Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Sustainability summit 2017

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Economist is hosting a sustainability summit on March 23rd / 24th.  Details here.  Its blurb says:

Over the past two centuries, global economic development has often come at the expense of our environment.  Ice caps have melted, forests have been flattened, noxious fumes expelled and species wiped out, all in the name of a type of progress that threatens to be unsustainable.  In late 2015 at COP21 in Paris governments made bold commitments to limit climate change, but there is still much more to be done if their aims are to be delivered, and the election of Donald Trump has cast doubts on US policy.  The issue of sustainability is a multifaceted one, and cannot be tackled by policy alone; international business must also rise to the challenge.  But how can businesses evolve and develop their practices to improve their environmental footprint?  Is it possible to make adjustments that have a net positive impact on revenue?  And what are the challenges that multinational companies face in implementing such changes across borders?

In March 2016, The Economist Events’ Sustainability Summit in London offered an alarming prognosis: adapt or die.  In 2017 we will be evaluating progress and the scalability of sustainability initiatives, while asking the crucial question: what does the Paris Agreement and the push for greater environmental sustainability mean for business?  Bringing together leading critical thinkers, policymakers and business leaders, the Sustainability Summit will offer strategies, ideas and solutions to decision makers, helping them to turn challenges into new opportunities and prepare for the future.

These are the questions to be addressed:

  • What steps can we take to break the prevailing short-termism which dominates the markets and begin to act with an eye to the future?
  • How can policy-makers better address market failings and encourage a move toward a circular economy?
  • In what ways do our current, global regulatory frameworks account for climate change?
  • How can we leverage the capital markets and big business to create a more sustainable economy?
  • Where should investors direct their capital in order to make the biggest impact?
  • From source to shelf, how can businesses take better stock of natural capital and ensure resource efficiency all the way across their supply chains?
  • Could technological innovation provide some of the solutions we need to deliver sustainable growth?  And, how can we scale the green tech that already exists?
  • How can we further the social components of the SGDs and create a more inclusive marketplace around the world?

Do you notice what's missing from this list?

Being a Beast

📥  Comment, New Publications

I am reading (slowly) Charles Foster's Being a Beast published by Profile Books 2016, ISBN 978-1781255346

It's a book where the being (as opposed to being with has to be taken seriously.  I suppose a more apt title might have been Trying to be a Beast, given that Foster never quite escapes his human-ness, but that's to nit pick.   Anyway, if you've not read it, I can only say that you are missing an essential dimension to outdoor learning.  I, for one, shall never think about otters or foxes in the same way again.  Do read it, and maybe you will wonder with me how he kept his lucky children out of the clutches of the guardians of public morality and safety.

Quite understandably, Being a Beast won an IgNobel prize.  The citation was: Awarded jointly to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.  All part of life ...




Assessing progress towards SDG target 4.7

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote the other day about the problems inherent in target 4.7 of the SDGs:

By 2030, ensure all learners acquire 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.

This is what you get when you have 597 people in a room all chipping in their ideas.  In his presentation to Learning for Sustainability Scotland's recent AGM, UNESCO's Aaron Benavot said this:

  • the target touches upon social, humanistic and moral purposes of education
  • it explicitly links education to other SDGs and transformative aspirations of the SD vision
  • the targets refers to all learners and all education levels: Strong lifelong learning perspective. Should will [sic] need to examine knowledge and skills among tertiary level students and adults
  • the knowledge and skills learners are meant to acquire in target 4.7 are broad umbrella concepts, and consequently difficult to operationalize.
  • should lead to improvements in the quality of education provided

How the last two points cohere is beyond me.  However, Benavot is director of the recent Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report and should be regarded as an expert in these matters.  He added:

  • capturing the intent of 4.7 is a complex and dynamic task.
  • country commitments and statements in relation to target 4.7 are likely to change in the coming years, partly due to the SDG agenda
  • most of the concepts in 4.7 have contested definitions as well as different histories, and understandings, even in international documents
  • it's difficult to come up with a consensual analytic framework of the different concepts embedded in Target 4.7, among experts in these areas

Well, he should know, I suppose.  I suspect that what he really meant was, "If only we'd been more careful in writing this stuff."  He then suggested the following (NB, these are his notes, not mine):

One Global indicator 4.7.1 (see 2016 GEM Report)

