Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Prepare to bend the knee to Commissar Barber

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Sir Michael Barber has come a long way: ex school teacher / ex NUT officer / ex Labour Party candidate / ex No 10 Policy Unit / ex Pearson / ex McKinsey /  ex ... .  He is the chair of the Orwellian, Office for Students,  the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for HE in England which begins work next year.  Although it sounds like a piece of software Bill Gates sells, OfS replaces HEFCE and OFA.

But Barber seems to think his remit extended well beyond students, telling The Times the other day:

“Exceptional pay should be for exceptional performance.  I don’t want to comment on individuals but where you haven’t got the track record and where your pay sticks out like a sore thumb, then you should be asking yourselves questions and we will regulate that.”

There we are: the promise of government control of Vice-Chancellor's salaries.  Will universities put up with this?  Or will some of them revolt?  My breath is not being held, but I hope some do as I think it's an abuse of the supposedly hands-off relationship between politicians and universities.  Where, we should ask, will this end?

Equally significantly, in all this rush to be the champion of the student experience, I hope OfS remembers that universities also have responsibilities towards society and the future and that they are not just there for here today and gone tomorrow students.

 

Eat more children to combat climate change

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

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

Facebook Facts

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Which of these causes you most anxiety?

  1. At the end of June 2017, the number of active Facebook users (visiting the site at least once a month) passed 2,000,000,000
  2. WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — all owned by Facebook — have 3,000,000,000 users
  3. 66% of American adults are on Facebook
  4. 45% of them get their news from it
  5. >50% of the UK population access Facebook at least once a month
  6. The average Facebook user is on site for 90 minutes every day
  7. In mobile social networking, Facebook and its subsidiaries control 75 % of the American market
  8. Amazon controls 65 % of all online new book sales
  9. Google’s market share of USA online searches is 87 %

Who can now seriously doubt that Facebook is a publisher as opposed to what it likes to say it is: a tech platform?  Niall Fergusson writes:

"According to Zuckerberg, Facebook is ‘a tech company, not a media company… We build the tools; we do not produce any content’. Yet in practice, according to a recent Reuters investigation, ‘an elite group of at least five senior executives regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls.’ In the words of Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Zuckerberg is now ‘the world’s most powerful editor’."

My answer to my original question it's that fully 30% of American adults get their news from Facebook.  That's mind-numbing in more senses than one.  As Robert Harris recently said about 1930s Germany:

"You got spoon-fed the news that you wanted and it was all very comforting.  One gets that now: everyone can get the news they want.  They don’t have to think: they are just comforted in their prejudices, and there is a totalitarian vibe in the air."

For more on all this, read Niall Fergusson whose new book, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power (Allen Lane) – and Sam Leith (talking to Robert Harris about his new book, Munich, Hutchinson).

 

 

Keep Britain Untidy does the Hokey Cokey

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As I noted earlier this year, Coca-Cola is funding trials after admitting that it needs to take responsibility for the zillions of tonnes of litter its bottles create.  The trials will focus on bottles up to half a litre, and people will be offered either cash or shopping vouchers to return empty bottles of any brand to collection points.  The company said the scheme could go national if the trials showed that it improved recycling rates and reduced litter.

Alongside this, it has now announced a partnership with Keep Britain Untidy.  This is an extract from the latter's 17th October press release:

We are delighted to work with Coca-Cola to boost litter prevention and support our country’s #LitterHeroes.  Coca-Cola will be a key partner in next year’s 2018 Great British Spring Clean, helping to support a network of #litterheroes to get outdoors and active cleaning up the country.  Working together, we want to inspire volunteers to clean up not only our villages, towns and cities but also our rivers and beaches, creating a chain of litter picking activity from #Street2Sea.  With 80% of marine litter originating from land, everybody can play their part in preventing littering not only in their local area but also in our rivers, beaches and seas.  Alongside this,  Coca-Cola is also supporting our award-winning Centre for Social Innovation to research beach litter and littering behaviour around the country.  The research will help develop new solutions to the problem, which can be scaled up around the country, changing the behaviour of the small minority who enjoy visiting the beach but think nothing of leaving their rubbish behind

Alongside all this there was mutual corporate brown-nosing with Keep Britain Untidy Chief Executive Allison Ogden-Newton saying:

“We are thrilled that Coca-Cola Great Britain is giving the Great British Spring Clean a helping hand so that we can realise our ambition to mobilise up to half a million people next year.  Littering blights every corner of our country and the help of partners is vital if we are to support all the #LitterHeroes who are willing to get out and clean up after those who still think it is OK to drop their rubbish on the ground.”

And Jon Woods, General Manager at Coca-Cola Great Britain responding:

“Our partnership with Keep Britain Untidy is one of the many actions we are taking to reduce littering and highlight the importance of recycling in the UK. We look forward to raising awareness of an important environmental issue and helping to clean up British beaches.”

Personally, I think that this will prove just as successful as Keep Britain Untidy's partnership with Wrigleys from 20 years ago (or so) to keep chewing gum off our streets, or its promotion of smutty cartoons in engaging littering small boys of all ages.

