Archive for November, 2019

A humanistic pedagogy for adapting to global warming

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

1 Summary. 

The idea system of evolutionary humanism should be revisited as an educational scaffold to support lifelong learning for adapting to global warming. Google Classroom should be tested as a vehicle to establish a universal holistic digital pedagogy. The concept of island biodiversity hotspots should be explored to provide local access points to a global warming syllabus. 

2 Where it all began

In the 1960s and early 70s informal meetings were held at the Zoological Society of London to discuss the trend for many former UK university departments of zoology to merge into larger administrative units, encompassing more amorphous concepts, such as environmental science, resource management, earth sciences and molecular biology. Zoology was losing its unique position as a holistic subject encompassing all humankind and illustrating how all life emerged from a common ancestor through the process of natural selection. This cosmic perspective, presented to the public in zoos, educated people to think critically about the relationship between humans and animals and allowed the multitudes to experience daily the similarities between the human world and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Zoology was being dismantled in a piecemeal fashion and these new adhoc subjects were covering areas traditionally taught as small parts of general zoology courses. Key figures in these deliberations were  Julian Huxley, Solly Zuckerman, John Philips, Sam Berry, Denis Bellamy and Con Waddington. A major concern was that teaching the theory of evolution was under threat because historically, zoology had always been taught within a well defined evolutionary context. Indeed, evolution is still the backbone of zoology as a classical discipline and provides an efficient and striking explanation for how organisms today are different from organisms in the past and why there is such an amazing diversity of fascinating animals with awe inspiring lifestyles and body plans.  Yet the Zoological Society group recognised that there was a need for novel generalisms to position the old specialisms in a less confrontational and more holistic perspective. In other words, the aim should be to keep zoology in the mainstream of natural history and at the same time open up its traditional ideational boundaries to include all attachments of humans to other animals. Topics of inquiry linking people to other animals in a humanistic framework include the psychological and biological underpinnings of attachments to pets, attitudes toward the use of animals, cross-cultural similarities and differences in human-animal relationships, sex differences in human interactions with other species, the roles of animals in art, religion, mythology, sport, and literature and the choices made to study animals rather than plants and birds rather than insects. These topics now fall within anthrozoology, a subsystem of evolutionary humanism.  It was in this holistic context that Julian Huxley’s idea-system of evolutionary humanism came to the fore.  

An idea-system is defined as a process and a social environment for empowering people, allowing for continuous improvement of knowledge. Huxley had in mind that evolutionary humanism could be defined as a system of beliefs and practices by means of which people could confront the ultimate problems of human life such as health, poverty, inequalities and education. Traditionally these kinds of beliefs and practices characterised religion.  In contrast, evolutionary humanism is a secular perspective based on an understanding that every one of us is an organism built on the same biochemical body plan as all other living things whilst recognising we have unique cognitive properties and exhibit dominant destructive relations with the rest of nature. Huxley’s idea-system is organized around the facts and ideas of evolution that tell us we are part of a comprehensive evolutionary process and therefore at one with nature in everything we do.  Huxley added the codicil that being human means we cannot avoid playing a decisive role in this process to achieve a better future for ourselves whilst ensuring the survival of our sentient cousins. This perspective places evolutionary humanism at the centre of lifelong learning to adapt to an overcrowded planet undergoing rapid destructive climate change. He clarified this position in Essays of a Humanist (1964):

“Man is not merely the latest dominant type produced by evolution, but its sole active agent on earth. His destiny is to be responsible for the whole future of the evolutionary process on this planet. . . This is the gist and core of Evolutionary Humanism, the new organization of ideas and potential action now emerging from the present revolution of thought, and destined, I prophesy with confidence, to become the dominant idea-system of the new phase of psychosocial evolution”.

“The world has become one de facto. It must achieve some unification of thought if it is to avoid disaster. . . and this can only come about with the aid of education. We must remember that two-fifths of the world’s adult population. . . are still illiterate, that the world’s provision for education at all levels is lamentably inadequate, and that the underdeveloped countries are all clamorously demanding more and better education. . . make no mistake, the basic task before the educational profession today is to study and understand the evolutionary humanist revolution in all its ramifications, to follow up its educational implications, and to enable as many as possible of the world’s growing minds to be illuminated by its new view of human destiny”.

Giordano Bruno summarises the ethical foundation of evolutionary humanism as the principle of equal consideration of equal-ranking interests. 

