Learning Circularity With SIDS

1 Making Education Relevant

Circularity, is an economic model that follows the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It is a more relevant education concept for the future than linearity, which follows the dominant common economy of Take, Make and Dump.  The transition to a circular economy will require a qualified workforce with specific and sometimes new skills, with opportunities for employment and social dialogue around conservation management. If the right skills are to be developed, they will have to support job creation in the green economy at all levels of education and training. 

Fig 1 Entropy

In particular, if small island developing states (SIDS) are to improve the quality of life of their citizens and achieve sustainable long term development of wellbeing, education has to be made relevant to their future in a post-2030 circular economy.   Education is not an independent discipline, but is intimately connected with the functioning of society, with its porous boundaries of history, economics and politics. For example, education systems in small island states are commonly legacies of old colonial powers.  As such they are dominated by external summative examinations that drive a top-down subject-dominated didactic pedagogy. This legacy is irrelevant for promoting  sustainable low and non-chemical development in small Island states (the Green Forum’s ISLANDS acronym).  Here entropy is a relative lifecycle measure of the energetic efficiency of maintaining the utility of products and services, or reusing the constituent materials (Fig 1).

The beginning of the global environmental crisis in the eighties marked an important turning point for educational design. Paralysed for too long by the failures in relevance of centralised and standard-setting approaches, a few researchers and practitioners seem to have been imbued with a new spirit of educational reform.  It was characterised by flexibility of approaches, enhancement of participatory processes, and adoption of objectives that were no doubt less ambitious, but more pragmatic. In response to this movement for educational reform, which promoted systems thinking about the environment, the University of Cambridge launched a new interdisciplinary subject for their International GCSE entitled ‘Natural Economy.’  Dealing with the organisation of nature for production, the subject was to stand alongside Political Economy (the organisation of people for production).  

Natural Economy was taken up by some International Schools but proved too radical for most institutions in the 1980’s when developing national state curricula were given a political boost.  However, Namibia adopted natural economy wholeheartedly, where for a while it replaced Biology and Geography.  Part of the problem was the novel, off beam concept of strategic  classroom piloting, where, by encouraging independent thinking, teachers had to become  mentors, guiding each student to plan and build their own body of knowledge,  It was only in 2020 that UK teachers began to deliver a personalised national curriculum.  This happened in Wales, where the pedagogy became fully inclusive of humanism in 2002-3.  Welsh state schools are now empowered to design their own bottom up curricula, tailored to each individual learner’s needs, while supporting their social wellbeing.  

With the advent of the Internet, Natural Economy was renamed ‘Cultural Ecology’ and is now freely available as a flexible, on line ideational scaffold for individualised distance learning. It is not a subject but a cross cultural knowledge management system, a mind map for learners to customise. It is an holistic syllabus. The concept of circularity accommodates a body of inter connected knowledge from rusting of metal  to wrinkling of skin. The central cultural pillars are  ‘people’, ’ecology’, ‘place’, which articulate three socioeconomic actions for tackling climate change, ‘eliminate waste and pollution’, ‘circulate products and materials at their highest value’, ‘regenerate nature’.  Waste in this context is the central feature of urban ecosystems dominated by cultural, political, and material relationships.  Therefore, Cultural Ecology provides a flexible, interdisciplinary toolkit to help individuals and organisations transition to a circular economy.  They embrace learning and innovating to apply what they’ve learned in the real world of work and home. However, cultural ecology is only one of many frameworks that could express the needs of localism. For example, the UK’s Royal Society of Art’s Area Based Curriculum indicates that the important thing is for schools to develop a ‘local school curriculum’ in partnership with the communities they serve.

2  The quest For Circularity

Regarding the SIDS, each island is a unique  expression of ecology and culture.  Education at all levels should reflect this diversity,  However, what all islands have in common is their quest for circularity to manage physical wastes, such as plastics, used oil, end-of-life vehicles and e-waste. Solid waste includes garbage, construction debris, commercial refuse, sludge from water supply or waste treatment plants.  Solid waste can come from industrial, commercial, mining, or agricultural operations, and from household and community activities (Fig 2).

Fig 2  Diagram of a cross curricular knowledge management system for wastes

  The transition to a circular economy is based on three kinds of conservation management plans;

  • eliminate waste and pollution;
  • circulate products and materials at their highest value,
  • and regenerate nature.

