Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: New Publications

Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education

📥  Comment, New Publications

Palgrave MacMillan has announced a new edited book by Jickling and Sterling.  Its title is:

Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education Remaking Education for the Future (although I think there should be a colon somewhere here).

The publishers say:

This book provides a critique of over two decades of sustained effort to infuse educational systems with education for sustainable development. Taking to heart the idea that deconstruction is a prelude to reconstruction, this critique leads to discussions about how education can be remade, and respond to the educational imperatives of our time, particularly as they relate to ecological crises and human-nature relationships. The book might, thus, serve as an introductory reader for remaking 21st Century education. It will be of great interest to students and researchers of sociology, education, philosophy and environmental issues.

This is what pre-publication reviewers have had to say:

  • 'Raises necessary radical answers to questions emerging from the Community of Life: How can we correct the suicidal path of the neoliberal cultural ethos?'
  • 'Pushes us to consider the future of education.'
  • 'An essential book for those seeking to transgress and disrupt the structures and forces pushing us all towards extinction.'
  • 'Reaffirms what can be gained when we reconnect our educational practices to our deepest purposes and principles.'
  • 'Encourages us to develop education models that awaken a more sensitive and caring human spirit, and guide us to look back at the essence of life.'

I think some scepticism is due.

 

 

The value of fieldwork

📥  Comment, New Publications

I was pleased to see Alan Kinder's blog for NAEE the other day: The contribution of fieldwork to geography education.  As the Chief Executive of The Geographical Association, Alan knows a lot about this subject.  He was arguing against the popular view that  fieldwork is ‘only about skills’.  Unfortunately, as he noted, that view is held by Ofqual, the qualifications regulator.  As such, it has consequences.

I'm going to quote his main argument:

"Rather, I suggest that fieldwork involves and develops the act of observing and asking questions of and in the real world and that this provides a unique and essential learning experience for young people.  It develops investigative skills, careful observation and primary (first-hand) data collection in distinctive and important ways.  But this experience isn’t simply a skill, or a technical procedure.  Fieldwork investigation gives young people experience of the complexity of a real world location and invites them to both appreciate and begin to make sense of its complexity, or ‘messiness’.  Doing so helps them to appreciate that the ‘theoretical’ world of the textbook and their own investigative research is partial and limited.  This seems to me to be a critical insight into the nature of geography, of geographical knowledge and the process of becoming a geographer: we do geography fieldwork because direct observation is an essential, rewarding but challenging part of creating valid knowledge about the world.  I am drawing on a very long tradition of thinking here: in the 13th Century the English philosopher Roger Bacon asserted that both ‘Experimentum’ and ‘Argumentum’ were necessary ingredients to understanding phenomena fully; the 18th Century writer Goethe concluded that understanding also affects observation (‘we only see what we know’) and more recently, Alex Standish of the UCL Institute of Education has suggested that fieldwork helps pupils to understand that their agency is involved in gaining knowledge – that it doesn’t just ‘drop out of a textbook’."

Well said, and the very best fieldwork that I have seen over the years has illustrated this.  I still remember being on Dartmoor with my PGCE students and a school group in the 1980s – we were all in the excellent hands of FSC tutors.  The only quibble I have with Alan Kinder's argument is that it could well have been titled: 'The contribution of fieldwork to a young person's education'.  The contribution of geography is undeniable, but other subjects have a role as well.  It would be good to see these distinctive (and overlapping) contributions laid out.

As a postscript, I should say how very good it was to see these arguments set out without recourse to the increasingly meaningless phrase 'outdoor learning'.

 

Work on the Wild Side – a review

📥  Comment, New Publications

Work on the Wild Side: Outdoor Learning and Schools is a notdeadfish report by Tash Niman and Anita Kerwin-Nye, in partnership with the English Outdoor Learning Council, the Institute for Outdoor Learning, the Association of Heads of Outdoor Learning Centres, Learning Away, and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.  Notdeadfish is a social change consultancy and you can download the report here.