“Therefore, discriminating ideologies such as racism, sexism, ethnocentrism or speciesism, as well as social Darwinist or eugenic concepts, which occasionally have been advocated by evolutionary theorists, are incompatible with evolutionary humanism. The starting point is that as children of evolution, we too are just “life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live” (Albert Schweitzer).  Evolutionary humanists advocate values of enlightenment, critical rationality, self-determination, freedom and social justice. They do not view human beings as the pinnacle of creation, but as the unintended product of natural evolution, different only by degree, not fundamentally, from the other life forms on this speck of dust in space”.

An educational blueprint for evolutionary humanism had emerged from Huxley’s experience of wildlife inhabiting the small islands off the west coast of Wales  In 1934 he had directed a short film about a colony of Northern Gannets on the tiny rocky island of Grassholm. It received a special mention at the 3rd Venice International Film Festival in 1935 and won the Best Short Subject (One-Reel) at the 10th Academy Awards in 1938.  Huxley, had enlisted some of the top figures in the British scientific and cinematic world for what is classed by many as the world’s first natural history documentary. The title was chosen by producer Alexander Korda as a reference to The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), his breakthrough film of the previous year.

The wildlife status of the Welsh islands as national biodiversity hotspots highlighted their educational value to Huxley as ingredients for the practical development of his evolutionary humanism.  To this end he attempted to influence the adoption of a holistic educational programme for the islands. As President of the Pembrokeshire Bird Protection Society after the 2nd World War, he explained his wish that the Society should broaden the basis of its work to include botany, zoology, geology and archaeology in addition to the study of bird life and the interests of the West Wales countryside in general. To these ends his proposal that the Society be called the West Wales Field Society was unanimously adopted. Following on from this the Society’s Council decided adopt Huxley’s holistic approach, which requires a corresponding pedagogical atmosphere and practice, by renting the island of Skomer for a while. The base was to be at Skomer Island House, with a small seasonal staff consisting of an honorary warden, a married couple to act as boatman and cook, and a succession of students.  This model was actually tested on Skomer from Spring to Autumn in 1946. An account of the project was published four years later as ‘Island of Skomer’, edited by two Council Members, John Buxton and Ronald Lockley. Julian Huxley’s interdisciplinary thinking is evident in the team of experts that was assembled and their contributions listed in the following table of contents.  

Description and History;The Move to Skomer; Settling Down to Work; The Flora; Spring Migration; Land-birds; The Petrels; The Auks; Gulls and Cormorants; Small Mammals; The Atlantic Seal; Marine Biology; Autumn Migration; Last Days at Skomer;The Rock Types of Skomer;The Flora of Skomer; The Birds of Skomer; The Lepidoptera of Skomer; Marine List of Skomer; Measurements and Movements, etc., of Voles and Wood-mice; Contents of Barn Owl Pellets. 

The holistic geographical scope of the Skomer initiative was indicated by the choice of an introductory quotation from Michael Drayton’s poem Poly-Olbion, an expansive poetic journey through the landscape, history, traditions and customs of early modern England and Wales, published in the first decades of the 17th cent. The quotation referred to the St Brides seascape where  the Welsh Islands nestled in the fierce tidal races; Scalme is Skomer. It is a reminder that Huxley saw no barriers between the arts and sciences.

“Scalme, Stockolme with Saint Bride and Gatholme, neerer land 

(which with their veinie breasts intice the gods of Sea,

 that with the lustie Isles doe revell every day) 

As Crescent-like the Land her bredth here inward bends”

Michael drayton Poly-olbion Song 5

Sadly, there is no mention of education in ‘Island 0f Skomer’ and there was no follow up. Due largely its international importance for the study of bird life, the island became a national nature reserve in 1959 and Huxley dedicated much of his latter days to the cause of UNESCO, which sought to increase educational and cultural opportunities for people throughout the world. In this global context Huxley made an explicit connection between his educational advocacy and his humanistic worldview. It was not until the 1970s that this vision for Skomer was revisited through the efforts of Denis Bellamy, then a University of Wales Professor of Zoology in Cardiff, who ran year on year project-based field courses for his students on Skomer.  This episode is summarised in a previous blog.

In our private lives today we are not far from the Grassholm Gannets as they squabble over territory, perform spectacular dives and regurgitate fish mixed with waste plastic for their young. Sadly, after five decades of humankind’s rapacious occupation of Earth, evolutionary humanism remains on the periphery of education for living sustainably. It is the purpose of this blog to bring Huxley’s pedagogy to the centre of debate about the kind of holistic education necessary to adapt to global warming.

