Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Posts By: Bill Scott

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 ...


GLP's management and philosophical biases

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I noted the other day that the GLP management group is not exactly balanced.  It comprises: Pearson, the Geographical Association, UCL Institute of Education, Oxfam UK, the Royal Geographical Society, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), and Think Global.  This is two sets of geographers, two global-focused charities, a university development / global research outfit, the SSAT (which can't even manage to admit to being a member), and the ubiquitous Pearson – and DfID, of course, the government's global development ministry.

No wonder, then, there is a biased focus towards social justice and towards a worldview that sees the smoothing out of conflicts ** as the way forward.  This is a value, apparently.

Thus, given that the sustainable development goals deal with all aspects of sustainability (more or less), where are the NGOs that are concerned with the biosphere?  Why isn't WWF involved in the GLP, or the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, WWT?  Did they all turn down the chance?  Or were they just not invited to the party?  Does anyone know?


** The GLP says: "By using global learning to enrich the curriculum, GLP schools are finding that global learning is helping to ... foster values such as respect and empathy."  This seems just a quasi-Jungian reconciliation and accommodation of opposites.  There will surely have to be more to sustainability than respect and empathy.


Why I worry about the Global Learning Programme

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The NAEE website has had a global learning theme over the last few days; see, for example, here, here and here.   A key element of this has been the work of Harriet Marshall (who works for the Global Learning Programme – GLP).  In a blog she addresses the practice of global learning in England, and identifies five common themes:

  1. the SDG framework is often used as the starting point to engage students, school leaders, and other staff. ...
  2. the core values of the SDGs are often linked to schools’ pre-existing values and ethos statements. ...
  3. the idea of a global learning ‘journey’ is often at the heart of approaches to engagement with the SDGs in schools – especially those that build in models of behaviour or attitudinal change, and knowledge development. ...
  4. the the SDGs provide a useful framework for bringing in more complex or controversial local or national issues into the classroom. ...
  5. many methods of engagement with the SDGs in schools are aligned to critical thinking and the need to promote associated pedagogies like critical literacy and critical numeracy. ...

Not all of these possibilities are unique to global learning, but the fit is remarkably good nonetheless.   It does better, for example, than environmental education does in this regard.

The GLP is a rare thing these days: a national, cross-curricular educational project.  Even more rarified, it's UK-wide although there are, of course, four versions of the programme.  All this is only possible because its funded by DfID.  It's managed by: Pearson (lead), the Geographical Association, UCL Institute of Education, Oxfam UK, the Royal Geographical Society, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and Think Global.  Pearson says that about 5500 schools are involved across the UK, adding:

GLP supports teachers to help pupils learn about the challenges our world faces and think critically about issues such as poverty, inequality and sustainability. It helps pupils make sense of the world in which they live and understand their role in a global society.

"By using global learning to enrich the curriculum, GLP schools are finding that global learning is helping to develop critical thinking skills, promote SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development), and foster values such as respect and empathy."

This is, of course, in many ways quite laudable, so why do I worry about it?  I suppose there are three main reasons:

  1. it's run by DfID and not the mainstream (and largely disengaged) DfE – try looking on the DfE website for 'global learning'
  2. its view of global is unbalanced – its main emphasis is on social justice and not on sustainability in the round.  Try searching for 'species loss' and 'ocean acidification' on the GLP website.
  3. Surely helping "pupils [begin to] make sense of the world in which they live and understand their role in a global society" is the role of school as a whole, and not some here today, gone tomorrow project, no matter how well-connected and impeccably correct.

Actually, these reasons are not unrelated as [2] can be seen as a consequence of [1] and because of the built-in interests (ie, biases) of the management group, and [3] is only possible (some say necessary) because DfE has lost interest in curriculum.  All this reminds me of TVEI in the 1980s when the Manpower Services Commission [sic] threatened to set up its own schools if the Department for Education didn't take an active interest.  How have we got into this (another fine) mess?


Sustainable development goal analysis

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about the Cambridge report about business and the sustainable development goals, and I referred in particular to Figure 2.1: Six outcomes and 10 interconnected tasks which has finance, business and governtment at the core of the model.

In this analysis, Economy is seen as having three components:

  • Basic needs
  • Wellbeing
  • Decent work

... with these underpinned by:

  • Climate stability
  • Healthy ecosystems
  • Resource security

There are inevitable parallels (and non-parallels) to be drawn with the Daly-Meadows way of thinking about all this, but that's for another day.

