We know already the damage over- exploitation and over-production can cause - yet we have to feed the world. Millions still starve whilst others grow fat. The imbalance is evident, but complex."  from Michael Morpurgo’s introduction

As Michael Morpurgo, the Children’s Laureate, stated in his introduction, "More than ever it matters that we know and understand about our food, where it comes from, how it grows and who grows it. It matters because not only does it affect everyone on the planet, it affects the planet itself."

Rising to that challenge, teachers explored notions about interdependence - between North and South, and between the urban and the rural. Through Farmers’ World Simeon Greennetwork and others, teachers were able to draw on the experiences of strawberry farmers in the West Midlands, banana growers in the Windwards and schools with vegetable gardens in The Gambia. This contact created initial teaching ideas for the publication, and stimulated fresh thinking about the rich range of related sustainability issues.

In turn, the seminar invited dialogue and "creative confusion" between farmers and food producers, teachers and educators, and representatives of three relevant government departments: DfID, DEFRA and the DfES. Professor Bill Scott, from the University of Bath, raised some provocative challenges about how we measure the success of educational work on food production and other sustainability themes.

Simeon Green from Windwards Bananas contributes his views to the debate.

The seminar highlighted the scope for new work:

  • which addresses questions about quality of life. How is this different from ‘standard of living’? We are all under pressure to measure our success through what we consume, but at the expense of what? of whom? How sustainable can this be?
  • which explores urban and rural connections, here and elsewhere [eg the huge sustainability impacts of urbanisation worldwide]
  • which explores the complex relationship between education and behaviour change. Do we need to move from raising awareness to making a difference? If so [and given the uncertain and complex nature of the understandings and actions involved] how do we know what we are doing? What might we mean by a disposition to act on understanding?
  • which values experiential learning [eg through farm visits, direct contact with food producers] ... and seeks both creativity in imagining the kind of learning experiences we offer children, and offers examples of workable tools for measuring the value of such experiences.
  • which raises the debate about sustainable development education versus good [or ‘essential’] education. What does each offer the other, and what remains distinctive? What makes ‘good sustainable development education’?

The new resource and seminar have raised many new questions and opportunities for the Coalition. We welcome your thoughts on these, and the further development of the ideas involved.

Food & farming, local & global shares some initial ideas from teachers and invites your further creativity.

Sustainable development education - how do we measure our success?

An extract from a presentation that Professor Bill Scott made to a Tide~ seminar, March 2004, as a stimulus to debate and discussion.

Bill Scott is Professor of Education at the Centre for Research in Education and the Environment at the University of Bath, and author of numerous articles and publications on sustainable development education, including [with Stephen Gough] Sustainable development and learning:  framing the issues [Routledge Falmer, 2003].

Sustainable development is a process of improving the human condition which can be continued indefinitely without undermining itself. Its goals are usually expressed in relation to social equity, economic prosperity and environmental quality. These goals have to be linked: our human development can only take place within the constraints set by the extent to which we can continue drawing on natural capital.

A challenge to us as educators is to have measures of, for example, how well we're helping people understand and act on such issues in their own lives ... to know whether what we're doing is actually contributing to sustainable development - as opposed to detracting from it. How do we know we have the right indicators? How can we be sure that even when all the indicators are positive, we are actually on a sustainable pathway?

We may assume that improving awareness of sustainable development will contribute to sustainable development, but lurking here is the tempting but misleading notion that all this awareness raising is straightforward stuff ... We need to think carefully about whether awareness of sustainable development is enough, and whether we know just what it is that we need to be aware of.

There is a need for indicators that are: beyond attendance; beyond qualifications; beyond content [though knowledge is important]; and beyond experts [ie having to know exactly what others know, otherwise it doesn't count as knowledge]. We need to take seriously people’s experience and avoid gratuitous use of judgemental absolutes of right/wrong.

The sort of learning capacity this requires might be built through:

  • a significant increase in the curricular emphasis given to environmental issues at all levels of the formal curriculum;
  • targeting the discussion of social, cultural and ethical issues as a specific skill to be fostered for sustainability;
  • greater recognition of the inherently provisional nature of all knowledge and value-frameworks.
  • Is good Education for Sustainable Development [ESD] simply good education? The following could be characteristics of good ESD: drawing critically on real-world events and data; being problem-focused and solution-oriented; taking learners’ ideas seriously as starting points for discussion; connecting school, community and home. But these apply just as well to, say, health education or citizenship education, and do not necessarily contribute to sustainable development. Writing something meaningful and specific is a tougher challenge. Engaging in this is something I commend to you and I shall be very interested to see what emerges.

Indicators - some very draft and not necessarily useful ideas How do you respond to these?

Effective ESD Programmes ...

  • demonstrate that there are no clear boundaries between environment, society and economy; each of these elements being fundamentally dependent on the other
  • encourage learners to cross intellectual boundaries, eg between economy/society/environment, and between here/there, here/now, we/you, humans/nature, etc
  • acknowledge that we are all involved in sustainable development with something to learn
  • bring together the current quite separate self-contained discourses on learning on the one hand and sustainable development on the other
  • argue that the skill of ‘learning-to-learn’ is crucial to living sustainably in a globalised world
  • provide learners with a representative range of perspectives on sustainable development and related issues
  • take learners’ own ideas on sustainable development seriously
  • illustrate that what needs to be learned in relation to sustainable development may well vary quite dramatically from one setting to another
  • embody an educational approach that enables rather than manipulates learners, and which enables everyone to learn
  • illustrate that compromises are often needed in sustainable development involving trades-off between desired goals
  • assist people to learn how to manage the inevitable conflicts that will arise in sustainable development, rather than pretending that conflict can be eliminated
  • equip learners to make judgements about the need for, and the effectiveness of, such trades-off
  • help people manage complex sustainable development choices for themselves, rather than telling them how they should decide between over-simplified and idealistic option sets that special interest groups promote
  • help understanding that learning in respect of sustainable development tends to happen to the extent that people engage in an open-minded way with others’ view of valid knowledge
  • show that being open to learning from others about sustainable development is a potentially useful alternative to engaging them in pointless political debate
  • draw on evaluated case studies of sustainable development practice from a range of contexts

Note. Although almost all these mention sustainable development, in many the phrase can be replaced with some other phrase and the result remain meaningful.