3 Towards a democratic ecopedagogy. 

Education provides the means of social adaptation with the goal of developing people to their fullest capacity, intelligence and freedom.  This goal informs the three basic strands of educational activity, which are:

  • to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to function in society;
  • to discover and cultivate the specific ‘hidden’ talents in the individual students;
  • to awaken a deeper interest in and concern for the wholeness of life.

There is little question that the field of education is currently in need of an in-depth revision which requires that all three strands now have to be plaited together to meet the urgent task of moving to a carbon neutral economy in the next 50 years.  An understanding of the wholeness of life of life is essential to devize plans and policies to meet this target.

Since the 1960s, globalization has accelerated the mingling of peoples and cultures.  The movement of people is now a simple fact of life along with the diversity and change that come with it.  But for reasons that seem to fuse insecurity with fear, some people do not like this, which has triggered the rise of populism.  Populist leaders attract the votes of people who do not want to adapt to change and want the world to return to the past; their mission is to return to the imagined glories of the nation state and push us into a chaotic, ugly future we cannot yet imagine. Running in parallel is the rapid development of information technology. This has multiplied opportunities for rapprochement and social interaction but has also exacerbated misunderstandings and expressions of discontent, whilst climate change and the depletion of natural resources have contributed to a hardening of national economic positions. economic globalization that undermines our sovereign states and local communities. Have we not had enough exploiting of the world’s resources, including ourselves as “human resources under the public and private sectors?  But there are three key sectors in society, not two. The other one is known by a variety of inadequate labels, including “not-for- profit” and “civil society”. Calling it plural can help it take its place alongside the ones called public and private, while indicating that it is made up of a wide variety of human associations.

Within the plural sector  globalization is no longer about “contacts” but about “sharing”. The global human community has become more self-aware. It has developed closer ties; time and space have contracted; different peoples are increasingly in contact with one another; cultures entwine and identities intermingle. All countries are actors in a single irreversible globalization process in which all must be able to participate equally. In this context, building an international community to combat global warming surely requires more than fostering mutual tolerance, respect or understanding. We need deeper cooperation and a stronger reconciliation pursued through common projects that may be seen as a preamble to a mutual understanding and equality of wealth and opportunity.  These changes call for the working out of a new humanism that is not only theoretical but practical, that is not only focused on the search for environmental values but oriented towards the implementation of concrete policies and programmes that have tangible results. Sustainability is now the greatest challenge facing humanity, but the current educational system perpetuates rather than alleviates the threats. Classrooms need to bring together students from humanities and sciences, engaging them in a common and critical humanistic dialogue. Above all, teachers and students should be networked globally.  

Being a humanist today means building bridges between North, South, East and West and strengthening the human community to take up global challenges together. It means encouraging scientific cooperation networks, establishing research centres, and disseminating information technology to accelerate the sharing of ideas. It means using culture, in all of its diversity of expression, as a tool for rapprochement and for crafting a shared vision of one planet living.  The Global Footprint Network states that humanity, as a collective, currently uses the equivalent of more than one planet to provide the common resources people across the world use. It currently takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what human beings use in a year. Therefore, this new humanism has to be oriented towards one planet living. It has to reach out to peoples, near or far who have been struck by disasters. It must guide us also in supporting the development of the poorest countries. In particular, education, communication, culture and the sciences are closely-linked disciplines that propose together a global, sustainable response to the challenges of global warming.  A new humanism means cultivating a better grasp of our environment by understanding and anticipating the consequences of climate change for millions of people affected by drought, desertification and rising water levels. It entails protecting biodiversity along with cultural divethe domain of the plural sector, which is not some “them”, but you, and me, and we, acting together. We need to engage in social movements and social initiatives that challenge destructive practices and replace them with constructive ones. We need not be passive human resources, in the service of imbalance, but can be resourceful human beings, in the service of our progeny and our planet.

Regarding the main principles of a humanistic democratic pedagogy, special attention has to be given to shift the focus from previous teacher-fronted classrooms to guide the classroom experience towards developing and maintaining good relationships, showing concern and support for others, and receiving these as well. Humanism is a special type of person to person interaction, consisting of sharing, caring, acceptance, and sensitivity. It facilitates understanding, genuineness, support and interdependence. Humanistic education is a way of relating teacher and student that emphasizes self-discovery, introspection, self-esteem, and getting in touch with the strengths and positive qualities of others and ourselves. It lets learning be concerned more for others and ourselves. To achieve these objectives the humanistic approach places a great deal of emphasis on students’ choice and control over the course of their education. Teachers become facilitators and students learn from each other. They are encouraged to make choices that range from day-to-day activities to setting future life goals.

