Author Archive

Visiting Zooland With “ChatbotGPT”

Friday, July 7th, 2023

Ten personal bodies of knowledge about animals produced by applying artificial intelligence to explore the theme “Birds of a Feather Flock Together Like Animals With Hands In Bands”.

1  Zooland*: the institution of captivity (DS)

“Zooland” is not a specific term but appears to be a fictional name or a metaphorical expression to refer to zoos or the concept of captivity for animals. Zoos are indeed institutions of captivity, where animals are kept in confined spaces for exhibition, educational purposes, and sometimes conservation efforts. This raises ethical and moral considerations regarding the welfare and well-being of the animals.

Proponents of zoos argue that they play crucial roles in education, research, and species conservation. Zoos can offer opportunities for people to learn about animals and their habitats, thereby promoting awareness and fostering support for wildlife conservation. Additionally, many zoos participate in international breeding programs for endangered species to help preserve their populations.

On the other hand, critics of zoos raise concerns about the ethical implications of confinement. They argue that some animals may suffer from stress, behavioral issues, and reduced quality of life due to limited space and lack of enrichment. Moreover, some argue that certain species are not suitable for captivity, as their natural behaviors and needs may be compromised.

Over time, many zoos have been developing to provide more naturalistic and enriching environments for their animals, focusing on animal welfare and conservation efforts. Additionally, some institutions have shifted away from traditional zoos and transformed into “sanctuaries” or “wildlife reserves” that prioritize rehabilitation and releasing animals back into the wild when possible.

As society becomes more aware of the complexities of animal welfare, the debate about the role and ethics of zoos continues. Many argue that while some aspects of zoos are beneficial, the focus should always be on the well-being of the animals and their potential for successful rehabilitation and conservation. It’s essential to continue discussing, researching, and refining the practices in zooland to strike a balance between education, conservation, and ethical treatment of animals.  From this point of view zooland provides the arena for blurring subject boundaries,

2  Blurring boundaries in zooland (NP)

Blurring subject boundaries in education refers to the breaking down of traditional disciplinary boundaries and fostering interdisciplinary approaches to learning. It involves integrating knowledge, skills, and perspectives from multiple subject areas to provide a more holistic and interconnected understanding of the world of animals.

Blurring subject boundaries has gained momentum in education due to several reasons:

  • Real-world complexity: 
  • Many real-world issues and challenges are multifaceted and do not neatly fit within a single discipline. By blurring subject boundaries, educators aim to help students develop a broader understanding of complex issues and develop critical thinking skills necessary for solving real-world problems.
  • Interconnectedness of knowledge
  •  Subjects are often taught in isolation, leading to fragmented knowledge. Blurring subject boundaries emphasizes the interconnectedness of knowledge and encourages students to make connections between different disciplines. This approach helps students see the relevance and applicability of what they learn across various subjects.
  • Fostering creativity and innovation: 
  • Combining different disciplines can spark creativity and innovation. By exposing students to diverse perspectives and approaches, they can think more creatively, solve problems from multiple angles, and develop innovative solutions.
  • Preparing students for future careers:
  • Many careers today require individuals to have a multidisciplinary skill set. By blurring subject boundaries, education can better prepare students for the workforce by equipping them with a broader range of skills and knowledge that are transferable across different domains.

There are various strategies to promote the blurring of subject boundaries in education:

  • Project-based learning: 
  • Engaging students in interdisciplinary projects or problem-solving activities that require the application of knowledge from different subjects.
  • Integrated curriculum: 
  • Designing curriculum that intentionally combines concepts and skills from different disciplines, highlighting their interconnectedness.
  • Team teaching: 
  • Encouraging collaboration among teachers from different subject areas to co-teach lessons or develop integrated units of study.

Flexible scheduling:

Allowing for longer class periods or dedicated time blocks for interdisciplinary activities, enabling in-depth exploration of topics that span multiple subjects.