The report aims to demonstrate that those schools (that by any measure are leaders in the education system) place a high value on learning beyond the classroom.  It sets out to be a contribution to the debate about the best approaches to ensuring all children and young people have high quality outdoor learning and residential experiences.  This is what notdeadfish say about the report on their website:

"Work on the Wild Side attempts to debunk the myth that outdoor learning and residentials are not viable teaching mechanisms.  As accountability within schools increases and budgets decrease, it is easy to see how outdoor learning can slip down the agenda.  This notdeadfish report compiles the evidence demonstrating how schools across the country are using outdoor learning to improve children’s academic attainment and emotional well-being.  ...  We found that outdoor learning is valued amongst teachers, pupils, parents and inspectors and that the skills learnt outdoors are transferable to the classroom and across the academic spectrum."

The report begins with four assertions which are probably reasonably widely accepted by those who know about such things, although the 3rd one is obviously not shared by all "teachers, school leaders, parents", as the report clearly demonstrates.  The assertions are:

  1. that children and young people benefit from being outside has almost universal agreement.
  2. that not all children and young people are spending as much time outside as they should is also well evidenced.
  3. teachers, school leaders, parents and others with an interest in education generally support the principle that schools have a key role in ensuring that all children and young people benefit from being outdoors – from outdoor learning, to residentials away from home, to more time outside the classroom.
  4. at a time of restricted curricula, reduced school budget, high accountability frameworks and a context in which school leaders are hyper aware of ‘risk’, in every sense of the word, there is a justified fear that schools might deprioritise outdoor learning.

The approach was a novel one; it was [i] to take those UK primary and secondary schools with the highest Progress 8 scores, and the winners of the Pupil Premium Awards, and summarise what they said about residentials and outdoor learning in their external prospectuses and websites, and [ii] to look at what inspectors said about the same topic in their most recent Ofsted reports on schools they deemed to be outstanding.

The report is a useful summary of recent activity. For example:

"Recent research has found that outdoor learning has a positive impact both academically and personally. The GLA (2011) released findings stating that when children spent time in nature, there was an improvement in both mental health and scientific learning. These findings were replicated by Fuller, Powell and Fox (2016) who conducted a three-year project in which they found that visiting outdoor residential centres led to an increase in pupil’s confidence as well as academic improvement. The benefits are not restricted to individual development: research has found that outdoor learning impacts how pupils work and socialise with peers (Christie, Higgins & McLaughlin, 2014, Learning Away, 2015). Leaving the classroom not only benefits pupils, but teachers as well. Natural England (2016) found that outdoor learning had a positive impact on teaching delivery as well as their personal health and wellbeing.”

There are also extracts from York Consulting’s evaluation of Learning Away's #BrilliantResidentials campaign, recent Ofsted reports from schools it deems outstanding, and the final report from the Natural Connections Demonstration Project.  For example, their comments that Learning Away Residentials:

  •  improve students’ engagement with learning
  •  improve students’ knowledge, skills and understanding
  •  support students’ achievement
  •  foster deeper relationships
  •  improve students’ resilience, self-confidence and well-being
  •  boost cohesion and a sense of belonging
  • widen and develop teachers’ pedagogical skills

“Learning Away has shown that a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when residentials are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos.”

In a similar vein, Ofsted reports from schools deemed outstanding contain comments such as:

"An exceptional range of opportunities offered outside of the classroom are all well attended and highly valued by both pupils and parents."
"The curriculum includes numerous opportunities for pupils to learn beyond the school. Pupils participate in a broad range of trips which play a significant part in enriching the curriculum."

Examples of how 2016 premium funding award winners spent their funding on Outdoor Learning are also listed.  For example:

"The Pupil Premium funding has enabled year 5 and 6 pupils to attend an Outward Bound residential. It was noted that ‘The work of the (Outward Bound) Trust is well documented in a number of case-studies showing that for disadvantaged pupils, greater gains are made in academic learning when they are faced with new challenges in adventurous settings. The school applies such learning to the school environment e.g. developing growth mindsets which improves co-constructed learning and outcomes."