But what a great deal for Coco-Cola in getting its products in front of countless children with official endorsement – cheap at twice the price.

 

Missing Naomi

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Sadly, I missed the ubiquitous Ms Klein when she jetted into Brighton the other week, but, happily, YouTube was there to capture her address to the faithful, most of whom appeared to lap it up: solidarity for and with all it seems – apart from / with / for those with capital.  But do you think the grey, unsmiling men (and they are all men) who are the puppet-masters to this revolution, and who prefer the shadows to the light, are really interested in this stuff?   For them, I wonder, isn’t she just another useful idiot?

I forced myself to watch it all in its gruesomeness as she told the faithful over and over again how wonderful they were.  Oh, how they whooped and hollowed as she stroked their egos and tickled their considerable bellies.  It was skilled, even though some of the rhetoric was beyond me; for example, "the era of triangulation and tinkering is over".  Not everyone in the room was impressed and many sat on their hands as she laughed endlessly at her own poor jokes, too many of which inevitably were anti-US.

It wasn't all tosh, of course, but neither was it coherent.  Just how the economies of the global south are to improve the lot of their citizens if it's the duty of the global north to welcome migrants and refugees she was unwilling to explain.

 

Border Crossings

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Have you ever wondered how interesting other conference might be?  That is, conferences whose subject has nothing to do with your own academic interests or expertise.  Take, for example, the International Conference of Dress Historians which meets in London at the end of the month.  Don't these papers sound not only interesting, but also more interesting that some of the stuff you have to sit through at your usual events:

‘She Was Naught...of a Woman except in Sex’: The Cross–Dressing of Queen Christina of Sweden, 1626–1689

Not a Pistol in His Pocket: Eldridge Cleaver’s Post-Revolutionary Trousers, 1976-1980

Challenging Gendering: Three Centuries of British Children’s Clothing

Sartorial Assimilation: A Case Study of the Vestiary Cross–Cultural Adaption of First–Generation Ethnic Chinese Women who Migrated to Britain from Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia during 1966–1983

Fashioning Colonial Masculinity: The Male Suit as a Cross–Cultural Dress in British–Ruled Palestine

Beyond Gender: Latex Fashion Design and Subcultural Style in the 1980s

Non Binary Dress: A Look at Fashion and Identity along the Gender Spectrum

Of course, I'm only going by the titles, but most of these seem constructed to appeal.  What a pity I can't go ...

 

Scotland did it yesterday

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading, rather belatedly, the concluding report (March 2016) of Scotland's  Learning for Sustainability National Implementation Group.  This is packed with flag-waving claims.  Given Scotland's reputation for claiming that it does things differently, better and yesterday, I was not surprised to find this:

Leading the world to a more sustainable future

Scotland is a renowned nation of innovation, science and great thinkers.  We take pride in listing the many Scottish discoveries and inventions such as the television, telephone, pneumatic tyres and even the overdraft!  Less well-known perhaps is Scotland’s contribution to the creation of a more sustainable world.

  • 1827 – Scottish essayist and writer Thomas Carlyle introduces the word ‘environment’ to the world.
  • 1890 – The conservation work of Scottish-born John Muir in Yosemite in California leads him to be known as the ‘Father of National Parks’.
  • 1915 – Prominent Scottish thinker, town planner and environmentalist, Patrick Geddes, introduces the concepts of ‘environmental sustainability’ and ‘thinking global, acting local’.
  • 1992 – Professor John Smyth co-writes the education chapter of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit).
  • 1999 – Opening of new Scottish Parliament. Emergence of a policy agenda building on the work of many of the great thinkers above leading to Land Reform and Naional Parks Acts, etc.
  • 2005 – The Governments of Scotland and Malawi sign a Cooperation Agreement, leading to a decade of reciprocal exchange and partnership working on education, health, agriculture and renewable energy.
  • 2009 – Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 becomes the most ambitious legislation of its kind in the world setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
  • 2013 – Scotland becomes the first nation to join the Circular Economy 100 Group. It also becomes one of the world’s first Fair Trade Nations – second only to Wales.
  • 2014 – Scotland becomes the first nation to embed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and learning for sustainability in its professional standards for education practitioners.
  • 2014 – Voting is extended to sixteen year-olds to allow them to participate in the Referendum on Scottish Independence.
  • 2015 – Scotland is the first nation to commit to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • 2016 – The Foundation for Environmental Education recognises the success of the Eco-Schools Scotland programme by awarding Scotland the status of the best country in the world for sustainable development education and environmental education.

This is, of course, a record to shout about, but you cannot help but note the shift over time from the achievements of Scots (as individuals) to those of the Scottish government (as an institution).  Are there no great (in a sustainability sense) individual Scots any more?  Or are the sort of people who draw up such lists just likely to promote what government does?

 

Stephen Sterling and the Gruffalo

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It seemed a fair bet that the phrase: Stephen Sterling and the Gruffalo – has not been written very frequently if at all.  I thought to check, and the best that my (un-Google) search engine could come up with was: Education for Sustainability by Stephen Sterling, John Huckle ...  which brought a wry smile to my face.