  • Cross-disciplinary assessments: 
  • Evaluating student learning through assessments that require the integration of knowledge and skills from different disciplines.

Blurring subject boundaries in education can help students develop a deeper understanding of the world, enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and prepare them for the complexities of the modern world.

3  Lateral thinking in zooland (IB)

Lateral thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves thinking outside the box and exploring unconventional, creative, and unexpected solutions to challenges. It encourages individuals to break free from traditional linear thinking and consider alternative perspectives, connections, and possibilities.

The importance of lateral thinking can be summarized in the following points:

  • Encourages innovation and creativity: 
  • Lateral thinking fosters the generation of fresh ideas and innovative solutions. By exploring different angles and approaches, it allows for the discovery of unique and original concepts that can lead to breakthroughs in various fields.
  • Resolves complex problems: 
  • Many problems and challenges cannot be solved through traditional, logical thinking alone. Lateral thinking helps to tackle complex issues by uncovering hidden connections, challenging assumptions, and providing unconventional solutions that may not be immediately apparent.
  • Stimulates critical thinking: 
  • Lateral thinking pushes individuals to question assumptions, analyze situations from multiple perspectives, and evaluate different possibilities. It enhances critical thinking skills by encouraging individuals to consider diverse viewpoints and challenge established norms.
  • Enhances decision-making: 
  • Lateral thinking expands the range of options available when making decisions. By exploring alternative solutions, it allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of potential outcomes and mitigates the risk of overlooking important factors or missing out on creative opportunities.
  • Promotes adaptability and flexibility: 
  • In a rapidly changing world, the ability to adapt and think flexibly is crucial. Lateral thinking promotes adaptive thinking by encouraging individuals to embrace change, explore new ideas, and adapt their strategies and approaches to different situations.
  • Encourages collaboration and teamwork: Lateral thinking is a valuable tool for fostering collaboration and teamwork. By encouraging individuals to consider different perspectives and ideas, it promotes open communication, empathy, and a willingness to listen to others. It can lead to more effective problem-solving and better outcomes in group settings.
  • Nurtures personal growth:
  •  Lateral thinking challenges individuals to step outside their comfort zones, explore new possibilities, and expand their mental horizons. It stimulates curiosity, promotes continuous learning, and encourages individuals to develop a growth mindset, fostering personal growth and development.

In summary, lateral thinking is of great importance as it promotes innovation, helps to solve complex problems, enhances critical thinking and decision-making, fosters adaptability and collaboration, and encourages personal growth. It is a valuable skill for individuals in various domains and can lead to more creative and effective problem-solving approaches.

4  Creative thinking in zooland (SN)

Zoos can promote lateral thinking in several ways, encouraging visitors to think creatively and critically about the animals, their habitats, and conservation efforts. Lateral thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves considering unconventional ideas and generating innovative solutions. Here are some ways in which zoos can promote lateral thinking:

  • Encouraging Observation and Inquiry: 
  • Zoos provide opportunities for visitors to observe animals in naturalistic settings. Encouraging visitors to ask questions about animal behaviors, adaptations, and interactions can lead to lateral thinking as they try to understand the underlying reasons behind these observations.
  • Interactive Exhibits: 
  • Zoos may have interactive exhibits that challenge visitors to solve puzzles related to animal behavior, diet, or habitat. These hands-on experiences can spark creative thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Enrichment Activities:
  •  Many zoos implement enrichment programs to keep animals mentally stimulated. Visitors can observe enrichment activities and consider creative ways to engage the animals’ natural behaviors and intelligence.
  • Conservation Initiatives:
  •  Zoos often have conservation programs and exhibits dedicated to showcasing endangered species and the challenges they face. Encouraging visitors to think about conservation solutions, both on a local and global scale, can promote lateral thinking about environmental issues.
  • Educational Programs: 
  • Zoos typically offer educational programs and workshops that delve into animal biology, ecology, and conservation. These programs challenge participants to think critically about the complexities of ecosystems and the interdependence of species.
  • Problem-Solving Challenges:
  •  Some zoos organize problem-solving challenges or scavenger hunts, where visitors must find clues, solve puzzles, or complete tasks related to animals and conservation. These activities require creative thinking and ingenuity.
  • Encouraging Open-Ended Questions: 
  • Zoo staff and educators can encourage open-ended questioning during guided tours or presentations. By asking questions that don’t have straightforward answers, visitors are encouraged to explore different possibilities and think laterally.
  • Art and Storytelling:
  •  Zoos can also incorporate artistic exhibits or storytelling activities related to animals and their habitats. These experiences can spark visitors’ imaginations and encourage them to think creatively about the animal world.
  • Collaborative Activities:
  •  Zoos can design group activities that require collaboration and brainstorming among visitors. By engaging in discussions and exchanging ideas, visitors can develop lateral thinking skills.