The bulk of the report consists of 4 tables showing: [i] the top 20 primary and high schools along with promotion of outdoor learning on school website; [ii] the top high (ie secondary) schools based on their progress 8 scores in 2016; [iii] extracts from 20 recent Ofsted reports on schools deemed outstanding; and [iv] the Pupil Premium Award Winners.

Of course, what all this really shows is that successful schools occasionally let their students escape from school; it does not show that this day-release into the community is why they are successful schools – nor does the report claim this.  It surely is the case, however, that good schools tend to be good for a range of reasons, and so it might be surprising if they didn't embrace outdoor learning, given what we know about its benefits.  It might also be the case that not-so-good schools also tend to be not-so-good for a range of reasons, and so it could be that they neglect outdoor learning, despite what they know about its benefits.  Or it could be that they embrace it just as much as good schools do – or that they embrace it not very successfully.  There are a lot of unknowns here, but this report sheds no light on them.

There are familiar claims in the report that outdoor learning experiences can have positive benefits on student learning and student enjoyment of school.  Well, who can doubt it?  However, as noted above, in a good school where there are so many sources of stimulus, it must be hard to pinpoint what experience is responsible for which bit of improvement.  This is probably why the report is number-free and you will no hard evidence to convince a hard-nosed, sceptical policy-maker who knows the value of statistics.  As such, there is much in here that we already knew about or suspected, but nothing really helpful.

...............................

Afterthought: The collaborators on this project included: the English Outdoor Learning Council, the Institute for Outdoor Learning, Learning Away, and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.  Isn't is absurd that all these outfits continue to exist as separate entities thereby diluting their effectiveness?  Time for mergers and acquisitions ...

Infinite growth, a finite environment, and the hereafter

📥  Comment, New Publications

Here's a link to a recent Ronald Rovers blog – The Growth Syndrome: a pyramid game.  In this he addresses issues of economic growth and the planet's ability to cope with that growth (and much more).  This is how it begins:

Richard Attenborough summarized it as follows: ”Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”  The addiction to profit and money making by economists has simularities with religion fanatics.  They are both afraid of the here and now, to live the life.  With one difference: the one tries to escape reality by exorbitant money making, and neglect the physical borders of the system, and the other, usually less wealthy, by adoring a life after, this way also neglecting the here and now.  The one supporting the other: the less wealthy, the underclass, accepts faith, that reward comes after life, the other forgets about life, while busy exploiting that belief.

However, its the planet that is the given reality, nothing else. In the triple bottom line, known as ‘people planet profit‘, people and profit are only added since both, people and profiteers are afraid to be confronted with the limits of the other, the planet.  They are looking for escapes, to avoid living up to the planets potential, and add profit (-economy) to feel they have the idea that there is something to decide, that there are several ways out.  But there ain’t.  The economy has no relation whatsoever with the physical process in time: Everything depletes, increases entropy, and the only influence/option man has, is to speed it up or to slow it down.  But in the belief that reward is only after life. And economy so far has proved to speed it up. I am sorry but there is no other conclusion.  The ‘holey trinity ‘, is a trinity of PPP , or ‘triple bottom line’, is one in which people are caught between two ‘fires’: Planet and Profit. Burned by the climate or roasted by the profiteers.  As such it can be seen as creating hell on earth, which makes the wish for heaven afterwards more understandable. ...

There's much here to provoke in every sense, particularly in the current dark days.

