Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: November 2017

How young people experience the SDGs across the UK

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

As I noted yesterday, I am at St George's House, Windsor, at a consultation with a focus on young people and the sustainable development goals.  As an introduction to four presentations (from across the UK) about what they are trying to achieve when exploring the SDGs with young people, the following text was agreed by the presenters:

For the sustainable development goals to be successful – citizens, including young people, must be provided with:

  • participatory, creative and transformative learning experiences which enable them to understand the challenges, complexities, injustices, interdependencies of our world through addressing topics such as climate change and poverty
  • the opportunity to explore and understand the opportunities, connections, common aspirations and common humanity within our world
  • an education which provides them with the opportunity to develop the essential skills, attitudes and dispositions that will enable and empower them as active citizens contributing to the achievement of the goals and thus a fair and sustainable world through their own choices, behaviours and actions.

Although universal and collaborative, the goals themselves are not perfect.  Some feel they do not go far enough to address the root causes of global poverty and inequality and indeed may reinforce the unjust international system.  We must ensure that actions taken to address the SDGs use social justice rather than charity based approaches.  Therefore, we must equip young people with the skills to think critically about the goals themselves and about whether they truly address the root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change and to understand how to influence and effect change locally and globally.

At one level all this is fine, and none of it comes as any surprise, but there is something of a fault line in it.

This is evident in the last sentence, and in the 3rd bullet point:

"... we must equip young people with the skills to think critically about the goals ..."

"an education which provides them with the opportunity to develop the essential skills, attitudes and dispositions that will enable and empower them as active citizens contributing to the achievement of the goals ..."

It is, after all, conceivable that such an education might not result in people who want to "contribute to the achievement of the goals ... through their own choices, behaviours and actions".

That's the problem with (and great strength of) education at its best: it's wonderfully open-ended and unpredictable where learners don't always (want to) learn what their teachers teach.

The background to the St George's House consultation on the SDGs

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As I noted earlier today, I'll be at St George's House Windsor this week at a consultation on young people and the SDGs.  This is what the background paper to the consultation has to say.

2015 saw the Paris Agreement and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs aka, the Global Goals). The focus of the Goals is transforming people’s lives. They follow on from the reasonably successful but less extensive Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs apply to everyone in the world and have the potential to focus attention on how to address and resolve some of the huge range of problems the world faces today.  Despite this, not everyone supports all the Goals. Some feel that there is a particular form of economic development built into them (we might call it global capitalism with a neo-liberal orientation). Others question how well the goals map onto how we think about sustainability, and there are reservations to particular goals; for example, not everyone values gender equality and empowerment for women and girls. Some also think that there are too many targets with many of these being poorly expressed.

UK implementation requires action to [i] deliver the Goals for all UK citizens, [ii] ensure DFID supports the delivery of the SDGs in its priority countries, and [iii] ensure that domestic action on the SDGs has a positive global impact. In England, DfID is taking the lead. By contrast, in Scotland, responsibility is with the First Minister who has required all government departments to support the achievement of the Goals.   Although international aid and development-focused trade will play a hugely important role in realising the Goals, it is obvious that education across the world will have an equally important role, and a disproportionally important one in economically-developed countries such as the UK. In this, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between learning and the Goals which is illustrated by the following propositions:

1. Goal-related learning by students can help increase the likelihood that the goals will be valued, supported and hence realised

2. A critical study of the goals can enhance the focus, and help raise the quality, of student learning

Given the significance of the Goals, it seems obvious that schools should focus on them, and it is no surprise that many already do. However, how straightforward it is to focus on the Goals varies across jurisdictions. In Scotland (with curriculum for excellence and education for sustainability) and Wales (with ESDGC), there is more of a central mandating of Goal-related work. In England, by contrast, the Department for Education has left DfID (with Pearson, Oxfam, and others) to support this work through its Global Learning Programme, with schools being free to make a distinctive contribution if they so choose.

