Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: Talks and Presentations

The surreal theatre of COP 23

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Did you go to COP 23?  Me neither – and I missed COPs 1 to 22 as well.  Black UN marks all round, I fear, and I'll not be invited to the December multi-faith Festival party again this year.

The news that "Education and Education for Sustainable Development, both formal and non-formal", were given an entire day in the COP says a lot about the bloated nature of this recurring jamboree.

This was the UNESCO (with UN partners and other organisations) plan for the day:

• 10:00-10:45, Press Conference to open the Education Day and to launch a compilation of Case studies on climate change education for mitigation and adaptation by the Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), India, UNESCO and UNFCCC.

• 11:30-13:00, The COP Presidency, UNFCCC and UNESCO organise a "high-level" debate [**] on Education and global partnerships working to combat climate change. This event will bring together environment and education ministers and international organizations to discuss how education and global partnerships can enhance the implementation of climate agendas. Invited panelists include the President of Fiji; HRH Princess Lalla Hasna from Morocco, UNFCCC Secretary General; UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences and Ministers of Education and Environment (ADGNSMEE).

• 13:15-14:45,  UNAACE [The UN Alliance on Action for Climate Empowerment] will organize a side event on Partnerships as key to changing minds and actions in order to scale-up adaptation and mitigation (CCA&M). The side event will demonstrate the tangible contribution that learning and skills development is already making to climate change adaptation and mitigation and present new types of partnerships needed to engage a critical mass of children, youth, professionals, decision-makers and society as a whole in climate action.

• 10:00–18:00, UNESCO organizes several discussion rounds including on schools climate readiness, teacher education for climate change, youth leadership and greening TVET at a dedicate UNESCO pavilion. These will be animated by UNESCO and GAP Key partners, experts, practitioners and youth representatives from around the world.

• 10:00–17:00, UNESCO, UNITAR and UNEP support the UN exhibition booth for SDG 4.

It's a fair conclusion that none of this contributes anything positive (now or in the future) to combating climate change, and not one microgram of carbon will have been saved.  I almost feel sorry for UNESCO – but not quite.



Why are UNESCO debates always "high level"?  And why do they always have to include a princess?  I'm beginning to understand why I'm never invited ...



The two St George's House propositions

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I am still at St George's House, Windsor, at a consultation about young people and the sustainable development goals.  This is, amongst other things, 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

I drafted these two statements but neither is strikingly original – and each fails the dog training test.  Here are my thoughts on them.

Proposition 2   The Pearson website quotes from the January 2015 Buntingsdale Primary School Ofsted report saying this:

"Global education makes the learning more relevant and interesting for pupils, and so it contributes to their enthusiasm for learning."

Well, who can doubt that is the case when it is done well?  And who can also doubt that this enthusiasm – this motivation – for learning gets translated into actual learning of all kinds.  But is the key point here global learning, or is it the school’s own interest in and enthusiasm for global learning?  This is a question that Ofsted raised several years ago when it say that successful schools were those schools that had a clear purpose, focus, interest and enthusiasm.  It was this that made school interesting and worthwhile, and was readily communicated to students.  It was almost that it didn’t really matter what that interest and focus was – although Ofsted didn’t quite say that (I wish I could find the link ...).

Proposition 1    I’d say that this might well depend on a lot of things.  But it raises the question about whether it’s the business of schools to do this.  Two Danish educators, Jensen and Schnack, said not when they wrote:

“… it is not and cannot be the task of the school to solve the political problems of society.  Its task is not to improve the world with the help of pupils’ activities. …”

So, our young people can be helped to understand the issues, to see that they should care about them, and might do something about them.  But what they do (and whether they do it) should (and will anyway) be up to them.  It's not anyone's role or duty just to do as our teachers or parents say.

But just to be pellucidly clear, I do think we should all take the Goals seriously.  They do, after all, represent the work of the world to make itself less troubled.


How young people experience the SDGs across the UK

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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.

Talking about the sustainable development goals

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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.


Eat more children to combat climate change

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For those unwilling to face difficult ideas – even when expressed satirically – it's probably best to put the bag back over your head now rather than read on.

The following are facts, according to a study of 39 peer-reviewed papers by Seth Wynes, from the University of British Columbia, and Kimberly Nicholas, from Lund University.  Their work, The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, is published in Environmental Research Letters [**].

  • Vegetarianism saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 a year.  This is four times more effective at reducing emissions than recycling and eight times more effective than changing to energy-efficient lightbulbs.
  • One person living without a car would reduce carbon output by 2.4 tonnes a year
  • Avoiding one transatlantic flight would save 1.6 tonnes of carbon every year.  This is the same saving as an individual makes recycling waste for 20 years
  • One child results in up to 59 tonnes of CO2 a year
  • Having one child fewer is better for the environment than 700 teenagers dedicating themselves to recycling for the rest of their lives.