The 17 goals are then mapped onto these components like this:

  • Basic needs – 1  2  3           6  7          10
  • Wellbeing –             3  4  5                   10  11                         16
  • Decent work –                             8  9  10
  • Climate stability –                           9                    13
  • Healthy ecosystems –                                                   14  15
  • Resource security –                                           12

This is a pretty minimalist mapping with a tendency to attach one goal to one component.  The stand-out exception to this (which might be a surprise to many) is Goal 10: reduced inequalities, which extends across all components of the economy, whereas Goal 8: decent work and economic growth only features the once.

Educators will surely wonder at how little Goal 4: quality education features.  Perhaps this just illustrates how little the authors of this analysis know or think about curriculum.  Or, perhaps again, how much educators tend to inflate the significance of what they do.


Time for critical thinking about critical thinking about critical thinking

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've been reading what the admirable Shakira Martin, President of NUS, has been saying about sustainability education.  You'll find it here, adapted from a speech she delivered at a Labour Party Conference fringe event.  There's much to agree with in what Shakira says, and some things to contest.  This passage struck me:

"So, what does this education look like?  Fundamentally, it is not about simply teaching about sustainability but rather learning for sustainability.  It is not nearly enough for our learners to be able to recite facts about climate change – they need to have the skills and understanding to make a difference. This must be the aim of any “green” education system.

  • We need our young people to be empathetic and caring individuals who can put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
  • We need them to be cooperative team-workers, ready to work across disciplines, cultures, classes, and borders.
  • We need them to be strong communicators with the confidence to share their ideas and the humility to learn from others’ who may not share the same views.
  • We need them to be critical thinkers and systems thinkers who can understand the complexity of the world they face and ask good questions.
  • We need them to be resilient and compassionate. And, importantly, we need them to be lifelong learners and leaders.

These are not skills that can really be taught but rather “caught” through the educational experiences our students have, in both formal and informal education.

... .  We need to recognise that this learning takes place not only in lecture halls and classrooms, but also across the campus, in students’ communities, and through active involvement in clubs, societies, and volunteering. Our students’ unions play a critical role in shaping the lives of students, and it is vital going forward that we start to think holistically about education.  Together, we can ensure that the next generation of leaders has the knowledge, skills, attributes, and values needed to create a more just and sustainable future for all."

It's surely cannot be the case that none of the bulleted points can be taught and learned.  For example, you can certainly have a good go at teaching communication, critical thinking, and systems thinking skills, as well as ideas around complexity.  You don't have to rely on students having experiences to hope they might catch any of these like a passing virus.  Indeed, universities already have such classes.   Perhaps it's time for some Batesonian critical thinking about critical thinking about critical thinking.


There's little learning in the WEL

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Wales Environment Link (WEL) is a network of environmental, countryside and heritage non-governmental organisations across Wales.  Its vision is a healthy, sustainably managed environment and countryside with safeguarded heritage in which the people of Wales and future generations can prosper.

As NAEE noted today, it will not take you long to find out what it has to say about education.  This is what (my emphasis) the Introduction has to say:

There has never been a greater urgency to act on the biggest environmental issues that Wales faces: the ongoing challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and increasing strain on the essential environmental services that underpin our economy and society.  To address these challenges, Wales must develop in a sustainable way.  For Wales Environment Link this means a Wales that:

  • is low carbon
  • has a circular, green economy
  • is rich in wildlife
  • provides exceptional access to nature and green spaces
  • provides every child the opportunity to learn in the natural environment
  • values the culture, heritage and identity of its communities, landscapes and seascapes

And the second Objective is:

To contribute to the achievement of a Wales in which people are healthy and able to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances, we are calling for the next Welsh Government to:

  • Provide support for more woods and trees where people live, so that every city, town and village in Wales benefits from native trees and fruit trees in their area.
  • Improve people’s access to the countryside and connection with nature by safeguarding rural tranquillity and ensuring everyone has access to natural green space and wildlife within a short walk of where they live.
  • Make outdoor learning and care for the natural environment a required part of the school curriculum

That's it.  There's no mention of ESD or global learning / citizenship (GC) or of ESDGC which used to be in the vanguard of such matters.  Has ESDGC been lost in the drive to raise PISA scores, I wonder?  It's certainly all very quiet across the Marches.  And there's no mention of young people either, or of the SDGs.  All very weird.