Every UK school has an opportunity for its teaching and wider activities to covers a range of the Goals, and working in partnership with community groups has the capability to bring teachers, students, leaders and external actors together. Many such groups are also already active in their own right working with young people and others in community settings to help raise awareness and understanding of the Goals and to bring about change. In this sense, the Goals offer a currency and a means of exchange that all can understand and get involved in using approaches that make sense to them. Young People and The Sustainable Development Goals

The consultation purposes are:

Although there is a temptation to see school-age young people as merely preparing for further study, they are already consumers and citizens who make ethical and other judgements on a daily basis, and who have beliefs and values. There is, therefore, a responsibility on those working with young people to ensure that they are helped to contribute to a more just and sustainable future. None of this is an argument for a study of the Goals, per se, as some new curriculum area or subject. Rather, it’s a case for seizing the opportunities that present themselves to focus on the Goals during formal and informal education, both within institutions and outwith them in the community, working across ideas and disciplines where sensible, and with appropriate partners whenever possible. It is this that the seminar will explore with these purposes in mind:

1. To examine and test the propositions set out above in order to identify appropriate educational approaches and opportunities

2. To bring key stakeholders together in a way that encourages exchange and mutual comprehension so that the significance of the SDGs to the work of the UK’s education sectors (and vice versa) can be better understood.

 

Talking about the sustainable development goals

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

I shall be at St George's House, Windsor on Thursday and Friday, at a consultation with a focus on young people and the sustainable development goals.  I have worked with Jamie Agombar from the NUS to organise this.  There will be around 30 people there drawn from schools, environmental and development NGOs, educational NGOs, government, religious organisations, UNESCO, the OECD, and the NUS and universities.  All parts of the UK will be represented and there will be a significant input from the global learning programme.  After presentations about what goal-related work is trying to achieve there will be inputs from NGOs and schools about how they go about this work.  There will be reflections, an input from research, and, it is to be hoped, lots of room for thought and discussion.  If there isn't, the fault will be mine as I am charing it.

This is the detail:

Young People and the Sustainable Development Goals
The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are hugely important for the future wellbeing of all people, and for the integrity of the biosphere. It is clear that education has a key role to play, not only in helping people understand the significance of the goals, but also in helping to ensure that the goals, and their targets, are achieved.  We already know that a number of schools have programmes focusing on this, but if goal-related learning by students can help increase the likelihood that the goals will be valued, supported and hence realised, is it also the case that a critical study of the goals can enhance the focus, and help raise the quality of student learning? This Consultation will examine these twin propositions. We will look in depth at what good goal-related outcomes might be; and we will explore what more can be done to embed a focus on the SDGs in work with young people both in and out of school.

The  consultation is considering two propositions:

  1. Goal-related learning by students can help increase the likelihood that the goals will be valued, supported and hence realised
  2. A critical study of the goals can enhance the focus, and help raise the quality, of student learning

You'll have your own views on these, and I'll say more about them over the next few days.

 

Margrethe Vestager

📥  Comment, News and Updates

If I have a contemporary hero it would be Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner for competition who is proving a scourge of those bent on global dominance; that is, the IT mega corporations.  They may not pay their taxes, but they do pay her fines.  As the Times noted the other day ...

  • Last year, she ruled that Ireland must collect €13bn from Apple which had benefited from illegal tax breaks that gave it an unfair competitive advantage.
  • In May, she fined Facebook €110m for providing misleading information to the European Commission about its WhatsApp takeover.
  • In June, she slapped Google with a €2.42bn penalty for abusing its position as the dominant search engine to promote its own shopping service.
  • In October, she fined Amazon €250m for benefiting from another illegal tax break; and, announced Ireland is to be hauled before the European Court of Justice because it is still dragging its feet over collecting the €13bn — “plus interest” — owed by Apple.

She has an 800-strong team [800!] which, Vestager insists is merely applying the free market principles set out over 60 years ago by the founders of the EU.  Like me, she avoids Google and uses DuckDuckGo as her search engine (it does not store personal data), and she deletes cookies every few days, as should we all.  The price of liberty is still eternal scepticism and vigilance.

 

Remember to press 'record' if the Inquisition comes calling

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That's the lesson the admirable Lindsay Shepherd teaches us despite her ordeal at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada.  She's a teaching assistant (and grad student) who was taking a first-year communication studies class on pronouns.  In doing this, she used a short clip from a TVOntario debate (with the University of Toronto's  Jordan Peterson and others) to illustrate how controversial grammar can be – especially pronouns.  Someone complained and Shepherd was reprimanded for violating the University's Gendered and Sexual Violence policy.  In a meeting with three university officials (two academics; one of whom was her supervisor) and the institution's acting manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support [sic].   Shepherd was accused, amongst other things, of creating a toxic and problematic environment that constituted violence against transgendered students.  She was also told that she had broken the Canadian law.

