Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

A global educator's responsibilities and their limits

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The St. George's House consultation on the SDGs is over.  It was stimulating.

It seems clear to me that young people can be helped to think about global issues at at early age, and then to be helped to build on that thinking (and learning).   This raises issues of progression (and coherence), at least from a teacher’s perspective.   I remember (this is years ago) complaints from HMI that they went into schools and saw children learning about X (this was probably environmental issues) but there was no coherence to it, with 14 year olds learning in one school what 10 year olds were learning in another, and 8 year olds in another, and many students being asked to study the same things twice.  HMI said this left students bewildered.

Commendably, Oxfam (and maybe others) have addressed the progression issue in relation to global citizenship education – See page 16 of the resource you can download here.

But attempts at rational progression and coherence raise issues of instrumentalism and the possibility that learner autonomy might be jeopardised.  After all,  some learners might want to study what they find interesting (off-piste, as it were).  And any student might learn something that a school rather wished they hadn't (say to be very critical of the UK's 0.7% aid spend).  Each of these fit ill with many forms of progression that you might have come across.

In relation to all this, an awkward question presents itself.

If, at the end of a learning programme about the Goals, a student comes up to you and says this:

– That was fantastic.  Such a great programme; so many insights.  I’ve learned so much.  Thanks, in particular, for the really stimulating way that you approached it.  It’s hard to imagine it could have done better.

– Having thought about it a lot I’m convinced that we should take the goals very seriously.

– However, I think that the 0.7% aid budget should be devoted to helping the very many people across the UK who live shockingly deprived lives (as evidenced, for example, by the latest UK social mobility report).  After all, as Kate Osamor, the Labour shadow secretary of state for international development said the other day: "The Sustainable Development Goals begin at home."

As an educator, what do you think?  Do you think you’ve done a good job – here’s someone who’s thinking for themselves after all – not to mention all that praise for you.  Or do you think you’ve failed utterly because they’re not thinking the right sort of thing?

If you're an educator, there is only one possible answer here.

 

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.

The background to the St George's House consultation on the SDGs

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As I noted earlier today, I'll be at St George's House Windsor this week at a consultation on young people and the SDGs.  This is what the background paper to the consultation has to say.

2015 saw the Paris Agreement and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs aka, the Global Goals). The focus of the Goals is transforming people’s lives. They follow on from the reasonably successful but less extensive Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs apply to everyone in the world and have the potential to focus attention on how to address and resolve some of the huge range of problems the world faces today.  Despite this, not everyone supports all the Goals. Some feel that there is a particular form of economic development built into them (we might call it global capitalism with a neo-liberal orientation). Others question how well the goals map onto how we think about sustainability, and there are reservations to particular goals; for example, not everyone values gender equality and empowerment for women and girls. Some also think that there are too many targets with many of these being poorly expressed.

UK implementation requires action to [i] deliver the Goals for all UK citizens, [ii] ensure DFID supports the delivery of the SDGs in its priority countries, and [iii] ensure that domestic action on the SDGs has a positive global impact. In England, DfID is taking the lead. By contrast, in Scotland, responsibility is with the First Minister who has required all government departments to support the achievement of the Goals.   Although international aid and development-focused trade will play a hugely important role in realising the Goals, it is obvious that education across the world will have an equally important role, and a disproportionally important one in economically-developed countries such as the UK. In this, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between learning and the Goals which is illustrated by the following 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

Given the significance of the Goals, it seems obvious that schools should focus on them, and it is no surprise that many already do. However, how straightforward it is to focus on the Goals varies across jurisdictions. In Scotland (with curriculum for excellence and education for sustainability) and Wales (with ESDGC), there is more of a central mandating of Goal-related work. In England, by contrast, the Department for Education has left DfID (with Pearson, Oxfam, and others) to support this work through its Global Learning Programme, with schools being free to make a distinctive contribution if they so choose.

Every UK school has an opportunity for its teaching and wider activities to covers a range of the Goals, and working in partnership with community groups has the capability to bring teachers, students, leaders and external actors together. Many such groups are also already active in their own right working with young people and others in community settings to help raise awareness and understanding of the Goals and to bring about change. In this sense, the Goals offer a currency and a means of exchange that all can understand and get involved in using approaches that make sense to them. Young People and The Sustainable Development Goals

The consultation purposes are:

Although there is a temptation to see school-age young people as merely preparing for further study, they are already consumers and citizens who make ethical and other judgements on a daily basis, and who have beliefs and values. There is, therefore, a responsibility on those working with young people to ensure that they are helped to contribute to a more just and sustainable future. None of this is an argument for a study of the Goals, per se, as some new curriculum area or subject. Rather, it’s a case for seizing the opportunities that present themselves to focus on the Goals during formal and informal education, both within institutions and outwith them in the community, working across ideas and disciplines where sensible, and with appropriate partners whenever possible. It is this that the seminar will explore with these purposes in mind:

1. To examine and test the propositions set out above in order to identify appropriate educational approaches and opportunities

2. To bring key stakeholders together in a way that encourages exchange and mutual comprehension so that the significance of the SDGs to the work of the UK’s education sectors (and vice versa) can be better understood.

 

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.

 

Margrethe Vestager

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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?