Tag Archives: sustainability

Equality? The value of a life

post by Mary Young (@maryatedji) – Co Director of Edjitraining, author of the seminal Global Citizenship: The Handbook for Primary Teaching

Just thinking about the situation in South Sudan/North Kenya and how its scant coverage is a clear illustration of the fact that, despite all we say or hope, people’s lives across the globe are simply not valued equally.

Media reports that the situation was about to, ‘become a catastrophe’ seem to have missed the point that it already is one, and in fact has been one for some time for those concerned. This also raises issues about at what point the world’s media becomes (albeit fleetingly) interested in a story…some years ago I remember hearing a CNN reporter justifying not going in to cover a situation as there were, ‘not enough people on the point of death’  for the coverage to be newsworthy at that time.

The figures from the terrorist attacks in the USA as reported in New Internationalist in November 2001 also make the point about inequity…

On September 11th 2001, approx 3000 people were killed in USA: we know the vast majority of their names and much about them.

However, elsewhere on the planet on September 11th 2001 (aggregated figures) approx 2600 children died of measles; 6000 people died of diarrhoea and 24,000 people died of hunger, and those deaths have been repeated each day since. How many of those people’s names are we familiar with?

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Learning – time to concentrate on what’s important

I really need to be persuaded that we should spend more time, in education, thinking about our assessment data than the stuff we should be learning about in the first place. Of course, assessment is a vital component of teaching and learning – but our obsession with it distracts from more urgent questions. This is an extract from a recent report I wrote, aimed at school leaders in the UK:

 “…The prevailing view of education stresses the importance of forming better individuals in order to produce a better world. Crucially, however, it is clear that the looming challenges of the next century cannot be solved by individuals, whatever their sensitivities, acting in an atomised way; politically aware communities of people acting collaboratively will be required. That takes practice – and school is where it should happen. We deny students the opportunity to become collaborative and active citizens, voicing their critical views about real world issues, at our peril.

“…I urge you to continue your opposition to the assessment culture, the tail which is wagging the educational dog. If only this vice like grip could be loosened, perhaps much that is creative would follow. Summative assessment records have their limited place but publishing results in league tables, whether national SATS scores or international test results such as PISA have had profoundly regressive effects on teaching and learning and are particularly inimical to Education for sustainability (EfS). They have led to a narrowing of learning as staff teach to the tests and subjects are divided into core and “others”. Although the interim report into assessment at Key Stage 2 conducted by Lord Bew states that “good academic outcomes do not have to come at the expense of a narrowing of the curriculum”[i], my experience, shared by many colleagues, is that a broad and balanced curriculum tends to suffer. Those schools without a confident grasp of EfS issues, tend to jettison it at the first sign of stress.

The American experience is one in which high stakes standardised testing holds sway, reinforced by performance related pay for teachers, which in turn has led to rises in cheating in tests and anti-collaborative practices amongst demoralised teachers. You need only follow Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) and likeminded educationalists on Twitter to glean that this is a dystopia we would do well to avoid. Indeed, Finland, which ironically comes out top in the PISA tests sets minimal store by high stakes testing[ii]. The emphasis placed on the EBaac is evidence that EfS will always come a distant second to an education system built on high stakes testing preparing students for the job market. If [it’s right that] schools cannot be changed without the establishment of “collaborative cultures”,[iii] a principle at the core of EfS, then the high stakes assessment programme actively prevents this.”

So that’s what I said. What’s your view?


[i] BEW, P. (2011) Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability-Progress Report [Accessed 12.04.11]

[ii] HORN, J. (27.11.06) Finns finish first without high stakes testing [online] http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2006/11/finns-finish-first-without-high-stakes.html [10.05.11]

[iii] BLENKIN, G., EDWARDS, G. and KELLY, A. (1992) ‘Recent and emergent theoretical perspectives.’ Extract from Chapter 2 in Change and the Curriculum, Paul Chapman Publishing In GRUNSELL, A. and WADE, R. (eds) (2000) p147 Unit 2 Reader, Processes and Management of Change. London: Distance Learning Centre, South Bank University.