My putting them together is because they were, in very different ways, two highlights (one was actually a lowlight) of recent trips down 'the peninsular'  – which is how those of us quartered safely in Wiltshire think of the four counties to the south / south-west of us.  I made three visits in the space of 10 days which shows an unusual dedication to travel.

The first was to go to Stephen's 'retirement do' in Plymouth which was in the grip of some mercifully-attenuated hurricane that had belted across the Atlantic.  It was wild 'n' wet outside, but the canapés were fine, the wine was dry, and the Deputy-VC's speech of appreciation was brief, pertinent and well judged.  The university has emeritised Stephen and it hopes that he will continue to work with staff and management as they continue in their development as a sustainable university.  Stephen's response was more pointed, setting out the agenda of unfinished business that the university has if it is to make a success of such development.  There are, of course, limits to what one Emeritus Professor can do without significant resource and tangible top-management support, including money.  It was a nice occasion and it was good to be there, even if it did mean an interminable, uncomfortable time on Last Great Western whose stations get more poorly appointed the farther you are from London.

I came across the Gruffalo in a Cornish wood c/o the Forestry Commission's dalliance with Julia Donaldson.  There were various interpretation boards along the paths drawing attention to forest animals, including the G.  However, you had to use a Smart phone App to access some of the information – so much for communing with nature I thought, if impulses from a brumal wood are dependent on apps.   To make matters worse, we were all being encouraged to look for red squirrels, the nearest of which must have been well over 100 miles away.  It was a spectacular walk in parts and there was a forest school in the middle of it.

The third trip was to Dorset – profound England.  It's always a pleasure to be there even if I do travel with some trepidation because of the squirearchy's predilection for locking up first-time offenders.  Anyway, the highlight was following an (obviously polluting) VW car whose owner had converted the rear VW badge into a Devil logo complete with horns, tail and trident.  I took this to be an admission that the poor bloke was stuck with a smelly heap of junk, and had concocted a DIY comment on the injustice of it all.  However, I later discovered that the kit is available (for any brand) on the web for a modest price.  It would look really good on my VW Electric Up!, but as that is one of the few VW cars that doesn't spew out noxious gases, it seems inappropriate.  I was in Dorset to visit the magnificent Etches Collection.

But back to Stephen.  My wishes for a happy retirement is qualified only by the desire that he uses it to write ...

 

Another UNESCO ESD prize for the UK

📥  Comment, News and Updates

EAUC reported last week that the UK-based Hard Rain Project has been selected as one of the three winners of the international UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 2017.  Thus, hot on the heels of the award of the same prize to NUS last year, the UK, it seems, does it again.

EAUC (quoting UNESCO) said:

The Hard Rain Project was selected for its international programme “Hard Rain” and its follow-up “Whole Earth?”, which bring art, science and education together to raise awareness on pressing global issues such as poverty and climate change, and to stimulate thinking and action towards more positive futures.  It works with world-renowned artists, scientists and communicators to carry its message to schools and universities, and to a wider public, through exhibitions, books, films, talks and events.

It is estimated that 15 million people have seen Hard Rain and Whole Earth? exhibitions in Europe, the US, Africa and Asia and attended talks and associated events. This makes them among the most successful environmental exhibitions every created, attracting huge public and critical acclaim along with the endorsement of political and environmental leaders across the world.

Whether UNESCO's description of Hard Rain as "a UK-based education for sustainable development programme" is really appropriate is perhaps beside the point.  More pertinent is to wonder how effective it has been.  It may be "among the most successful environmental exhibitions every created", but what has it achieved?  If I can put it like this: how many have been sufficiently radicalised by exposure to it to effect a revolution in their thinking and actions?  Does anyone know?

More on those SDG learning objectives

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote back in January about the zillions (actually 255) of learning objectives that UNESCO has dreamed up to go with the SDGs, and so it's good to see Ben Ballin commenting on them on an NAEE blog the other day: A catechism for sustainability? The UNESCO Learning Objectives.

Ben comments:

 "It is no doubt a laudable achievement to create fifteen learning objectives for each of the seventeen goals: that’s a very productive 255 learning objectives in total.  ... On top of the learning objectives for each goal, there are extensive lists of suggested topics, learning approaches and methods.  At this point, I start to lose count (and quite possibly the will to live).  Categorising all those objectives in such a tidy manner must have taken a vast amount of work, involving many embattled hours around the international conference table, a forest of post-its and many carefully-considered words in many languages. The process probably had great value for those involved and such a learning processes is not to be sniffed at.   But what about the rest of us?  How useful is it to us?"

What indeed.  Ben's post ends on a qualified positive note:

"...  this is a flawed report that overlays the existing demands on teachers and schools with many further demands.  It is perhaps symptomatic of what happens when committees and conferences decide what is best for the rest of us.  It is not, however, without its uses: not least of these is to serve as a reminder of where our time and energy might more productively spent if we are to really build on the excellent work that already exists."

It seems clear, however, that whatever innovation actually takes place on the ground with real children will be as a result of teacher enterprise and not this dirigiste stuff that UNESCO so likes which is an admission that it doesn't much trust teachers to think for themselves.