By students drawing on their strengths and using examples related to climate change, sustainability may be described as an educational paradigm shift that releases individual potential to participate in a sustainability an environmental revolution of equalities and economics. Practical outcomes of this democratic shift would empower students to challenge the status quo, reject dominant practices driving year on year economic growth and rather than assume existing positions in society, take the lead in creating a better world.  It was in this context that ecopedagogy grew from discussions at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to formulate a mission for education that universally integrates an ecological ethic. Drawing from critical pedagogy, it encourages students to question dominating beliefs and practice to achieve a critical consciousness in a continuous process of unlearning, learning and relearning, and evaluation and reflection brought to bear on a future-oriented ecological vision. Ecopedagogy embraces environmental education but also engages students in a philosophical reflection on the ends and purposes of knowledge by challenging them to develop concrete actions. It forges an appreciation for the collective potentials of being human, empowering people to do good deeds by combining social activism with global awareness.   

4 A democratic pedagogy for climate action

The concepts of choice and control are at the heart of democratic education. Choice, the ability to have autonomy in the direction of one’s own educational path, and control, the ability to decide how to approach major educational needs, are the two main principles of democratic education.

In Europe, and in the Western World, a democratic pedagogy operates within  a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, where the student builds their own knowledge being facilitated by the teacher. In the Eastern world a classic top down teacher-dominated approach to education is favoured.  A willingness to express emerging thoughts is also paramount in a constructivist process and in doing so students are encouraged to share their own perspectives whilst engaging in dialogue. This sharing of perspectives is necessary as students are asked to complete a common goal in a cooperative task. Through face to face interaction ‘a classroom of many voices and ears’ is promoted (Fig 1,Table 1).

Fig 1 Dynamics of a democratic pedagogy

There are obvious links between cooperative learning classrooms and democratic classrooms. For a start, willingness to listen is certainly promoted in the cooperative classroom. Cooperative learning requires students to listen to each other whilst they work, in cooperation, on their individual tasks or whilst participating in their allocated cooperative role (individual accountability). When completing their own task and needing to explain this to others who listen and respond also helps develop this sense of a group. They as also become positively interdependent when trying to complete the common goal using their own individual contributions 

It is the ‘deliberate dialogues’ and the promotion of certain attitudes or ways of looking at the world (a democracy stance) that help to positively influence students to learn about democracy. In a cooperative classroom, teachers strive to encourage students to form their own opinions but also acknowledge that others may hold different standpoints. This is possible as students are encouraged in such classrooms to share their different views, in order to complete the common goal the class is striving to reach. They complete work together making choices due to their positive interdependence.

Table 1  Cooperative learning in a democratic classroom

Crucial to the development of a democratic pedagogy for climate action is an understanding of biodiversity hotspots.   Within science, a biodiversity hotspot is a place with significant levels of endemic species diversity that is threatened by human habitation.  The Welsh islands are biodiversity hotspots in a local context.

From a global viewpoint, Norman Myers described hotspots as ecoregions and wrote about the concept with two articles in “The Environmentalist” (1988) and 1990).  The global dimension was revised after thorough analysis by Myers and others and published in “Hotspots: Earth’s Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions”. Also, a paper was published in the journal Nature.  To qualify as a biodiversity hotspot on Myers 2000 edition of the hotspot-map, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 0.5% or 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemics, and it has to have lost at least 70% of its primary vegetation.  Around the world, 36 areas qualify under this definition of a global biodiversity hotspot (Fig 2 ). These sites support nearly 60% of the world’s plant, bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species, with a very high share of those species as endemics. Some of these hotspots support up to 15,000 endemic plant species and some have lost up to 95% of their natural habitat.

Fig 2 Regional biodiversity hotspots

Global biodiversity hotspots host their diverse ecosystems on just 2.3% of the planet’s surface, however, the area defined as hotspots covers a much larger proportion of the land. The original 25 hotspots covered 11.8% of the land surface area.  Overall, the current hotspots cover more than 15.7% of the land surface area, but have lost around 85% of their habitat. This loss of habitat explains why approximately 60% of the world’s terrestrial life lives on only 2.3% of the land surface area.