 

Can we think like 21st century economists?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote the other day about Kate Haworth's Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st Century Economist.  These are Raworth's seven ways in which she believes we can all start to think like 21st century economists:

1. Change the goal: from GDP growth to the Doughnut.

2. See the big picture: from self-contained market to embedded economy.

3. Nurture human nature: from rational economic man to social adaptable humans.

4. Get savvy with systems: from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity.

5. Design to distribute: from ‘growth will even it up again’ to distributive by design.

6. Create to regenerate: from ‘growth will clean it up again’ to regenerative by design.

7. Be Agnostic about Growth: from growth-addicted to growth-agnostic.

The influence of the circular economy is plain to see here, as is the attempt to change the framing, and the open-mindedness of the approach.  I say this despite my reservations about the doughnut model.

 

The problem with Doughnut Economics

📥  Comment, New Publications

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st Century Economist, by Kate Raworth, was published earlier this month.  This is a development of her paper for Oxfam in 2012 which I commented on a while back.  You can find details here – and the Resilience website has a quick summary.

I hope to write about the ideas in the book at some point, but, for me, there is still a flaw in the doughnut model.  This is that the boundaries that it embodies are fundamentally different.  This is what I wrote about the issue back in 2013:

"More fundamentally, this concerns the way that paper uses the idea of boundaries.  It does this in two ways: first as socially-constructed desired minimum levels, and secondly as thresholds above which environmental problems are likely.  But these social and environmental dimensions are not equivalent.  It's uncomfortable, too much so for Oxfam perhaps, but one (the environmental one) is not amenable to social construction in the same way that the social one is, and it is likely to be more absolute than relative.

For example, were income poverty (currently defined as <$1.25 / day) ever to be eradicated, it would immediately be redefined as, say, <$1.5 or <$2 / day.  Indeed, this would happen long before everyone in the world reached the $1.25 level. ** In this sense, poverty levels (and hence poverty itself) will be re-defined such that the poor will remain with us for a long time, just as they always have.  Similarly, acceptable levels of child mortality will likely be politically adjusted, should they ever fall significantly.

Conversely, we cannot define for ourselves what the critical natural thresholds are for ocean pH, atmospheric carbon, etc, though we may come to learn what these are in time.  These are not socially constructed, except in the narrow sense that we create limits for ourselves in the policy process in order to increase our chances of staying within those limits – whatever they turn out to be.  Think of blowing up a balloon. We may caution not to go beyond a 30cm diameter, but there will be a limit set by the material-air system (not our wishes or thinking) at which the material will fail and balloon burst.  The 30cm diameter is likely to be our best guess / estimate at staying well below the material failure limit.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that Oxfam has decided that its two boundaries are equivalent in some fashion.  They are obviously both important (and loosely coupled); it's just that one is much more fundamental than the other.  We do ourselves or anybody else no favours by pretending otherwise."

Four years on, this remains a problem and no amount of wishful thinking can sweep it away.  However, this is only one aspect of what promises to be an interesting book – about which more later.

....................

** This has already happened.

 

America First: education for sustainability benchmarks

📥  Comment, New Publications

The eponymous Jaimie Cloud, President of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, sent this message out the other day to her ESD/ EfS / LSD / SDE / etc collaborators on a Benchmarking project.  She wrote:

Dear Authors and Reviewers,

I am proud to attach the Education for a Sustainable Future: Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning which will be officially published in the Journal of Sustainability Education on Earth Day—this Saturday April 22nd.   You all played a critical role in the development of these Benchmarks, and your unique contributions made it possible for this document to become synergistic.  This is the first time forty-two scholars of EfS/ESD have come together to attempt to define the field, and I hope it won’t be the last.  This document represents what we agree on right now, and what the field is saying is essential to educating for a sustainable future.  As our thinking evolves it will make sense to innovate them periodically to create Benchmarks 2.0, 3.0 etc.  Next time it won’t take us so long… I hope.