By incorporating these elements into their exhibits and educational programs, zoos can encourage visitors to think outside the box, fostering a deeper understanding of wildlife and the importance of conservation.

5  Linnaeus in zooland (DN)

Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné, was an 18th-century Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician. He is renowned for his significant contributions to the development of modern taxonomy and binomial nomenclature, which revolutionized the classification and naming of plants and animals. While Linnaeus was not primarily known as a lateral thinker, his systematic approach and innovative ideas in the field of biological classification did demonstrate certain elements of lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono, referring to a mode of thinking that seeks unconventional and creative solutions to problems. It involves approaching challenges from different angles, exploring diverse perspectives, and breaking away from traditional patterns of thought. While Linnaeus’s work was grounded in a systematic and rigorous approach, his innovative ideas and methods were certainly influential and had a transformative impact on the field of biology.

Linnaeus introduced a standardized system for naming and classifying organisms, which involved assigning two Latin names (a binomial) to each species. This system provided a consistent framework that facilitated the identification and study of plants and animals. It allowed for greater accuracy and efficiency in communication among scientists and laid the foundation for modern taxonomy.

Linnaeus’s approach can be seen as a form of lateral thinking in the sense that he challenged existing classification systems and proposed a new and more efficient method. His system was a departure from the previous cumbersome and inconsistent naming conventions. By introducing a standardized and logical approach to classification, Linnaeus demonstrated creativity and innovation in solving the problem of organizing and naming the vast diversity of living organisms.

Overall, while Linnaeus may not be explicitly considered a lateral thinker in the broader sense, his groundbreaking contributions to taxonomy showcased elements of creative problem-solving and innovative thinking. His work exemplifies how a novel and unconventional approach can lead to significant advancements in scientific understanding.

6  Feathers in zooland (RD)

Feathers are fascinating structures that have played a significant role in the evolution of various species. While feathers are most commonly associated with birds, they have a more complex evolutionary history and have been found in other organisms as well.

Feathers are believed to have originated from reptilian scales. The scales of certain reptiles, such as dinosaurs, underwent modifications over millions of years, eventually evolving into feathers. The exact steps of this evolutionary transition are still a subject of scientific study and debate, but the fossil record provides important clues.

Feathers likely evolved for different purposes throughout history. Initially, they might have served functions such as insulation, display, or even providing an aerodynamic advantage for certain reptiles. Over time, feathers became more specialized and adapted for flight, leading to the emergence of birds as we know them today

The fossil record reveals a continuum of feather-like structures in non-avian dinosaurs, suggesting a gradual evolutionary progression. These structures could have ranged from simple filaments to more complex and branching feathers. The famous Archaeopteryx, an ancient bird-like dinosaur, exhibits a combination of reptilian features and primitive feathers, representing an intermediate stage in the evolution from reptiles to birds.

Feathers have since undergone further diversification in birds. They can serve various functions such as flight, insulation, courtship displays, camouflage, and even sound production. Different bird species exhibit a wide range of feather types, including contour feathers that provide the outer form of the bird, down feathers that provide insulation, and specialized feathers like bristles or filoplumes.