Direct contact with biodiversity and a better understanding of its evolutionary importance and threats are essential to raise public awareness and engagement in community-driven biodiversity conservation and monitoring programs.  Most of the world’s population lives in urban areas and has a decreasing direct contact with nature within large terrestrial regions, limiting the efficacy of education towards environmental and biodiversity awareness. From this point of view, hands-on activities in smaller proximity habitats may help to overcome this gap by providing experiences to enhance ecological literacy and active participation in wildlife conservation.  In this connection, a wider range of small places with locally rare high species diversity are available as educational resources defined as, ‘water-bounded islands’, and ‘habitat fragments’, The latter are the remains of ancient habitats with significant levels of biodiversity that is still threatened by human activities. They include a variety of local public nature sites ranging from national nature reserves to locally managed community areas.  Such places are locally special and in need of management, so drawing the public into wildlife conservation conservation.  

A fourth kind of biodiversity hotspot is the ‘cultural island’, which could be a garden, a tree-lined avenue or a collection of potted plants on a windowsill, all augmented with a database as to the geographical origin and character of their species.  In his introduction to the 1961 anthology The Humanist Frame, Huxley wrote:

“This new idea-system, whose birth we of the mid-twentieth century are witnessing, I shall simply callHumanism, because it can only be based on our understanding of man and his relations with the rest of his environment. It must be focused on man as an organism, though one with unique properties. It must be organized around the facts and ideas of evolution, taking account of the discovery that man is part of a comprehensive evolutionary process, and cannot avoid playing a decisive role in it”.

Cultural islands provide urban schools and residents with opportunities for the application of citizen science to realise that humankind is part of a comprehensive evolutionary process  and shift thinking from a human-centered urban jungle to a life-centered ecological worldview.  There are new possibilities for knowledge, passion and action as three dimensions of this shift.  Humanism and ecology are not two separate and unconnected worlds. There are in fact many learning pathways to and from small biodiversity hotspots of all sizes to a syllabus for climate action, which sets humanity on the road to a zero carbon economy (Fig 3 ).

Fig 3 Learning pathways to global warming    

For example, studying a group of diverse species of potted plants on a windowsill can be a practical entry point to understand how evolution has made a species distinctive. It can also be a doorway into a comprehensive syllabus about global warming (Fig 4).  They can also function as climate change indicators (Fig 5). The basic pedagogy is to work from the specific to the general. Starting with questions arising from an awareness of, say, the morphological differences between the species could lead to an investigation of their survival strategies in evolution and the impact of global warming on their natural habitat.

Fig 4 Position of a biodiversity island in a global warming syllabus

At this point it is worth considering the idea of islands’ as special places where Huxley’s evolutionary humanism can at last become an educational reality.    

Fig 5 Local botanical indicators of climate change

5 Google Classroom for humanists

Education has long gone digital. Educators successfully use online platforms to exchange feedback with their students, share assignments, plan their lessons or check for plagiarism. One of such platforms is Google Сlassroom. Google Classroom is a reliable tool for classroom management. It is a special platform for student assessment, grading and teacher-student communication which helps all participants of the learning process to achieve better results, connecting all different Google services together to help teachers and institutions go paperless. Assignments are created through Google Drive. Gmail is used for classroom communication. 

There are some important features of Google Classroom which can be used by both teachers and students for better learning and interaction.

  • Grading. Google Classroom can work with different grading systems. Teachers are able to attach assignments in text files which students can view, edit and copy. Students can create files as well. They can attach their files to the assignment if it wasn’t done by the teacher. Instructors have a possibility to monitor the progress of each student working on the assignment. They can also comment and edit it.
  • Assignments. Teachers store assignments in Google Class and share it with students. Files are stored on students’ drive and then submitted when they are ready.
  • Communication. Teachers can post announcements for students and students can comment on them. Students can also post class streams, but their posts won’t have the same priority level as announcements.

Using Google Classroom can save teachers and students’ time and make the learning process more effective. High technology and understandable interface enable teachers to work much easier, so they can concentrate on their work and the main target of the course instead of concentrating on solving minor problems such as printing and sharing assignments or explaining material to each student individually. This can also significantly decrease costs for further improvement of the learning process.