25. The 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 (no surveys of knowledge and skills to promote SD and GC)

... and Four Thematic Indicators (some UIS data available, see eAtlas)

26. Percentage of students by age group (or education level) showing adequate understanding of issues relating to global citizenship and sustainability (no, but placeholder measure: percentage of youth with adequate understanding of issues relating to HIV/AIDS and sexuality education, 71 countries)

27. Percentage of 15-year-old students showing proficiency in knowledge of environmental science and geoscience (placeholder measure: results from PISA 2012, some 63 countries)

28. Percentage of schools that provide life skills-based HIV and sexuality education (yes for some 75 countries)

29. Extent to which the framework on the World Programme on Human Rights Education is implemented nationally (as per UNGA Resolution 59/113) (no data)

The trouble is that #4.7 is about outcomes whereas 3 of these 5 (25 / 28 / 29) are about inputs.

However, note Indicator #27: "knowledge of environmental science and geoscience".  Whilst this is a long way from ESD, it's right up environmental education's alley.  UNESCO turns, it seems.  Expect more on this ...

Meanwhile, you can download the 2016 GEM Report here and / or follow blogs here.  Or you can shut the computer down and go and get some exercise – ideally in the fresh air and nature ...


Tbilisi + 40

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've been re-reading the Tbilisi Declaration which remains more inspiring than many a document produced recently.  It's 40 years old this year, so we can expect celebrations, etc.  Though what exactly is to be celebrated remains unclear.

I was struck by all those who attended from the UK.

John Hudson, Deputy Secretary for Primary Education, Department of Education and Science (Head of Delegation)

George Willan, Department of Education and Science

Patricia McCarthy, International Relations, Department of Education and Science

John Robins, Assistant Secretary, Department of the Environment

Peter Fletcher, Foreign and Commonwealth Office UN Department

Peter Forrest, HMI (England)

Patricia Heatley, HMI (Northern Ireland)

Chris Gayford, Council for Environmental Education

Keith Wheeler, Council for Environmental Education / Town and Country Planning Association

A total of 9 from the DES, the Foreign Office, the Environment Dept, HMI (and two educators) illustrates the breadth of interest in the meeting – and in environmental education.  Compare this with the few who pitched up to Bonn for the Decade meeting.  Happy days.  NB, I counted 8 delegates from Iraq at this meeting.  Happier days there as well.


More liberalism

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In its Christmas edition, the Economist ran a leading article on the need for even more liberalism in 2017 – despite its many sets-back in 2016.  I was struck by the passage:

As a set of beliefs that emerged at the start of the 19th century to oppose both the despotism of absolute monarchy and the terror of revolution, liberalism warns that uninterrupted power corrupts.  Privilege becomes self-perpetuating.  Consensus stifles creativity and initiative.  In an ever-shifting world, dispute and argument are not just inevitable; they are welcome because they lead to renewal.

What is more, liberals have something to offer societies struggling with change.  In the 19th century, as today, old ways were being upended by relentless technological, economic, social and political forces.  People yearned for order.  The illiberal solution was to install someone with sufficient power to dictate what was best — by slowing change if they were conservative, or smashing authority if they were revolutionary.  You can hear echoes of that in calls to “take back control”, as well as in the mouths of autocrats who, summoning an angry nationalism, promise to hold back the cosmopolitan tide.

Liberals came up with a different answer.  Rather than being concentrated, power should be dispersed, using the rule of law, political parties and competitive markets.  Rather than putting citizens at the service of a mighty, protecting state, liberalism sees individuals as uniquely able to choose what is best for themselves.  Rather than running the world through warfare and strife, countries should embrace trade and treaties.

This last paragraphs seems particularly significant.  The article ends:

"... 2016 also represented a demand for change.  Never forget liberals’ capacity for reinvention.  Do not underestimate the scope for people, including even a Trump administration and post-Brexit Britain, to think and innovate their way out of trouble.  The task is to harness that restless urge, while defending the tolerance and open-mindedness that are the foundation stones of a decent, liberal world."

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland added to this steely determination:

"If liberal means holding true to the values of the Enlightenment, including a belief in facts and evidence and reason, then call me a liberal.  And if liberal means cherishing the norms and institutions that protect and sustain democracy, from a free press to an independent judiciary, then call me a liberal.  For those values are under assault just now, in a way few of us ever imagined."

