Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Children, their world, their education

📥  Comment

I spent part of last weekend delving into the Cambridge Primary Review.  It's immediately obvious from even a cursory read why the government's attack dogs were let loose on it so quickly, and ministers much have congratulated themselves on having got their retaliation (well, refutation) in first through its own "independent" [Rose] review.  I hope all all those interested in primary schools and sustainability will manage to read its comments and proposals.  They may be a little uncritical in their view of the effectiveness of Eco-schools, but what they have to say about the aim of promoting interdependence and sustainability, and about their proposed domains of citizenship and ethics, and place and time, deserves close scrutiny – and not just my primary school teachers.  It was a wonderful change to read a review with such a sense of history and breadth of view.

Well done to all my colleagues whose research reports contributed to the review.  Who's for a Secondary Review ...


Copenhagen Convention on Climate Change and Education

📥  Comment

Rolf Jucker, of the Swiss Foundation for Environmental Education in Bern, contacted the SHED network recently saying that "a few people here in Switzerland are trying to word a paragraph for the Copenhagen Convention on Climate Change which aims to put education right at the top", and wondered whether anybody else was trying to do the same, and asking people to get in touch.

My response was:  I'm sure that there are many such paragraphs.  What follows is the one that I use when talking about the relationship between learning and sustainability.  This captures, for me, the core role for learning as a collaborative and reflective process, the inter-generational dimension, the imperatives around social justice, and the idea of environmental limits.  This may be a text that I use, but it's not, of course, really mine.  It owes much (if not everything) to the past and continuing work of John Foster, Steve Gough and Paul Vare, and to other colleagues at Bath and elsewhere.

"The process that we call sustainable development makes no sense other than as a social learning process of improving the human condition that can be continued indefinitely without undermining itself.  In this sense, sustainable development doesn’t, instrumentally, depend on learning; rather it’s inherently a learning process of making the emergent future ecologically sound and humanly habitable, as it emerges, through the continuous, responsive learning which is the human species’ most characteristic endowment."


Fieldwork doesn't Pay

📥  News and Updates

More precisely, fieldwork doesn't pay if you're a lawyer, it seems.  Thanks to Nick Jones for spotting this in the Guardian.

A Freedom of Information Act investigation of local authorities by the Countryside Alliance [ CA ]  – 138 responded – has found that of the very many individual school trips taken over the past 10 years, 364 ended in legal action.  In fewer than half of these [ 156 ] however, were schools found to be culpable, and between 1998 and 2008, the total compensation paid out was £404,952 [ an average of £293.44 per year, per authority ].   Further details of the CA work can be found here.

Arising out of an enquiry carried out for them by the NFER in their Teacher Voice surveys, one of the points made by the Alliance is: "Whilst 85% of young people would like the chance to be able to enjoy activities like fishing, falconry and farm visits through school, only 46% of children actually had been on a trip to the countryside with their school in the past year."  Curiously, this thirst for fishing, falconry and farms goes unreported in the Guardian:  "A separate poll of 2,127 children aged six to 15 found that while 85% of young people would like more school trips, only 46% of children had been to the countryside with their school in the past year."


Critical Thinking for Development Education

📥  Talks and Presentations

To Galway for the 2009 DERN conference: Critical Thinking for Development Education – moving from evaluation to research.  Good to be back in Ireland and once more amongst development education types many of whose assumptions and ways of thinking I find can be quite different from my own, and all the more stimulating for that.  I think that even managed the beginnings of a glimmer of understanding about what 'global citizenship' might actually mean from a talk that raised the work of Nigel Dower at Aberdeen.  His focus (if I understand it at all) on an active social engagement that accepts global responsibility, seems clearly to position GC as a looked-for outcome of education programmes focused on sustainability – although responsibility for what, seems a necessary question.

I was invited there to talk about the 'from evaluation to research' part of the agenda and spoke with a researcher from Nuremberg whose analytic take on the issues complemented my own rather more eclectic approach, drawing on the work that we've done at Bath (particularly Alan Reid and myself).  My Galway text is attached.


SDRN Conference

📥  Talks and Presentations

The annual SDRN conference was held last week at the Welcome Trust.  For the first time in its 10 year history there was a slot on the programme for a focus on education (on ESD), and I was happy to be invited to speak in a crowded programme which, once more, left little space for discussion.  My theme, stimulated by Chris Gayford's recent research, was that of the benefits of seeing ESD as citizenship education.  In a recent paper, my colleague Andy Stables has argued that the prime curriculum focus in schools now should be on the development of skills of critical thinking, dialogue and debate, with environment and sustainability one of many focuses.  Andy argues that, whilst openness to the real public debate is crucial, it’s vital to remember that capacities are not outcomes, that they don’t simply precede outcomes, and that, to a large extent, it’s the making of real-life decisions that most fully develops the capacity for exercising responsible citizenship.  This seems to me to be a good reason to enable students to begin to practise such real-life, decision-making in schools, and the curriculum niche known as citizenship seems the most appropriate  niche (and a – and mainstream one at that) within which schools can pursue ideas around sustainability.  Good for ESD; good for citizenship, you might think.

If you'd like to read more, just click SDRN CONFERENCE TEXT.


The Idea of Justice

📥  Comment

I went to hear Amartya Sen a few weeks ago and was rather disappointed – not by the great man himself but by how the session was organised (disorganised more like).   It was so bad that it was hard to glean very much about his new book: The idea of Justice.  Today's THE reminds me what the session might have been like, and impels me to buy the book as soon as possible.