Students control their own learning process, and they lead the way by reflecting on their experiences. This process makes them experts of their own learning. The teacher helps create situations where the students feel safe questioning and reflecting on their own processes, either privately or in group discussions. The teacher should also create activities that lead the student to reflect on his or her prior knowledge and experiences. Talking about what was learned and how it was learned is really important.

The constructivist classroom relies heavily on collaboration among students. There are many reasons why collaboration contributes to learning. The main reason it is used so much in constructivism is that students learn about learning not only from themselves, but also from their peers. When students review and reflect on their learning processes together, they can pick up strategies and methods from one another.

An old adage states: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” The last part of this statement is the essence of inquiry-based learning.  Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding. Furthermore, involvement in learning implies possessing skills and attitudes that permit you to seek resolutions to questions and issues while you construct.  The main activity in a constructivist classroom is solving problems. Students use inquiry methods to ask questions, investigate a topic, and use a variety of resources to find solutions and answers. As students explore the topic, they draw conclusions, and, as exploration continues, they revisit those conclusions. Exploration of questions leads to more questions. (See the CONCEPT TO CLASSROOM workshop Inquiry-based Learning)

6 The Skomer Classroom

There are many benefits from using Google Classroom:

  • Is easy to set up – Teachers can add students directly or share a code with their class to join. It takes just a few minutes to set up.
  • Saves time – The simple, paperless assignment workflow allows teachers to create, review and mark assignments quickly, all in one place.
  • Improves organisation – Students can see all of their assignments on the assignments page, while all class materials (e.g. documents, photos, videos) are automatically filed into folders in Google Drive.
  • Enhances communication – Classroom allows teachers to send announcements and start class discussions instantly. Students can share resources with one another or provide answers to questions on the stream.
  • Promotes home-based lifelong learning
  • Is affordable and secure – Like the rest of G Suite for Education services, Classroom contains no ads, never uses your content or student data for advertising purposes, and is free.
  • It allows the teacher to function as a facilitator and the students to cooperate in a democratic manner.

The latter benefit points towards the potential of Google Classroom to deliver humanistic education. The Humanistic approach emphasises the student’s personal freedom, their choices, motivation, self-determination and personal goals.  In order for this approach to thrive, it is crucial that a safe learning environment is provided to the students, based on empathy, warmth and acceptance of different viewpoints by the teacher. In this approach, the teacher acts as a facilitator while the student is in control of their learning; learning either individually or by cooperation with other students. Classroom enables face-to-face interactions, either in one-on-one interactions, or in small groups, and holds the student accountable for the learning process. This democratic constructivist pedagogy allows students to acquire academic, personal and life skills through understanding and viewing the world in a holistic way. Can this be encouraged by setting up Skomer as a digital ‘knowledge island’ for learning about evolutionary enriching humanism using Google classroom?  A menu offering student choice is the table of contents made for navigating ‘Island of Skomer’, updated as a digital library. How this might appear to a student is presented in Figs 6 & 7 .

Fig 6 The Skomer Classroom: screenshot of the introductory window


This digital classroom for lifelong learning has been produced by INTERNATIONAL CLASSROOMS ON LINE (ICOL) to illustrate the cross curricular subject of CULTURAL ECOLOGY. It is also an introduction to the pedagogy of humanistic education where the teacher functions as a mentor/guide and students are self directed and use IT to learn from each other. This education management system allows each individual to explore topics and subjects, based on their inherent aptitudes to learn through discovery and interconnection. With 2 Topics and 3 Assignments the aim is for each learner to build a personal body of knowledge that makes sense to them.Therefore there is no need for grading or a third party assessment. The new body of knowledge is to be presented as a Google website for the benefit of others.

Fig 7 The Skomer Classroom: screenshot of the classwork window


Reading assignment

Skomer: the island

Skomer in material terms is a tiny offshore island situated at the extreme South Western edge of Wales. The island is essentially a cliff-girt plateau about 200 ft above the sea, which was first occupied by a small group of prehistoric Celtic farmers. These pioneering families have left their mark to this day in a network of field walls, tracks, cairns and the bases of round houses that are now scarcely visible in a wilderness of bracken. A website was created as a tribute to these people living on the edge of a world and was launched in 1999 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the island being declared a national nature reserve.

Skomer Island quickly enters the imagination as a good place to be. It reminds us more than ‘environment’ that ‘place’ exists only after people have imagined it, either through personal contact or by assimilating other people’s experiences. These special imaginative structures of the Earth like Skomer foster a sense of belonging and unify land with its past and present peoples in powerful ways. They are places of wonderment and are the essence of conservation because they enable us to come to value the biophysical elements of scenery as visual triggers to relive the past use of land as a real or imagined spiritual experience.