How circularity operates is dependent on how individuals and organisations learn to innovate and apply what they’ve learned in the real world, which is driven by design. A circular economy moves away from the ‘take-make-consume-dispose’ model to one in which products and materials are maintained in circulation for as long as possible, and waste and resource use are minimised.  In a circular economy this approach is built into the product life cycle from the beginning, starting with the choice and quantities of materials used and the design of products that minimises their impact on the environment both during their production and their use. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, “growth” in a circular economy is decoupled from the constant consumption of finite resources. It places a higher value on quality and service rather than disposable goods and it involves sharing, repairing, reusing and recycling existing materials while encouraging the regeneration of natural systems and the adoption of a gifting society.

3 The Green Forum

This international forum is managed by the Green Growth Knowledge Partnership (GGKP) – a global community of organisations and experts committed to collaboratively generating, managing, and sharing green growth knowledge. Led by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the World Bank Group, GGKP draws together more than 75 partner organisations.

The Green Forum is an open, online interactive community space for professionals to share and discuss insights in the pursuit of a sustainable economic transition. The Forum includes discussions on global topics and the ability for users to create dedicated groups focused on specific themes, initiatives, and projects.  In addition to posting the latest events, opportunities, and blogs in relevant fields, there are also Discussions and Groups that host focused dialogues based on community interest and demand. 

4 The  ISLANDS Knowledge System

The Green Forum is the virtual space for Implementing Sustainable Low and Non-Chemical Development in Small Island States (the acronym is ISLANDS). ISLANDS supports thirty-three Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Oceans to pursue safe chemical development pathways.

The overarching objectives of ISLANDS are to:

  • prevent the build-up of materials and chemicals in the environment that contain harmful chemicals in SIDS;
  • and soundly manage and dispose of existing harmful chemicals and materials in SIDS.

ISLANDS seeks to address the sound management of chemicals and waste through:

  1. strengthening the capacity of sub-national, national, and regional institutions,
  2. strengthening the enabling policy and regulatory framework in these countries,
  3.  and unlocking resources for implementation measures.

It is a virtual space to learn about the ISLANDS Programme and to link with colleagues in all SIDS regions. The Coordination, Communication and Knowledge Management project (CCKM) coordinates this space as well as the Plastics, End-of-Life Vehicles, E-Waste and Used Oil groups.  

‘Learning Circularity With SIDS’ is an educational sub division of the ISLANDS group in the Green Forum, where information about circularity  is exchanged as posts and links to URLs. The aim is to create a knowledge management system to connect people across the globe who are making action plans to adopt circularity  with a green growth economy.  Green growth means fostering growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which a country’s well-being relies.  Bringing circularity to the center of learning at all levels in SIDS is of increasing importance if these countries are to thrive.  Therefore SIDS may be regarded as Eco Learning Centres.  They are digital spaces where people of all ages, working across disciplines and environments, go to exchange knowledge, experiences and ideas about how to build a place-based body of knowledge for life pro 2030.  The objective of Learning Circularity With SIDS as an ISLANDS sub group is to help them design their particular bit of planet Earth for sustainable circularity, applying the suite of free Google tools for learners to communicate their learning experience in the form of documents, websites and blogs.

SIDS as a network of ECO-learning Centres (ELCs) is a new idea. They are digital spaces for individuals, community groups/schools, specialists, businesses, young people, officials and elected representatives to marshall green skills and curricular improvements.  The objective is to create connections with peers and experts learning how to apply their knowledge to design and manage a waste-free environment, identifying governance challenges and business opportunities . ELCs have holistic, flexible pedagogies to frame circularity within and between cultures and their diverse ecologies.  In this wider view, they also present ideas and achievements from all small areas designed sustainably (SADS) e.g.biosphere reserves.  The mission of ‘Learning Circularity With SIDS’ is to create a global education network of SIDS-based school/community centres for lifelong learning about how to manage local ecosystem services to live sustainably. They function on the principle that knowledge is wealth.

A few words of caution from the educational teformer, Tim Oates. We need to look at resilience in exams, the balance of forms of assessment, student well-being and the way in which we report attainment.  But moving prematurely to major system reform would be a huge mistake. We should be very cautious about formulating new arrangements before we know what the post pandemic world and education scene looks like. In particular, we need  to understand the real character of remote learning and of the novel national assessment arrangements, then work out the means of establishing stable national standards. “Let’s avoid the cycle of planned failure, not lapse into it”

5 Eco Learning Networks

The following propositions from David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa highlight what they think is distinctive and hopeful about environmental education within SIDS as ‘islands for hope’. 