We used the grounded theory methodology to ensure that the Benchmarks represent as best they can, our consensus on what defines our field.  Each author sees EfS/ESD from a different point of view, a different discipline perspective, and a different set of experiences.  This is what makes the Benchmarks so rich.  None of the authors had all the pieces, but together, I would argue that it is the most comprehensive treatment of EfS/ESD to date.  Having said that, I am sure it is not perfect.  All the reviewers (some of whom were also authors) and I as Editor did our best to track the patterns, connect the dots, combine like ideas and question assumptions.  The section in the beginning called, “Insights’ will give you an idea of the struggles we had and the decisions we made to resolve them.  I do hope that when all is said and done, it is useful to you and to your constituents.  We would love to hear what you think of the Benchmarks, how you are using them and how your clients and students are using them.  If there is anything in the Benchmarks that you take issue with, please let me know and we will figure out how to handle that.  It will always remain a work in progress as all living things are, and once we see how the roll out goes, we will be in a better position to design a process for continuous improvement.  Just a reminder—the next step is the Call for Exemplars.  It is all explained below and in the EfS Benchmarks, and feel free to call or write me to discuss any and all aspects of this endeavor.

Cloud ended by pointing to "a Sample Press Release".  This is it:

Long Awaited Education for Sustainability Benchmarks to Be Released on Earth Day

Educating for a Sustainable Future:  Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning will be released by The Journal of Sustainability Education on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.  This 70-page account is authored by, and represents the current and best thinking of forty-two of the major scholars and practitioners of the field of Education for Sustainability (EfS).  The Benchmarks include the Big Ideas, Thinking Skills, Applied Knowledge, Dispositions, Actions, and Community Connections that define Education for Sustainability.  They embody the essential elements that administrators, curriculum professionals, faculty, board and community members need to adopt Education for Sustainability; to align with it; to self-assess their own performance, and to intentionally and effectively educate for the future we want by design. In addition, The Benchmarks embody the consensus that the field needs to demonstrate the impact of EfS and to catalyze wide spread implementation.

Following the Benchmarks, are Supporting Instructional Practices and Perspectives, Organizational Policies and Practices, an Afterword and several Appendices that provide information about the topics often associated with EfS, contributing disciplines, aligned innovations, preliminary research findings on the impact of EfS, and a bibliography.  The next step is the Call for Exemplars.  We are asking educators at all levels of education to send The Journal of Sustainability Education the evidence they have of Education for Sustainability as defined by The Benchmarks.  We want to know what EfS looks like, how educators are achieving the results, and how they are communicating quality criteria at various depths of knowledge, grade levels and degrees of quality.  We are inviting curriculum plans, assessment instruments, performance indicators, quality criteria and exemplary student work, and we want to know which aspect(s) of EfS the authors designed for, and which ones they achieved.  We will build an open source data base of these exemplars so that the field can begin to calibrate the work for developmental appropriateness, continuity, creativity and continuous improvement.

Where to begin?

Perhaps with the fact that  38 of the 42 authors seem to be from the USA – an example of America First policies, perhaps, but then the USA always tended to think it has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to environmental education (etc)?.  

That said, the question these Benchmarks were developed to address is this:

What are the essential elements that distinguish and define the field of Education for Sustainability?

More on this later on, no doubt, but my first reaction to the question is:

  1. it has contributed little to solving the world's problems over its 50 year history – and achieved less
  2. it's never been taken seriously by anyone that matters in core educational circles – largely because it's never really engaged with them

 

Higher Education for Sustainable Development – a review

📥  Comment, New Publications

Another paper!  Is this a trend?

This time it's my review for EER of Kerry Shephard's Higher Education for Sustainable Development [Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; ISBN: 978-1-137-54840-5].  You will find it here.

This is how it starts – and ends.

When I said that I was reviewing Kerry Shephard’s Higher Education for Sustainable Development for EER, someone said that I might read the last chapter first as this provides a neat summation of what the book’s about.  Whilst I have sometimes done this, especially with long academic texts, in order to see where an author’s meanderings have taken them, I always feel that it’s somewhat disrespectful as an Introduction and Chapter 1 are usually where authors, presumably, intends us all to start reading.  However, this time, I succumbed to temptation, followed advice, and began with chapter 7: A Way Forward, and I’m glad, in one way, that I did.