Islands occupy a special place in our mythologies, often as the scene of mysterious or extraordinary occurrences. Being cut off from the rest of the world, they are often depicted as sanctuaries where human contact can be fled and danger escaped, or as places of seclusion, where atonement or redemption may be sought. This is why they are powerful dreamy places of self-education.

S.K.O.M.E.R: the concept

Through the imaginative transformation of ‘space’ to ‘environment’ and ‘environment’ to ‘place’ we enter the educational realm of ‘cultural ecology’. This is an interdisciplinary, social concept, which contrasts the old sustainable relations of people to the land with the present-day worldwide scramble for scarce natural resources and the global environmental damage of unsustainable mass production. These days, everyone has their own mind map of cultural ecology, whereby sustainability knowledge is organised to manage the environment responsibly. These personal projects under the acronym S.K.O.M.E.R chart the behavioural changes in the way the flows of materials and ideas between people, ecology and place are managed for smooth social continuity between generations.

These life projects define an individual’s place in society as the interactions between:

‘goods’: a human resource, managed scientifically for food, protection, wealth, recreation and knowledge; ‘nature’: a biophysical ecosystem consisting of habitats and species; and

‘notions’: personal spiritual experiences communicated in words, music and pictures.

A mindmap was created to celebrate the island’s 55th anniversary, in 2014. This presents the wider lessons of SKOMER’s ecology as a conservation management system alongside S.K.O.M.E.R. as a cross- subject educational framework in cultural ecology.

It is part of the COSMOS project , a web educational resource dedicated to learning about cultures of sustainability by making multi-subject organised syllabuses.

The unifying concept is ‘environmental management’, which encompasses environmental knowledge as a mind map linking goods, nature and notions through the operation of the basic human cultural systems of ‘food’, ‘shelter’, ‘possessions’, ‘roots’ and ‘beauty’.


7 Postscript

Education is evolving at a faster pace than any other period in recent history. There’s a growing awareness among educators and families that today’s curriculum needs to evolve to meet tomorrow’s reality. Beyond tools and technology, students need to develop new skills to solve tough problems, collaborate effectively, and express ideas in new ways,

A new report from Google for Education has revealed eight education trends across the world.

You might also like: Gartner report reveals top 10 strategic technologies impacting HE

The report, created in collaboration with behavioural insights consultancy Canvas8, also details three of the trends most prominent in the UK’s primary and secondary schools.

The eight key education trends are:

  • Digital responsibility
  • Life skills and workforce preparation
  • Innovating pedagogy
  • Computational thinking
  • Student-led learning
  • Collaborative classrooms
  • Connecting guardians and schools
  • Emerging technologies

The report is based on an extensive research project which included an academic literature review, expert interviews with global and country-specific education thought leaders, and media narrative analysis including policy research and teacher surveys. The global report is available here, and the UK report here.

In modern times, humanist movements are typically non-religious and aligned with secularism, and today humanism may refer to a nontheistic life stance centred on human agency and looking to science rather than seeking revelation from a supernatural source to understand the world.  Many humanists posit the existence of a community that binds every individual to all other living things. Now, more than ever before, the task of educators is to work towards building this ideal ecosystem. Crises connected to global warming raise challenges that cannot be resolved by any single country. Societies are interconnected and cannot act in isolation. It is up to every one of us to help bind humanity together, to build a common knowledge space that excludes no one, regardless of the continent, origin, age or gender. Through communication, through language and dialogue, through scientific cooperation, we can extend beyond the limits of ourselves, we can broaden our knowledge, discover other customs, and enter the ideal city of the peaceable mind.  These are the stakes of this new humanism.

8 Internet references

Provisional syllabus about global warming

Global warming mindmap 1

UNESCO: Purpose and Philosophy, Julian Huxley

UNESCO: New Humanism for 21st cent

Evolutionary humanism 1999

Biodiversity hotspots for kids

Google Classrooms 1

Google Classrooms 2

Conserving biodiversity in the Canary Isles

Resources for creative students

Pedagogy for a holistic education

The path of self knowledge

Cultural ecology

The Scope of Zoology

Bird’s-eye ecological microcosms

Spring bulb project for charting climate change

International Classrooms On Line

Twitter feed