Business and the Sustainable Development Goals

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Even business is taking the SDGs seriously.  This is, in part at least, because they are good for business because development is good for business; just as business is good for development.

There's a new report [**] on all this from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership: Towards a sustainable economy: the commercial imperative for business to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  It can be downloaded here.

The Institute introduces the report like this:

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a global strategy for achieving economic growth that is consistent with the planet’s carrying capacity, society’s basic needs and priorities, and the capabilities and stability of the economy.  In this report, leading companies from the newly formed Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group call for a compelling business narrative and a systemic approach to maximise the chances of delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

And this is the Executive summary

Achieving the SDGs will be both a unique opportunity and a profound challenge. To maximise the chances of delivering the SDGs effectively and efficiently by 2030, a compelling business narrative and a systemic approach are required to help shift current thinking about economic progress towards models that deliver sustainable development. Without this shift, business commitment is unlikely to be sustained and rewarded with commercial success.

Comprehensively assessing business cases across 17 Goals and turning them into a practical and inspiring agenda is challenging for business and individual leaders, but there is an emerging commercial case for moving towards a sustainable economy.  This report shows that there are strong indications of robust commercial incentives to see the SDGs succeed, and for business to help deliver them.  Not only are there sizeable growth opportunities associated with implementing the SDGs, but failing to do so would undermine business continuity and stability.

Given the significant interdependencies between the SDGs, and their scale and urgency, cherry-picking the SDGs that have the easiest business case would be insufficient and potentially counterproductive.  A more holistic approach is needed, whereby the SDGs are presented as a vision for the future of business in society that is capable of: inspiring interest and creativity, identifying opportunities for future growth, and framing strategy for difficult trade-offs and problem solving.  Companies will have to focus on a systems approach to actively help ‘rewire’ the operating context.

Useful reading for all interested in the goals and their realisation.  An early highlight for me was Figure 2: Six outcomes and ten interconnected tasks.  This is in section 2.1: Rewiring the Economy: ten tasks, ten years.

'Rewiring the Economy' sets out CISL’s ten-year plan to lay the foundations of a sustainable economy that is capable of delivering the SDGs.  The plan starts from the principle that the economy can and should be delivering the outcomes demanded by the SDGs. It outlines a set of ten interconnected ‘tasks’ that target the systemic changes required across government, finance and business, including businesses’ role in enabling the structural and cultural transformations needed.  These tasks are not unique to the plan.  Rather, Rewiring the Economy shows how they can be tackled co-operatively during the next decade to create an economy that encourages sustainable business practices, and thus delivers the positive social and environmental outcomes demanded by the SDGs.  Rewiring the Economy arranges the 17 SDGs into six areas of social and environmental impact: basic needs, wellbeing, decent work, climate stability, resource security and healthy ecosystems. Each impact area encompasses one or more SDGs, making it easier to visualise the connections between them.  The Investment Leaders Group (also convened by CISL) is developing a set of metrics to help companies assess their social and environmental impact in each area.

There are ideas in this which those in education who wish to focus on the goals will surely find of interest, especially if they compare it with Oxfam's Doughnut Economics.


** University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2017). Towards a sustainable economy: The commercial imperative for business to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Cambridge, UK: the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.


ERIC and the CEE

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about NAEE's Annual review which led me to search for those reviews carried out by the Council for Environmental Education (CEE) in times past.  It's easy to find one c/o the ERIC archive: ED412076: The Annual Review of Environmental Education 1995, No. 7.

Here's the ERIC synopsis:

The Council for Environmental Education (CEE) publishes this annual review that reflects the changes that have brought environmental education in from the fringes and now attracts considerable political and educational attention.  This edition brings together a selection of important statements by leading public figures and other papers and articles which reflect key developments of the period.  Six articles related to the boom time in environmental education, the transition to education of sustainability, and strategies used by Scotland in instituting change in environmental education policies are included.

Articles include:

"Boom Time for Environmental Education?" (John Baines);

"Education for the Sustainability Transition" (Timothy O'Riordan);

"Facilitating an Environmental Approach To Education" (Baroness David);

"Education for Sustainability" (Crispin Tickell);

"Call to Action" (Peter Smith); and

"Education or Catastrophe? Scottish Strategy Throws Down the Challenge" (Mark Wells).

Happy days ...