1  environmental education initiatives on islands are markedly eclectic in their rich blending of practice from within the different school/community localities. 

2  Environmental education on different islands, especially in the Pacific, is marked by a return to indigenous, community-based learning. 

3 There is a distinctive island pedagogy regarding  the greater weighting given to relational, socio-affective and action-orientated learning about circular economies. 

4 There is a paucity of inter-island cosmopolitan dialogue.  Questions are asked about how to ensure islanders, steeped in learning about place, can be brought to connect with the global culture of mass consumerism and its environmental impact. 

5 The frequency of cross-curricular, interdisciplinary, even trans-disciplinary framing of environmental education initiatives is identified as bringing a distinctive syllabus and curriculum of hope to island practice. 

These educational propositions reject the idea of an open, ever-expanding economy, which inevitably depletes Earth’s finite natural resources every time we create something, leaving behind waste and toxicity when we dump it or burn it. The hope of education for conservation is that by encouraging a circular way of thinking  we repair and reuse as much as we can, and remanufacture and recycle to save resources, reduce waste, and reduce costs.  

The article, “The Circular Economy Runs Through Basel,” by Paul Hagen, Russ LaMotte, and Dacie Meng, discusses the emergence of the Basel Convention as the key international legal system governing anthropological relationships between culture and ecology.  This system is exemplified by the management of toxic waste set out in the Convention’s business plan for 2020-23. With this level of detailed planning and global action  the ISLANDS Green Forum created by the Convention can be a virtual classroom for developing island models to bring cultural ecology to the centre of education at all levels.  The educational aim is for young people to discuss and promote the adoption of a post-2030 circular economy, communicating  ideas and achievements for local environmental sustainability.  An eco-learning network (Fig 3) with this aim can rally and unite young people to make realistic, but dynamic change, creating positive impacts for our planet now.  It supports them by teaching the skills and knowledge needed to benefit and improve planet Earth throughout their lifetimes.  This requires a community development workforce that can support the creation of an inclusive society that encourages individuals to achieve their potential and contribute to  society and their communities. The 2030 objectives therefore are to transform learning for young people and adults by facilitating communities to identify their own needs and aspirations, take action to exert influence on the decisions which affect their lives, improve the quality of their  own lives, the communities in which they live, and societies of which they are a part.

Fig 3  An online community of practice communicating ideas and achievements to  establish a school/community Eco learning network for living sustainably

The blue field in Fig 2 represents a small island developing state which has created an online community of practice consisting of schools and the families they serve networking as an eco learning society.  Their objective is to produce and apply neighborhood action plans to promote a local closed cycle economy.  People use blogs. e.g. Google Blogger, and the Green Forum to share ideas and achievements.  They work with local governance to keep their activities in line with national initiatives and model local businesses that have adopted closed cycle practices, as educational resources.  The CCKMS is the cross curricular knowledge management system for mind mapping a school/community Eco learning network (Fig 3).

6  ‘TheBrain’ Knowledge Management System

Traditional directory trees confine information to a strict hierarchical organization and are incapable of expressing the multi-layered relationships that exist in the real world, which people think about and draw meaning from in their ordinary thought processes.

‘TheBrain’ takes the opposite approach—it enables linking information into a network of logical associations. Any piece of information can be linked to any other piece. The power of TheBrain lies in the flexibility of these links. Users can quickly create structures of information that reflect the way they think about information. With ‘TheBrain’ learners can drag and drop files from folders or folders themselves. So they don’t have to abandon their filing system but can visualize it in a manner that reflects their unique thought processes. 

With conventional mind mapping software, each map cannot practically be larger than a few hundred items. ‘TheBrain’ is designed to allow tens of thousands of items and files to be integrated into a single workspace. The software offers a dynamic, sharable visual display that is infinitely scalable (Fig 4).

Fig 4 Example of ‘TheBrain’ as across currcular knowledge management system for a conservation management curriculum

7 Internet References

Ecumenes and ecological islands

An area based curriculum

Knowledge management for  ISLANDS programme

Reform with caution

Cultural Ecology: People, Ecology; Place.

Cultural Ecology: Blog 

Cultural Ecology: Mind Map

The Green Forum

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