Research Grants Nosedive – time for a creative response

📥  Comment

Thus, Times Higher Education [ THE ] reported the increasingly small chance that researchers now have of squeezing cash out of six research councils.  Across the piece, applicants have a 23% chance of funding, and the figure is less than 20% for two of the councils (AHRC & ESRC).   Two many desperate people chasing too little money, it seems, and probably too little internal scrutiny to make sure than only high quality applications leave the institution.  Those of us at the sharp end of this didn't need the THE to tell us about it, of course, but the full figures are illuminating.

Time for some creative thinking, perhaps, so here's an idea for the research councils.  Charge universities for making bids.  Those who are successful get it back; those who aren't, don't.  Instead it gets added to the sums available for research.  But how much should it be?  It might differ, of course, from council to council, it might be a % of the grant total (a sort of  grant value tax at 10%), or a fixed sum so as not to disincentivise large bids (£10,000 a go perhaps).  As for outcomes, well, uncertain as ever, of course, and probably perverse, but universities might well change their bidding habits.  NB, this is not to be seen as an alternative to increasing the amount of funding for research.


Taxpayers funding Brazilian dance troupe in London borough – Shock

📥  Comment

Those of us reading the Daily Mail regularly will already have enjoyed this headline on 12th September.  Not bad as the Mail goes, I suppose, but not a patch on the Sun's recent "Get De Beers in" as England's footballers strutted into the World Cup finals.

The Mail noted: "More than £240,000 of aid money that was meant to help the Third World has been spent on an Afro-Brazilian dance troupe in Hackney.  The project was set up to teach children Capoeira, a form of dancing involving head butts and kicks and devised by African slaves."

This is a reference to DfID's development awareness fund (ie, its education budget).  The Mail claims that this is among 31 questionable donations totalling £6.3 million this year.  After listing more such wasteful generosity, The Mail quoted a DfID spokesman (sic) who  said: 'Development awareness fund grants are awarded to not-for-profit groups which educate the public about global poverty and how to reduce it.  This project will help raise awareness of problems faced by poor people in developing countries and also directly benefit children in a disadvantaged area of London."  Quite so.

The Mirror has also covered the story, but in less detail.  Curiously, neither of the papers' websites obviously acknowledge the source of the exposé.  This is the report, Fake_Aid How foreign aid is being used to support the self-serving political activities of  NGOs, produced by the International Policy Network.

More open-minded readers who managed to get beyond the opening paragraphs might have been rather less shocked at the list of  projects that qualify as wasteful.  These included:

  • £60,000 to teach ethnic minority people in North Edinburgh about global poverty
  • £208,000 on teaching ethnic minorities in Wales about the Government's (sic) Millennium Development Goals.
  • £200,000 to make Asian teenagers aware of how the fashion industry hurts developing countries
  • £121,000 to teach schoolchildren about 'blood diamonds'
  • £259,000 to embed global issues into the HE engineering curriculum.

Pretty standard ESD fayre you might think, although there are a lot of zeros in these budgets (I comment as a cash-strapped researcher).  I sensed that the Mail couldn't decide whether it was the amount being spent, or what it is spent on, that was the bigger problem.

Of course, all open-minded educationalists (that's all of us, of course) will want to read the full report for themselves, and not rely on the press or those NGOs (and GONGOs) in receipt of funding for opinions.  It is something I'm likely to return to.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering what the mechanism is that DfID uses to ensure that what it spends on young people's education is fully congruent with the DCSF's sustainable schools initiative, and how DfID ensures that all recipients of funding fully conform to its rigorous equal opps policy.  Answers on a postcard ...

Earth First!

📥  Comment

Holidays almost over, and the urge to sit in front of a computer reasserts itself in my priorities, elbowing the taking of exercise out of the way.  I did manage some fresh air and walking during the break, however, and on one of these expeditions, came across Earth First!'s summer gathering at Seathwaite farm in Borrowdale.

Initially, I came across their high-handed usurping of scarce car parking space around the farm, and only afterwards found the training / education programme which, from what I saw of it, seemed lacking in pedagogical flair.

IMG_2041_2 The workshops, however, are informed by a striking example of Lawton's selection from culture.

Alas, despite its urging for all to "come by public transport if at all possible", like many another NGO that parades its virtues in this way, Earth First! then relied on those who dared to come by car and motorhome to use that transport during the gathering to ferry folk around to venues away from the farm.  Hypocrisy is not going out of fashion too quickly it seems.

However, maybe the University needs its own Earth First! group.  After all, it only takes two or three, as the Earth First! website explains.  It might have one already, of course, with all that emphasis on fairtrade, the disruption of car-parking, ... .  It's not for me, though.  I've given up vegan cake for life.

The Journal of Unpublishable Papers

📥  New Publications

In this week's Economist, there's a heart-warming story of a successful journal start up.  Rejecta Mathematica is a "real open access online journal publishing only papers that have been rejected from peer-reviewed journals in the mathematical sciences".  As the Economist reports,

Rejecta was conceived three years ago by four graduate students at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. Two of its founders, Michael Wakin and Christopher Rozell, had just had a paper on card counting in blackjack rejected. Good work, said the reviewers, but find some other place for it. When they could not, they, along with Mark Davenport and Jason Laska, decided to cut out the middle man and found their own journal.

I said it was heart-warming.  This is a game beloved of journal publishers across the world who are prone to sit around and dream up challenging new titles.  I recall that The Journal of Library Closures was a favourite suggestion during the last recession to hit universities.  Editors can do this as well.  I've felt for a long time that The Journal of Unpublishable Papers would be a great hit – with authors at any rate – although its far-too-honest title might keep it out of citation indices.  On mentioning this idea to a group of colleagues a while back, I was met with a wall of scepticism, mostly on the grounds that this journal already exists – even if its editors are keen to fudge its purposes through a more positive-sounding title.  Rather encouragigly, however, even Rejecta is finding it has to reject papers.