Beyond stewardship – a troubled text

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading (with some difficulty) Beyond stewardship: common world pedagogies for the Anthropocene by Affrica Taylor (Faculty of Education, Science, Technology and Mathematics, University of Canberra) who "infuses her geographies of childhood, common world pedagogies, and multispecies ethnographic research with feminist, queer and decolonising environmental humanities perspectives". (sic)

Here's the Abstract:

Interdisciplinary Anthropocene debates are prompting calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about what it means to be human and about our place and agency in the world. Within environmental education, sustainability remains centre stage and oddly disconnected from these Anthropocene debates. Framed by humanist principles, most sustainability education promotes humans as the primary change agents and environmental stewards. Although well-meaning, stewardship pedagogies do not provide the paradigm shift that is needed to respond to the implications of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene-attuned ‘common worlds’ pedagogies move beyond the limits of humanist stewardship framings. Based upon a more-than-human relational ontology, common world pedagogies reposition childhood and learning within inextricably entangled life-worlds, and seek to learn from what is already going on in these worlds. This article illustrates how a common worlds approach to learning ‘with’ nonhuman others rather than ‘about’ them and ‘on their behalf’ offers an alternative to stewardship pedagogies.

And here's the last paragraph:

Instead of seeking to become better humans by continuing to believe that we are destined to act (alone) on behalf of the world, the common worlds response to the Anthropocene is quite simply to keep working at ways of become more worldly through focusing upon our entangled relations with the more-than-human world. This is a much more modest response than the ultimately human-centric impulse to break away and ‘save’ the world. It is a collective or commoning response that refuses human exceptionalism. It is a low-key, ordinary, everyday kind of response that values and trusts the generative and recuperative powers of small and seemingly insignificant wordly relations infinitely more than it does the heroic tropes of human rescue and salvation narratives. These are the kinds of non-divisive relations that many young children already have with the world. They are full of small achievements.  We can learn with them.

These two extracts give you a reasonably clear flavour of what's of concern here, and there is undoubtedly something in this sort of stuff, given how troubled our relations are with other species.  However, it’s a pity that the main body of the jargon-riddled paper has been written in such a way as to obscure meaning.  It’s written in this way, of course, to ensure that fellow writers see Taylor as part of the enlightened 'post-' crowd.  It’s really just early 21st century capitalism at work in academia: creating new products; establishing new markets; advertising; seeking investment; overthrowing old products; creating wealth.

As a recovering academic, I can't afford to spend much time on this sort of stuff, but I'll give one example of the problem with what's in the paper.  Take this extract about children encountering kangaroos on campus (my emphasis):

"Clearly stimulated by their increasing familiarity and affection for the kangaroos and their close-up observations of these wild animals’ embodied modes of being, the children were increasingly curious about what it would be like to live in a kangaroo’s body, to listen attentively with large swiveling ears, to be tucked up like a joey in a furry pouch, to rest upright upon an enormous tail. They frequently expressed a sense of kinship with the joeys. On a regular basis the children spontaneously became kangaroos, simulating the kangaroo mannerisms and movements that they had observed so many times in their up-close, face-to-face meetings (Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw 2016a). They were, in effect, performing the kind of learning with that proceeds from the unfolding of real-life, inter-subjective, inter-species ontological relations, and which is all about actively seeking the kinds of cross-species identifications and inter-subjective ‘becomings with’ that the divisive humanist learning project, with its structuring subject-object knowledge relations, cannot envision ..."

Well, they didn’t become kangaroos (spontaneously or otherwise).  They might have pretended to, but that’s another matter.  Incidentally, why does this sense of kinship never seems to extend to rats, cobras, lice, the ebola virus, or TB bacillus?

It's a tiresome piece, and if you want to read about such ideas, I'd say start with Being a Beast by Charles Foster (Profile Books).  Better still, perhaps, watch the first episode of Brass Eye, from 1979.  Then there are these recent books:

  • The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief and Compassion — Surprising Observations of a Hidden World  Peter Wohlleben
    Bodley Head, pp.281, £16.99
  • The Animals Among Us: The New Science of Anthropology  John Bradshaw
    Allen Lane, pp.352, £20
  • Being Salmon, Being Human: Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild  Martin Lee Mueller
    Chelsea Green, pp.384, £18.99

... which were recently reviewed by Mark Cocker in The Spectator.

We're really spoilt for choice; all the more reason not to bother with Affrica Taylor (2017): Beyond stewardship: common world pedagogies for the Anthropocene, Environmental Education Research, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1325452