You can listen to the whole encounter here.  It is as fine an example of institutional bullying as you could hope never to come across and might be used in years to come in supervisor training classes.  In the encounter I thought it was Shepherd who sounded like the academic as it was she, rather than her inquisitors, who was intent on upholding the values of a university education.  All in all, I thought she was just trying to make a class on pronouns a bit more interesting.

Some good may (or not) come of it.  The university has had to apologise for the way Shepherd was treated, and her supervisor has issued an astonishing letter of abject grovel.  It's here.   However, the post of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support still exists.

The moral here is to press record on your phone when if you are to be bullied because none of this would be out in the open if that hadn't been done, and the acting manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support [GVPS] would have emerged further empowered.  This GVPS role reminds me of the armed NKVD units that were embedded in the Red Army doing WWII to ensure that the troops always faced the right direction.

 

Obsessed by the Goals?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

You may have noticed that I've been writing about the sustainable development goals a lot recently.  This is, in large part, because of the forthcoming consultation at St George's House on the goals and young people.  But, looking back at the last 12 months or so, I've written about the goals consistently through the year.  This is because they are so important, which is why every Tam, Dougie and Hamish now seems to be leaping on to the bandwagon they represent.

Here are few of the links in addition to those of the last few days ...

SDGs as a radical curriculum alternative?

SDG learning objectives

Schools and the SDGs

EE and the SDGs [1]

EE and the SDGs [2]

Assessing progress towards SDG target 4.7

ESD into the SDGs doesn't go

The power of the SDGs as a means of exchange

 

An SDG teach-in to look forward to

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NUS is holding an Sustainable Development Goals [SDG] Teach-in, asking academics in UK universities and colleges ...

"to pledge to include the UN Sustainable Development Goals in their teaching, learning, and assessment during the week of 19 to 23 February 2018",  adding ...

"The 17 ‘Global Goals’ set out targets to end poverty, protect the planet, and achieve prosperity for all by 2030.  The SDG teach-in will help raise awareness of why the SDGs should be at the heart of further and higher education across all disciplines, and catalyse the change needed to make this happen."

Robbie Young, NUS Vice President for Society and Citizenship said:

“Despite the growing pressure from students and young people around the globe, our institutions and governments are not leading on sustainability in the ways we wish they would ... We need our educators to be bringing sustainability into every course, at every college and university across the UK.  We need a generation of future leaders who are ready to tackle the world’s greatest environmental and social challenges.”

Whilst it's good to see this taking place, it's a bit dispiriting that it's still necessary.  Never mind, just think how much model-obsessed economists are going to enjoy it.

One bright spot in this campaign is that NUS has managed to promote it without mentioning ESD.  It's usually a cheerleader for ESD (and wins prizes for it – ESD, that is, not cheerleading); maybe it's learning at last ...

 

Global learning and education for training dogs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I mentioned Harriet Marshall the other day.  In addition to the work that I wrote about then, Harriet has also summarised what she sees as six successful models of SDG practice that can be found across UK Primary, Middle and Secondary schools.  In essence, these are:

  1. Whole school awareness-raising with class or year groups
  2. Whole school engagement seeing all goals as interlinked, with focus on action & innovation
  3. Linking to other global learning activities and outside organisations
  4. Student ambassadors working inside and outside of school
  5. National Curriculum and subject-focused work
  6. Focus on teacher global learning journey & CPD [sic].

You can see these in full here.

Whilst I don't want to query these as models, per se, I do want to question just how specific they are to the goals.  They could just as well be related to X, where this can be a range of activities and interests; for example, gardening, first aid and (always my favourite) training dogs.  For example:

Successful models of training dogs practice in schools

  1. Whole school awareness-raising with class or year groups
  2. Whole school engagement seeing all aspects of training dogs as interlinked, with focus on action & innovation
  3. Linking to other training dog activities and outside organisations
  4. Student ambassadors working inside and outside of school
  5. National Curriculum and subject-focused work
  6. Focus on teacher training dogs journey & CPD [sic].