The researchers end their paper like this:

“We have identified four recommended actions which we believe to be especially effective in reducing an individual's greenhouse gas emissions: having one fewer child, living car-free, avoiding airplane travel, and eating a plant-based diet.  These suggestions contrast with other top recommendations found in the literature such as hang-drying clothing or driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  Our results show that education and government documents do not focus on high-impact actions for reducing emissions, creating a mitigation gap between official recommendations and individuals willing to align their behaviour with climate targets.  Focusing on high-impact actions (through providing accurate guidance and information, especially to 'catalytic' individuals such as adolescents) could be an important dimension of scaling bottom-up action to the transformative decarbonisation implied by the 2 °C climate target, and starting to close this gap."

However, an alternative – if somewhat unpalatable (in every sense) – conclusion from all this would seem to be to eat more children – preferably other people's of course.  I need to say that this is not a conclusion that the researchers include in their paper.


[**] Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024

A curriculum for equality?

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Thinking of Ofsted this week, and the lack of a focus on curriculum in the current election, I remembered it was not always like this.  I can recall when discussions on the curriculum in England – in which HMI played a strong hand – were both (to coin a phrase) rich and deep.  And relatively recently, one of Blair's many governments had an interest in such matters.  This, however, did not always have positive outcomes, and HMI played no role, as they'd long been wrapped up in Ofsted's conformity blanket.

I was also reminded of this at the weekend when the BBC website ran a feature on the Finn's attempts to "drag" education into "the digital age" – and maybe also to boost their flagging PISA scores.  There, subjects it seems may be on the wane to be replaced, in part at least, by themes such as climate change,  immigration and the Romans.  The BBC notes:

"Now it is rethinking how it teaches in the digital age - seeking to place skills, as much as subjects, at the heart of what it does ... ."

Oh dear, I thought: skills!  The BBC continued:

"In August 2016 it became compulsory for every Finnish school to teach in a more collaborative way; to allow students to choose a topic relevant to them and base subjects around it.  Making innovative use of technology and sources outside the school, such as experts and museums, is a key part of it.  The aim of this way of teaching - known as project- or phenomenon-based learning (PBL) - is to equip children with skills necessary to flourish in the 21st Century, says Kirsti Lonka, a professor of educational psychology at Helsinki University.  Among the skills she singles out are critical thinking to identify fake news and avoid cyber-bullying, and the technical ability to install anti-virus software and link up to a printer."

As the BBC article makes clear, this isn't a wholesale abandoning of the idea of subjects (so far), and there are plenty of concerned voices saying, for example: [i] might not this disadvantage some students (and teachers)?  and [ii] what's the evidence that this sort of thing works?  The best responses to these questions seem to be: [i] 'of course' and [ii] 'no idea'.

I'll give the last word on this to Anneli Rautiainen of Finland's national agency for education who is quoted as saying:

"We are not too keen on metrics in this country overall so we are not planning to measure the success of it, at least not for now. We are hoping it will show in the learning outcomes of our children as well as in the international tables such as PISA."

This nonsense could have been said in Cardiff or Edinburgh whose similar reliance on wings and prayer is well documented.

All this then took my mind back to 2011, when I wrote the following after being at an event in Keele whose purpose was to address issues relating to effective teaching and learning, with particular reference to the curriculum.

The best talk by far was from Michael Young, whose input was based on a published paper.  His was a scholarly reflection on the idea of the school subject, and its importance from the point of view of equality.  Young argued that, although in a society such as ours, any curriculum is likely to be inequitable because of the nature of society, a curriculum based on concepts (ie, subjects), can be seen as a carrier of equality, as such a curriculum can treat everyone equally, unlike, say, a labour market.  In Young’s view subjects are the only basis we have as a curriculum for all.

Young said that the [then] forthcoming Gove curriculum is likely to be too dismissive of skills because it is, in part, a reaction to the last curriculum review (New Labour: 2008) which was dismissive of subjects and the formal conceptual knowledge they embody, and based too strongly on learner experience and knowledge which was seen as important as any other.  This was, said Young, more an instrument of politics, than of education.  Young stressed that a curriculum has to be about concepts that allow students to abstract from their own experience and personal knowledge and understandings, and argued that a curriculum that only emphasises experience and relevance lets down those who lack access to other knowledge at home; after all, he said, no one goes to schools to learn what they already know.  Young said that, whilst all knowledge is socially constructed, its truth is not dependent on its origins, and his view is that knowledge is best experienced through disciplines with boundary crossings (good teachers know how to do this).  Whilst the curriculum is not a given, and is open to change, an effective curriculum protects schools from passing and powerful social forces.  He reminded us that the subject-based curriculum was an enlightenment project.

I do hope Ofsted is aware of all this in its new curriculum review.  And is it too much to hope that the government after next Thursday will note that the effective consideration of issues such as sustainability depend on effective boundary crossings by teachers.


A Green Light in the South-west for a lot of presentation

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I'm told that Green Light South-west will be holding an ESD Teachmeet next month.  I've never been to one of those (sheltered life, etc), and so I'm going along on March 2nd.  I do wonder, though, whether I'll (or anyone else) will get a chance to contribute anything.