And Nigel Biggar in The Times added to all this by reminding us that some at least of the Enlightenment's heritage came out of somewhere.

Truth, goodness, and beauty surely transcend time and place; no one culture has a monopoly of wisdom.  Nevertheless, some values are more at home in one culture than another, more deeply embedded in its traditions of thought and enshrined in its law and institutions.  The primacy of the individual over the state is arguably more entrenched in those western cultures shaped by Christianity than in those eastern ones shaped by Confucianism.


If, as I noted above, these points are significant:

  • Rather than being concentrated, power should be dispersed, using the rule of law, political parties and competitive markets.
  • Rather than putting citizens at the service of a mighty, protecting state, liberalism sees individuals as uniquely able to choose what is best for themselves.
  • Rather than running the world through warfare and strife, countries should embrace trade and treaties.

There is surely a need for our education system to embrace these ideas, but it doesn't, at least not in any robust sense.  That has also to be the case where an education system embraces sustainability.

Looking at humans and other animals

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A day at the zoo - not a favourite place of mine.  I went for a Joint School Grounds & Natural Environment Sectors LOtC Partnership meeting and the main animals I saw were human (mostly young), flamingoes and moorhens.  The last of these had broken in for a day's free-loading.

The meeting's main focus was a presentation by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) about an HSBC-funded enquiry into children's experiences at three WWT centres as part of school visits.

Although the session was titled:

'Measuring the long-term impact on pupils' attitudes and behaviour towards the environment following a visit to a WWT Wetland Centre'

... the power point presentation said it was about the impacts that visits to wetland centres have on children's 'attitude to nature'.  But it wasn't really about attitude (or nature), as no validated attitudinal scales were used in the enquiry.

There were child questionnaire surveys before, after, and long after the event, and focus groups.  500 children from 19 schools were involved.  Most children said they'd had a good time.  Schools were chosen, and children's data compared, on the basis of high / low free school meal (FSM) uptake and this was expected to do all the heavy lifting as far as data analysis was concerned.  The ideal, of course, was that those children from high FSM uptake schools had their attitudes (or whatever) improved by the experience, and that these remained elevated.  The validity of this depends on those parents poor enough to get FSM having no interest in wildlife / nature / etc, and on richer ones having that interest.  Just how valid that is, escapes me, but I'll ask.  Well, in the end, whatever was being measured, this didn't happen.  The researchers had also hoped to compare data on the basis of ethnicity but too many children has declined to say which category they fell into for that to be possible.  Good for them, say I.  I rather hope that some might have refused to tick the (inevitably binary) gender box as well.  This was something you were made to do if you wanted to use the zoo's 'free' WiFi.

It was, of course, all very "interesting", but I've no idea what anyone learned from these visits – or from the questionnaire enquiry.  One of the questions asked something about looking after / taking care of "the places where wildlife lives".  The implication of this phraseology is that you have to make a special trip to these places – a visit to a WWT centre, for example.  But what about the wildlife (literally and metaphorically) on your doorstep?  Doesn't that need watching out for as well?  Of course, if you run wildlife centres, zoos, petting farms, etc, it's not really in your interests to stress the local.

I said (above) that I'd no idea what anyone learned from these visits, but that's not quite the case.  We were told, for example, that one activity involved stroking the feathers on a swan, and so it seems reasonable to conclude that a learning outcome was that it's ok to touch a swan.  Well, best not to try that anywhere near where I live or you'll be in for a big surprise.  And this raises the issue of just how wild the wildlife was that was encountered in these experiences?   But we ran out of time to discuss such issues – actually, the two WWT presenters ran out of time talking about it.  Next time, maybe ...


Subjective well-being over the life course

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The LSE's Centre for Economic Performance has released videos of its recent seminarSubjective well-being over the life course: evidence and policy implications.   Here's the background:

Why should governments care about people's wellbeing? How would policy change if raising wellbeing was the objective?