Thus, it is clear that there is nothing in the 6 models that is specific to the goals.  At one level, that doesn't matter, but at another, isn't it odd given how so much is claimed for the goals?

 

UK Sustainable Development Goal stats from the ONS

📥  News and Updates

Given the UKSSD plan to promote the Sustainable Development Goals that I mentioned yesterday, it's a happy circumstance that sees the Office for National Statistics [ONS] publishing its first progress report on the Goals.  This is available on the ONS website where there is a dedicated reporting platform.  This uses a traffic light system to flag up data availability:

  • Green – data reported on-line
  • Amber – statistics in process of production
  • Red – still exploring data sources

If you click on the green ones, graph axes pop up and more.  Sometimes (but not always) the graphs even have data points on them.  Try clicking ...

Indicator 4.1.1: Proportion of children and young people: (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex

... to see what I mean.  I very quickly lost the desire to spend any time doing this.  You might be made of sterner stuff.

However, to make any sense of this you need to know what the indicators of success are.  These are set out here and used by the ONS.  These are not the goals, or the targets, but the means by which we will know (possibly) how much progress (if any) is being made against the targets.

For example ...

Goal 4:  Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Target 4.1:  By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

Indicator 4.1.1:  Proportion of children and young people (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex

The ONS will have ready access to data for this, although the target hardly seems a complete fit with the Goal which refers to life-long learning opportunities whereas the target doesn't – but more on all this later.

It's less clear that there will be ready data for other targets.  For example (Goal 4 again):

Target 4.7: By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the 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.

Indicator 4.7.1: Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels in (a) national education policies; (b) curricula; (c) teacher education; and (d) student assessment.

I pity the ONS's having to make sense of this – even if it ever gets the data.  The problem of validity is immediately obvious (and this is not the only example).  The target is about outcomes [ "learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development" ], whereas the indicator concerns process [ "mainstreamed at all levels" ].  The cause of this unfixable problem lies in the UN's anarchic drafting process.

ONS says that there are 232 global indicators which have been divided into tiers, depending on the existence of agreed standards or methods and the availability of data:

tier 1: indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50% of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant

tier 2: indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries

tier 3: no internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology or standards are being (or will be) developed or tested

It will be instructive to see how many tier 3 indicators actually get measured.  You will note here the implication that tier 3 indicators may not be all that conceptually clear.

 

 

 

At last, a national plan

📥  Comment, News and Updates

No, not for Brexit or the NHS / social care or a federal constitution (though all need one), but for the SDGs.  UKSSD has jumped into the void.  It says:

"Two years after the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed, the UK still doesn’t have a compelling, coherent or transparent plan for how it is going to achieve them. We think this is wrong.  Without a plan, how can we ensure we build a fair, just and sustainable UK?  Without a plan, how are we going to achieve the SDGs by 2030?   With your help, we will create the first stakeholder-led national plan for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UK. Together the UKSSD network will present it to the United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2018 at a dedicate launch event. We need to get to work now to meet the July deadline."

We invite you to lead or sponsor a chapter of our national plan for the SDGs.  Each chapter of the plan will be dedicated to an SDG Goal. We will draw on our collective knowledge and expertise to illustrate the UK’s performance against the targets, the opportunities they present, and the challenges we will need to address to achieve them.  We will provide stakeholders from all sectors with a greater understanding of their role and call on the Government to proactively work with us to put in place the actions needed to achieve the SDGs.

In getting involved, it seems that we can ...

  • Sponsor a chapter – As a chapter sponsor you will be publicly acknowledged for your contribution to the plan, credited with your logo in the report and be supported to communicate your leadership to your own network.
  • Register as a contributor or provide some support – If you would like to be involved during the peer review phase register as a contributor here. We are also looking for media partners, communications and administration support, research support, and help with design and publishing.

Well, it will be good to watch this emerge; in particular, seeing that the SDGs can only be meaningfully addressed when viewed in their relationship with each other, it will be instructive to see how that is managed.  I understand that the Goal 4 (education) chapter now has a lead author but that this has led to considerable angst from opinion-formers across the land who missed the application deadline and hence the opportunity to promote their own organisations in the plan.

I've signed up as a critical friend, so more later ...