Raise engagement and standards will follow

  • High expectations are good

Who seriously argues against this? We all know how it feels to be trusted to perform well and examples of pupils attaining highly thanks to expert teaching and high expectation are legion. Low expectations are patronising and demeaning. Sometimes they are downright racist.

  •  Raise GCSE results

But are Michael Gove’s latest ideas on raising GCSE targets for secondary schools really going to improve the education system in the UK? Whilst it is appalling that so many pupils leave school without a satisfactory level in English or Maths, additional pressure to succeed in the high stakes test is misguided. The motivation for better scores comes from the wish for UK pupils to succeed in the international comparison tests, PISA for example. Why? So our students prove themselves competitive.

American model

But…while we all want our children to be employable, this narrowly mechanistic view of teaching and learning is leading us into a cul-de-sac. Look to the US. Their “No child left behind policy”, so detested by the teachers who are forced to implement it, has led to a dystopia of inappropriate standardised tests, performance related assessment of teachers, teaching to tests, cheating in tests, less collaboration between teachers… Is this what we want?

  • Let’s pause

Standards are important. I’m not advocating a lack of transparency or an “anything goes” policy in the classroom. Let’s use everything we have to improve our children’s learning. Start with John Hattie’s “Visible Learning”,  in which he has analysed what really succeeds in the classroom (NO 1: effective teacher feedback!)…but the obsession with results as the focus is running fast in the wrong direction.

  • Pupil engagement

First, let us engage the students in their learning. This isn’t going to happen with a stronger emphasis on high stakes testing, which we know has the tendency to narrow the curriculum. Students’ chief complaint is that their learning is removed from the real world. So let’s blur the boundaries between school and real life. Engage them in issues that matter and are relevant.

And what’s the most important issue right now? Answer: How to live in a sustainable manner. Make that the cornerstone of your education policy, Mr Gove. Students are interested in it because it connects to their life. In high performing Canada, pupil engagement was as low as 39% but after reorienting to address sustainability, that figure rose to…62%!

And if they’re interested, the results will follow.

Climate change and the curriculum

Should climate change be in the national curriculum? According to Tim Oates, the government adviser on the current curriculum overhaul, the answer is no.

At first blush this seems absurd. Climate change is beyond serious doubt the major challenge facing humankind – how can we not teach it? But  Tim Oates is discussing not the importance or otherwise of climate change, but the very function of the curriculum.

  • Slim the curriculum

Personally, I am in favour of a slimmed down curriculum. Precisely because it will give schools an opportunity more meaningfully to integrate essentially cross curricular issues, like climate change, in their teaching. At present, certainly in Secondary education, the curriculum is so bloated that schools are failing or unable to tackle important topical issues, because their timetables are bursting.

As an advisor on Global Citizenship, I’ve been told too often that “we’d love to incorporate your stuff, but when could we possibly fit it in?” If the curriculum, as currently in play, does not allow schools to address real world issues in the heart of the lessons (not simply on an “enrichment day”), we need to address its function. Perhaps too much importance has been given to its role in our education system.

So keep the curriculum slim. Allow for as much regional variation as possible – schools should make learning as personalised and relevant as it can. Avoid a one size fits all policy. Let schools decide how to implement the curriculum.

  •  Dangers

Of course there is the danger that some schools, if there is no requirement, will avoid teaching about climate change. We have seen the same with some schools’ approach to community cohesion, now that that does not form part of the Ofsted inspection criteria. They simply relegate its importance.

Yet this is easily addressed. DfE can make recommendations or mandate schools to teach about climate change. Why does it have to form part of the official curriculum? But let chools decide how best it should be done – in which subject area, or cross curricularly. Let’s make no mistake -it is essential that climate change is addressed in our schools from the youngest age…How else are our young citizens going to have the wherewithal to address it?