Understanding how people experience and feel about their lives provides valuable information for policy-makers. But for public policy to improve people's subjective well-being, we need a good understanding of what drives it. This two-day conference will examine the latest evidence from UK and international research on the determinants of subjective well-being over the life course, and what this might mean for policy-making.  Supported by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, this event is a landmark conference reporting the first results from a collaboration between the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance, the CEPREMAP Wellbeing Observatory at the Paris School of Economics, the OECD, and an international consortium of researchers.  The first day of the conference featured an overview of UK findings, presented by Lord Richard Layard, Andrew Clark, and Nick Powdthavee. This will be followed by a broad debate about how subjective well-being evidence can improve policy-making. The second day involved a more detailed look at the international evidence from an OECD Consortium, featuring results from the United States, France, Germany, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

Other event highlights include:

  • Keynote addresses from Lord Gus O'Donnell, Jeffrey Sachs, Mari Kiviniemi, John Helliwell, and Alan Krueger
  • High-level panel discussions on well-being and policy
  • The launch of a new Wellbeing Society

There's a lot to read here, but my well-being might improve if I got away from the computer screen into the fresh air, so I might give it all a miss till later in 2017.


Breakfast and educational outcomes in 9–11-year-olds

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A study has found that the provision of free breakfast clubs for primary schools in disadvantaged areas boosted maths and literacy results.  The work was evaluated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and looked at free breakfasts provided before the start of teaching.  It found strong improvements in writing, reading and maths for pupils.  You can explore this in more detail here.

The study's Abstract notes:

Breakfast consumption has been consistently associated with health outcomes and cognitive functioning in schoolchildren. Evidence of direct links with educational outcomes remains equivocal. We aimed to examine the link between breakfast consumption in 9–11-year-old children and educational outcomes obtained 6–18 months later.  ...  Significant associations were found between all dietary behaviours and better performance in SATs, adjusted for gender and individual- and school-level free school meal entitlement ... .

Future research should aim to explore the mechanisms by which breakfast consumption and educational outcomes are linked, and understand how to promote breakfast consumption among schoolchildren.  Communicating findings of educational benefits to schools may help to enhance buy-in to efforts to improve health behaviours of pupils.

Perhaps promoting breakfast provision amongst parents would be a good idea as well.


Oxfam's minivan of Mammon

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote the other day about Oxfam's careful arithmetic in its showcasing of how so much wealth is owned by so few.  8 billionaires, says Oxfam, own more [ $426bn ] than half the world's population [ $409bn ].  Not so, says the Economist, it's actually 7 as the $409bn  should really be $384bn, and so one M. Bloomberg need not be counted.  A "magnificent seven", then.  But all this is to invest a lot of value into some shakey data, and to accept Oxfam's accountancy in the first place.  To make it all work, they had to add in the negative $357bn that is owned (owed, that is), by some 21m Americans.

The Economist also says that if the sums had been done at 'purchasing-power-parity' rather than at market exchange rates (which is valid because $$$s go farther in poor countries), then the bottom half of the world's population would have 10.6% of the wealth and not Oxfam's 0.15%.

It's still not a lot, but why does Oxfam open itself up to needless criticism when its message is already strong?




UKSSD’s open letter to the Prime Minister

📥  Comment, News and Updates

UK Stakeholder's for sustainable development [UKSSD] wrote an open letter to Mrs May last week.  It was published in the Times.  It's here:

Dear Prime Minister,

As a group of businesses investing in making our economy fit for the future, we support sustainable development in the UK. This is essential for our long-term prosperity and the wellbeing of generations to come.  The UK Government played a leading role in developing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and adopted them just over a year ago. As businesses, we’re ready to take responsibility and work with the Government to make sure the SDGs are delivered in the UK and around the world.

Sustainable development will create jobs, increase competitiveness and secure the natural resources our economy relies on.  We support your Government to:

  • Demonstrate to business your commitment to deliver the SDGs in the UK
  • Work with businesses to deliver the SDGs, creating a transparent reporting framework and clear benchmarks
  • Require all departments, not only the Department for International Development, to work with business and other stakeholders to develop an SDG delivery plan

Together we can build a fairer, sustainable and more prosperous Britain.

Yours sincerely,

I was struck by three things.  The first was the clunky wording, but I'm used to that.  The second was that I'd not heard of ~50% of the companies that signed it (but I do live a sheltered life), and the third was that were no (as far as I could see) education bodies involved.  Not even the ubiquitous EAUC was there, although it is now a member of UKSSD; nor was UUK.  What does this say?  Well, it might say that this was just about business and what it can do.  But education is a business, and it is certainly working to "build a fairer, sustainable and more prosperous Britain".  I also wondered where was the TUC, but that's another story.