UNESCO downgrades geoscience

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I've now had time to read UNESCO's Issues and trends in Education for Sustainable Development  [A. Leicht, J. Heiss and W. J. Byun (eds)].   Chapter 10, Monitoring ESD: lessons learned and ways forward by Ashley Stepney Lockhart (pps. 215 – 232) stood out for me, particularly this on p. 219:

"Much of what informs better policy-making and practice is the result of evaluation of a specific, contextualized educational process, not simply test scores.  Lower test scores may provide information about a group of learners’ general knowledge and skill in ESD, if the questions truly correspond to common principles in the subject and not a supposed proxy version such as geoscience. [FOOTNOTE].  Lower test scores may suggest that changes are needed to inputs, but do not provide clues as to how to make those changes or the underlying motivation, aside from improving test scores.  Improving test scores has little to do with real ESD learning or advancing sustainable development; test scores are only an indication of competence."

The FOOTNOTE in the paper says this:
"It is not appropriate to equate subjects that may teach about the natural environment with ESD.  For example, in geoscience or earth science, learning focuses on areas such as plate tectonics and physical and chemical processes from inside the Earth’s surface that affect its crust. It does not focus on human-made problems such as climate change, etc."
Indeed it is not.  Did you wonder why 'geoscience' was singled out here for criticism?  Or whether anyone teaching the geosciences really sees it as a proxy for ESD?  I'd say they have better things to do, and that they get up in the morning knowing that teaching the geosciences is valuable in the real world – which no one's ever been able to say about ESD.  And then there's the difference between geoscience, a subject, and ESD which, presumably, is a set of pedagogical-cultural processes (education for ...) which cannot be taught because they embody teaching.  Unless, of course, ESD has now been refined to the extent that UNECSO wants it to be seen as a high-status subject.  Happily, however, that is not in UNESCO's gift.
For a comment on the difficulties of holding the line on the one important point being made in the footnote, see this account of sustainability research in the UK in 2007.
My own Endnote would be to wonder what on earth "learners’ general knowledge and skill in ESD" is.  This is obviously nonsense which is sad for all concerned.  What's sadder, though, is that no one in UNESCO seems to know that it's nonsense.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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