Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Margrethe Vestager

📥  Comment, News and Updates

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

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

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


Remember to press 'record' if the Inquisition comes calling

📥  Comment, News and Updates

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

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

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

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


Obsessed by the Goals?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

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

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

SDGs as a radical curriculum alternative?

SDG learning objectives

Schools and the SDGs

EE and the SDGs [1]

EE and the SDGs [2]

Assessing progress towards SDG target 4.7

ESD into the SDGs doesn't go

The power of the SDGs as a means of exchange


An SDG teach-in to look forward to

📥  Comment, News and Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Global learning and education for training dogs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

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

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

You can see these in full here.

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

Successful models of training dogs practice in schools

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

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


UK Sustainable Development Goal stats from the ONS

📥  News and Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example ...

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

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

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

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

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

Target 4.7: By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




At last, a national plan

📥  Comment, News and Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.