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School.  It would be helpful if you could send details of relevant evidence and current practice to Becca - focusing especially on project reports, case studies etc. that may be harder for her to get hold of - by Friday 24th March.


You've only got 3 days to do all this.  I'd be helping, if only I knew what "blue space" was:  "... MENE data suggesting 1 in 9 may not have visited green/blue spaces in the last year."

I should say that I think these MENE data are nonsense.  It suggests that 11% of children never leave the house.  There are clearly, as I've commented before, definitional issues here.



One for sorrow, Two for joy, ...

📥  Comment, News and Updates

... Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret Never to be told, Eight for a wish, Nine for a kiss, Ten for a bird You must not miss.

Magpies that is. I saw at the weekend that we have two nesting in a larch in the garden for the first time.  I have mixed feelings about these birds; a certain respect is due as they are, after all, a part of nature, but they are a mite (or should that be might) too successful for my liking and are as good as the Maltese are at killing small birds — though not for fun, I suppose. They are also strutting, noisy, brash, and braggartly with a staccato line in communication that is unbirdlike.  If birds had social media, magpies would be tweeting at 5 in the morning.

Does all this remind you of anyone?  Could be a tricky summer.


NB, the original version of the verse I quoted at the start of the blog is said to be ...

One for sorrow, Two for mirth, Three for a wedding, And four for death.

Although you'd have thought that "birth" would have been a happier rhyme in every sense, death might have been a more likely outcome.