...

Finally then, I hope that anyone reading this review will have got the message that I think that this is an engaging book which is well-written, scholarly, accessible, and properly provocative.  And I say all that even though I don’t really accept the proposition which runs through the heart of the text: that there are only two kinds of academic: those advocating for sustainability and those not.  Actually, I don’t think that Kerry Shephard thinks that either, as large parts of Chapter 6 illustrate, but it was an effective heuristic which allowed him to make his valuable points relatively simply and very effectively.

 

EAUC Next Generation Sustainability Strategy and Structure

📥  Comment, New Publications

I got a report from EAUC last week: Next Generation Sustainability Strategy and Structure: Whole-Institution Approaches to Sustainability in Universities and Colleges.  This was the second sentence:

"We work to reposition the agenda at the heart of the leadership and structure of sector institutions and ensure it aligns as a delivery mechanism for member institution’s strategic objectives."

My sigh at such terrible English expression could probably have been heard from a hundred miles away – and the first sentence wasn't much better.  Who writes this stuff?  And does no one in EAUC care about such things?

I decided to soldier on, however, but gave up in exasperation when I got to this on page 5:

"Historically, activity has been limited to environmentally focussed activities based in Estates and Facilities Departments [sic], primarily driven over recent years by legislation, such as the HEFCE sector carbon reduction target in England and Scotland’s mandatory carbon reporting."

No it hasn't / wasn't.  This traduces decades of work by academics and researchers across many institutions where both social justice and environmental issues were focused on.  How could EAUC of all institutions write this?  Work in universities on environmental issues (viewed broadly) began in the mid-1970s, long before EAUC (or HEFCE) was dreamt up.  There are some facts that really should be got right.  You have to wonder if this nonsense gets written to serve a particular interest, or whether it's just plain old-fashioned ignorance.

 

The first global citizens?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading the latest report from the Varkey Foundation on what Generation Z thinks about life, the universe, Brexit, etc.  It's here.

Some of it is concerning:

  • only 17% of young people report good overall physical wellbeing
  • in 16 out of 20 countries, more young people believe the world is becoming a worse place to live than believe it is becoming a better place to live
  • only 89% of young people believe men and women should be treated equally

And some seems reassuring:

  • 68% of young people across the world say they’re happy
  • 84% of young people say that technical advancements make them hopeful for the future
  • only 42% of young people say that religious faith is an important part of their lives with 39% claiming that religion is of no significance to them at all
  • at least 89% of young people believe men and women should be treated equally

The Introduction to the report, by Vikas Pota the Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation, ends like this:

The future of global citizenship

The conclusion of this survey is therefore cause for cautious optimism. The ingredients are there for global progress.  It shows that young people everywhere largely agree on the threats and the opportunities the world faces, and are impatient for Governments to solve problems.  Most already have close friends from other religions.  The clearest division evident is between the optimism of the developing world and the pessimism of the developed world.  And despite the political turn inwards in many developed countries, young people everywhere place great faith in both technological advance and increased communication – which they hope will promote greater cooperation between peoples over the longer term.

Though many negative assumptions are often made about Generation Z – the first generation of ‘digital natives’ – this survey suggests, with hard evidence, that such assumptions are unfounded.  The generation now coming of age was born at a time when technology was shrinking the world.  They are more likely to travel, to migrate across borders, and to forge friendships in other countries than any previous generation.  They could become the first truly global generation for whom divisions across countries, cultures and faiths are not important.  In this darkening political landscape, where international institutions are under greater pressure than at any time since the end of the Second World War, it is reassuring to know that, in the minds of young people, global citizenship is not dead: it could just be getting started.

Whilst I acknowledge that there are some problems that only governments can address, I do hope that today's youth also thinks that it has a role in working together and with others to solve problems, and to prevent them.  It can't be all down to government.