The organisers (SWLfSC) say that the "emphasis is on sharing ideas, good practice, and pedagogy across the region", that it's "an invitation to all teachers engaged in developing teaching and learning for Sustainable Development (ESD)", and that there will be "short and lively teaching and learning inputs" on the following:

  • ESD Current context for teachers and teaching - Justin Dillon
  • Systems thinking in the classroom - Stephen Sterling
  • Free CPD programmes on sustainability education - Paul Vare
  • Recycling and resource use - ideas for the classroom - Sheila Gundry
  • Outdoor learning using the John Muir approach, reconnecting with the elements. KS 1-2 - Clare Moody
  • 5 talks from teachers
  • a plenary discussion of quality education and ESD - Mairi Kershaw

I make that 10 inputs before the plenary.  At 10 minutes each that comes to an hour and 40 minutes out of a 2 hour slot.  Then there'll be the introduction to the plenary ...

Details, if you're tempted, from ...


Horse manure will bury London 9 feet deep by 1950

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

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

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

Here's what the authors of Resource Revolution write:

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

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


Give me a child until they're three ...

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... and the world will be a nicer place.

That seemed to be the message from one of the presentations I listened to at the Primary Education: what is and what might be conference last Friday.  The excellent event was organised by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and was very well attended.

The assertion, which out-Jesuits the Jesuits in its scale and ambition, came from Liverpool John Moores University during a sustainability and global citizenship discussion group which also included inputs from Oxfam (who have produced all the resources that a jaded teacher could ever need, but would never have time to read) and the Global Learning programme (funded by our friends at Pearson who, coincidently of course, sponsor the Cambridge Trust).  It was a good (interesting / challenging / energetic / passionate / ...) session that was well chaired by Ben Ballin in difficult circumstances as we were banished to the rear of a large auditorium where another group was meeting.

There was the usual plethora of "globals" on offer" global this and global that and global the other, as if the world had run out of adjectives.  I'd like to go to one of these events one day when the word global is banned.  I joined in the fun by asking (after all three presentations) this question:

"If education for global citizenship gives rise to global learning, and if global learning results in global citizenship, what does global citizenship lead to?  Does it lead, for example, to people voting for progressive politics?"

On reflection, it might have been rather too subtly phrased, but I have thought for a while that's exactly what Oxfam (and others) have in mind.  DfID too, whose sponsorship of the Global Learning programme is clearly aimed at buying support for the policy of having 0.7% of national income spent on overseas aid (or whatever we're supposed to call it these days).  But will that policy survive the new regime at DfID?  Indeed, will the the Global Learning programme?  Will Pearson's fiefdom?

Keep tuned for this compelling everyday story of internationalist folk.


So what should we do about this sad story? 

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Here is Jorgan Randers on what to do about the environmental crisis we are in.  The pdf is adapted from his 2012 lecture in the 10th Annual Distinguished Lecture Series in Sustainable Development, hosted by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership and the Centre for Sustainable Development in the Department of Engineering.  It's based on his most recent book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (2012).  All figures in this article are extracts from the book, and the data is also available at


have fewer children, and that’s particularly important when you’re rich. I’ll repeat this: my daughter, who is 29 and Norwegian, is the most dangerous animal on the surface of the Earth. She consumes between 10–30 times as many resources and generates 10–30 times as much pollution as an Indian child. So, it’s much more important to have one less rich kid than it is to have 10–30 fewer Indians. I’m serious. Population control in the rich world should be the prime focus.


reduce your CO2 footprint. Don’t drive big cars, don’t drive them so far, don’t fly so long, and insulate your home.  Actual per capita disposable income in the US is already at its peak… partly because the US economy is the world’s most mature, partly because of huge debt, and partly because of the inability of the US government to make forceful decisions on any issue involving the redistribution of income and wealth.  You might ask, why can’t we get cheap things from those other places that are still poor in 2052? We could, if we managed to engineer economic development in those countries; but I don’t think we will.15


support strong government. As mentioned above, most of the solutions to today’s global problems exist, and the only reason they’re not implemented is that we don’t have strong government. Or to be exact, we don’t have support for strong government. Thus civilised, solution-oriented citizens ought to be in favour of collective action. I think we will see 40 years down the line that it was the Chinese who did, in the end, solve the climate problem for us – through collective action. They will produce the electric cars and the technologies we will need, and they will implement them in China through centralised decisions. Meanwhile, we will be fiddling around with half-baked quota systems that provide insufficient incentives – which might modify development somewhat, but doesn’t solve the problem.

And then, fourth and finally,

if we want to help the world’s poor, we (the rich) should build and pay for a complete clean energy infrastructure in the poor world. This would ensure that they don’t have to build a cheaper, carbon-intensive energy system for the energy they sorely need: electricity, fuel and heat. If we did nothing else, that would solve a substantial part of the future climate and poverty problem.

He concluded: "That, my friends, is what I see.  I don’t like it... but still, feel free to shoot the messenger."

All good seminar fodder.

I met and talked with Randers a few times when he was at WWF International, and I was, with John Fien, involved in that epic evaluation of WWF's global education programme.  I recall good conversations, but cannot remember if he was as gloomy as this back then.  maybe not as the skies have gotten darker over those intervening 15 years.