The Primary Review – and ESD

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I'm very grateful to Ben Ballin, of Tide~, for drawing to my attention a significant piece of text from the Cambridge Primary Review: children, their world, their education.  As I noted in an earlier posting, there is some controversy as to whether focusing on climate change, ecological problems, poverty, etc, causes young people to be apprehensive / anxious / depressed / turned off / apathetic / suicidal /  etc, or whether it is a set of issues which, handled with care and skill, can stimulate what is best in humanity: ie, that, if we act together, something positive can be done (an example of meliorism, in fact and action).

Unsurprisingly, it is the "handled with care and skill" that seems to be the key point here.  The review says:

"... children who were most confident that climate change might not overwhelm them were those whose schools had decided to replace unfocussed fear by factual information and practical strategies for energy reduction and sustainability. Similarly, the teachers who were least worried by national initiatives were those who responded to them with robust criticism rather than resentful compliance, and asserted their professional right to go their own way. There is a lesson from such empowerment for government as well as schools. Of course, not even the most enterprising school can reverse some of the social trends which worried many of our witnesses. That being so, these Community Soundings have implications for social and economic policy more generally, and for public attitudes and values, not merely for DCSF and the schools."


"The soundings programme as a whole was pervaded by a sense of deep pessimism about the future, to which children themselves were not immune. Many expressed concern about climate change, global warming and pollution, and optimists were balanced by those who felt that governments were not doing enough to respond to the urgency and magnitude of the challenges. Some children also deplored the gulf between the world’s rich and poor. In the words of one child: ‘America consumes, Africa wants’. There was also unease about terrorism. The children were no less anxious about those local issues which directly affected their sense of security – traffic, the lack of safe play areas, rubbish, graffiti, gangs of older children, knives, guns. Some were also worried by the gloomy tenor of ‘what you hear on the news’ or by a generalised fear of strangers, burglars and street violence. Inevitably, perhaps, these fears were most prominent in the inner-city communities. 

Yet where schools had started engaging children with global and local realities as aspects of their education they were noticeably more upbeat. In several schools children were involved in environmental and energy-saving projects and the sense that ‘we can do something about it’ seemed to make all the difference. This more positive outlook was most evident in the school whose environmental activism was spearheaded by an ‘Eco-action’ group with representatives from each year. 

The potentially uneasy relationship between school and what lies outside its gates was manifested nearly everywhere by levels of security which would have been inconceivable at the time of the Plowden enquiry, forty years ago. Yet once inside the building there was nothing gloomy about school life as we observed it. Whatever is happening in the wider world, and whatever their anxieties about the future, these children spent their school days in communities-within-communities which unfailingly sought to celebrate the positive. Inevitably, children talked about new technologies. Their response ranged from the classic futurology of robot teachers and hologram libraries to a more considered awareness that new technologies gave them access to information unavailable to previous generations but that people should guard against excessive reliance on computers: ‘Use your brain, otherwise you will get lazy and obese’, warned one. Elsewhere children emphasised the advantage of the practical over the virtual. Children who worked out of doors (as in the Forest School which featured prominently in the Devon leg of the south-west sounding) were enthusiastic about the opportunity to ‘actually go out and do things’; others contrasted going on school trips with looking at a picture in a book or on the web, ‘because you’re seeing things, feeling things, real things.’ ... In light of the above, children’s views of educational priorities highlighted the development of generic capacities for managing life in a changing world: learning how to learn, preparing for life, developing relationships, handling responsibility, citizenship, life skills, financial management and generally ‘thinking about the future’."

Both quotes are taken from primary_review_community_soundings_report_final

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