Global Citizenship – first principles for educators

Supporting schools seeking to promote Global Citizenship, both in the curriculum and as a whole school ethos, we’ve found that the following issues are key to success.

  • Promote critical thinking

Whether through P4C (Philosophy for children) or simply asking open ended questions to penetrate superficial ideas, critical thinking is the bedrock of any profound learning. I’ve always thought it’s hard to be racist if you employ critical thinking, especially if you practice it from a very young age. So  key questions in response to any opinion might be “What is your evidence for that?”  or“Can you think of any counter example?”

  • Challenge assumed knowledge and notions of what is normal

After all, what is normal? We tend to assume that our own world view is the default option. Consider the maps of the world that you probably have on display -The Mercator projection. It may have pictures on it. It’s got Europe slap bang in the middle, much bigger in comparison to, say, Africa than in reality. But have you tried displaying a map that has the Pacific at its centre, or the Arctic circle, or the Peter’s projection with South Africa at the top? These are just as valid world views…Imagine what the implications are for your own view of the world, or any given topic.

  • Recognise and challenge stereotypes

Obviously try to avoid “all” or “always” when describing a group of people. Try invariably to show a balance of images or objects if you are exploring distant localities, for example. Yes, there is abject poverty in parts of Africa, but do you routinely show the airports, hospitals, science labs, state of the art football stadia etc etc.? When you show pictures of Islam, do you show Nicolas Anelka as well as a bearded imam?

  • Represent diversity in our society

Check out, just as an example, any advert for an HE college from your local paper. Who is missing? Try this with a brochure for the National Trust. There is always a discussion to be had about tokenism, but consider whether you would want to see yourself represented, and apply that thinking as widely as possible. Now look at your displays, school council, governors…Who is represented and who’s missing?

  • Link local and global issues

Start simply with this – Find first the connections between you and the person depicted in the picture, for example. Seeek similarities before differences. This can be with younger children the fact we have hair, or skin or that we breathe the same air. When you use objects to explore this (a mobile phone or T-shirt), it’s not long before you could be exploring questions of conditions of manufacture, water footprint, trade inequality -real, interesting for your pupils and directly relevant to their future. This leads directly to more purposeful writing too…

  • Move beyond recycling and walk to school

Schools are increasingly addressing sustainability issues, especially in this UN decade of education for sustainable development. But we really need to up our game … If climate change is the real challenge for coming generations, shouldn’t we be teaching and learning much more meaningfully about how to live in a sustainable manner? More about this for another post I think.

Thanks as ever to my brilliant colleagues, Mary Young (@maryatedji) and Dan Sanders for their ideas, which I shamelessly use. Please let me know your views, so we can debate and add them…

Uk TE education sustainable development/Global Citizenship 4th annual conference

Plenty to take away from this very interesting conference at London South Bank University (28th= greenest university in the UK, ). It was interesting being in a room where people were broadly on the same page as far as education for sustainability is concerned. The dialogue is very different from that in your average staffroom, where you encounter everything from enthusiasm to contemptuous dismisssiveness.

What did I take away? Well, amongst many other things…
1) In our high stakes testing we are running very fast…in the wrong direction. Simple. What is that testing for in the long term? Yes, we want literate, numerate children. But much more importantly, we want them to live in a sustainable manner. That should be our goal in education.

2)Canada has very high PISA scores…second to Finland apparently. But, horribly low engagement by the pupils. I would rather have the reverse.

3) There are about 70 million children in the world who receive no formal education. That figure is equivalent to the number of school age children in Europe. Imagine the outcry if all those European children didn’t go to school. How have we let this happen?

4) We have got to make this decade of Sustainable Development count as much as possible and score some irreversible victories in the Education community.

Thank you to Sally Inman, Hilary Benn, Chuck Hopkins and all the organisers and participants for this fascinating day.