In recent years, scientific discoveries have shed light on the genetic mechanisms underlying feather development. Genes such as the “feather growth gene” (SONIC HEDGEHOG, or SHH) and other regulatory genes play crucial roles in the development and patterning of feathers. Mutations or changes in these genes can lead to alterations in feather structure and appearance.

Beyond birds, feathers have been found in other groups of animals as well. For example, flightless dinosaurs like Velociraptors and Tyrannosaurs had feathers or feather-like structures. Some modern reptiles, such as certain species of lizards, have evolved structures called fringes or flaps that resemble feathers and aid in gliding or aerial maneuvering.

In summary, feathers are complex structures that have evolved over millions of years. They originated from reptilian scales and underwent various modifications to serve different functions. Feathers played a crucial role in the evolution of birds and continue to be a remarkable example of evolutionary adaptation and diversity in the animal kingdom.

7 Feather fashion in zooland (FB)

Feathers have been used for centuries in the realm of fashion and adornment. They possess qualities that make them visually appealing, luxurious, and versatile, which has led to their incorporation into various fashion practices and designs.

Throughout history, feathers have been used to create elaborate headpieces, hats, and accessories. In many cultures, feathers hold symbolic significance and are used to convey status, power, or spirituality. Native American headdresses, for example, often feature vibrant feathers as a representation of honor and valor. Feathers have also been utilized in ceremonial attire, theatrical costumes, and traditional festival garments worldwide.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the use of feathers in fashion peaked, particularly in the millinery industry. The demand for feathers, especially those from exotic birds like ostriches, herons, and egrets, led to the development of an industry known as plume hunting. This practice resulted in severe ecological consequences and the endangerment of several bird species.

In response to growing conservation concerns, laws and regulations were enacted to protect birds and restrict feather trade. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the United States, for instance, made it illegal to hunt migratory birds and sell their feathers. These regulations significantly impacted the fashion industry, leading to a decline in the use of feathers in mainstream fashion.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in feathers as a fashion statement. However, ethical considerations and sustainable sourcing have gained prominence. Many designers now prioritize using synthetic or ethically sourced feathers, or they opt for alternative materials that mimic the appearance and texture of feathers. Faux feathers made from synthetic fibers or recycled materials offer a cruelty-free and environmentally conscious option for incorporating feather-like elements into fashion.

Feathers continue to be used as accents in high fashion runway shows, red carpet events, and editorial shoots. They can add texture, movement, and a touch of extravagance to garments, accessories, and even footwear. From feather-trimmed gowns to feathered earrings or handbags, designers use feathers to create unique and visually striking pieces.

It’s worth noting that the use of feathers in fashion remains a topic of debate, particularly concerning animal welfare, conservation, and cultural appropriation. It is important for designers, consumers, and the fashion industry as a whole to be mindful of these issues and make responsible choices to ensure the ethical and sustainable use of feathers in fashion.

8 Moulting in zooland (JS)

Molting, or the process of shedding and replacing feathers, is a natural and essential part of a bird’s life cycle. Birds molt to maintain the health and functionality of their feathers, as well as to adapt to seasonal changes, breeding requirements, and other factors. Here are some key aspects of molting in birds:

  • Purpose: 
  • Molting serves several purposes for birds. It allows them to replace old or damaged feathers, ensuring the integrity of their plumage for flight, insulation, and displays. Molting also provides an opportunity for birds to change their appearance, such as acquiring more vibrant breeding plumage or camouflaging for different habitats.
  • Timing: 
  • Molting occurs at different times and frequencies depending on the species, environmental factors, and individual bird’s life stage. Many birds undergo a complete molt once a year, typically after the breeding season. However, some species, such as ducks or gulls, may have two molting periods each year. Molting can also be influenced by factors like food availability, weather conditions, and migratory patterns.
  • Feather Replacement: The molting process involves the sequential replacement of feathers. Birds shed their feathers gradually rather than all at once to maintain their ability to fly. Feathers are shed symmetrically, meaning that a bird will lose and replace feathers on both sides of its body simultaneously. New feathers grow underneath the old ones, and once the new feathers have fully developed, the old ones fall out.
  • Molting Patterns:
  • Birds exhibit different molting patterns, which can vary among species. Some birds molt all their flight feathers simultaneously, resulting in a temporary flightless period. This type of molt is known as a “catastrophic molt.” Other birds undergo a “sequential molt,” where they replace feathers gradually over a more extended period, allowing them to maintain flight capability throughout the process.
  • Molting Strategies:
  • Certain bird species employ specific molting strategies to optimize their survival and reproductive success. For example, long-distance migratory birds may time their molting to coincide with their migration, ensuring they have fresh feathers for their journey. Other birds molt before the breeding season, enabling them to acquire bright breeding plumage to attract mates.
  • Nutritional Considerations: 
  • Molting requires considerable energy and resources, so birds need proper nutrition during this period. They require a balanced diet with adequate protein and nutrients to support feather growth. Birds often increase their food intake during molting to meet these nutritional demands.
  • Molting in Captivity: 
  • Molting behavior can vary in captive birds, as factors like artificial lighting and controlled environments can influence their natural molting cycles. To support healthy molting in captive birds, it is important to provide appropriate lighting conditions, a varied and nutritious diet, and a stress-free environment.

Overall, molting is a crucial process for birds to maintain their feather quality, adapt to changing conditions, and fulfill their biological requirements. It is a fascinating aspect of avian biology that showcases the remarkable adaptability and resilience of birds.

Birds use a variety of signals to communicate with each other, and color is one of the significant ways they convey messages. Colorful plumage in birds serves several communication functions, including species recognition, mate attraction, individual recognition, social status, and territorial displays. Here are some ways in which birds use color to communicate:

  • Species Recognition: 
  • Different bird species often have distinct color patterns and combinations that aid in species recognition. This helps birds identify their own species for mating, territorial boundaries, and social interactions.
  • Mate Attraction: 
  • Many male birds develop vibrant and elaborate plumage during the breeding season to attract females. These bright colors, such as the vibrant plumage of male peacocks or the brilliant red throat patch of a male ruby-throated hummingbird, serve as signals of genetic quality, health, and reproductive fitness.
  • Female Choice: 
  • Female birds often assess male plumage colors during mate selection. They may prefer males with brighter or more intense colors, which could indicate good genetic quality or provide information about a male’s ability to acquire resources, defend territories, or provide parental care.
  • Individual Recognition: 
  • Color patterns on birds’ bodies, particularly on their heads or chests, can serve as individual recognition markers within a species. These unique colorations help birds identify and interact with specific individuals, such as mates, family members, or members of their social group.
  • Social Status and Territorial Displays: 
  • In some bird species, dominant or higher-ranking individuals may display brighter or more striking colors compared to subordinate individuals. These color signals indicate social status and can play a role in establishing dominance hierarchies or territorial boundaries. Aggressive displays involving color, such as puffing up feathers to reveal vivid patterns, can also be used to deter or intimidate rivals.
  • Warning and Signaling: Birds can use coloration as a warning signal to potential predators or competitors. Bright or contrasting colors can indicate toxicity, unpalatability, or danger. For example, some species of birds possess bright warning colors to indicate that they are poisonous or that they have defenses like stinging or biting capabilities.

It is important to note that not all bird communication relies solely on color. Birds also use vocalizations, body postures, displays, and other visual cues in combination with color to convey a complete message. The specific colors and their meaning can vary greatly among different bird species, reflecting the diversity and complexity of avian communication strategies.

9 Primates in zooland (HT)

Primates share several common characteristics that distinguish them from other mammals. Here are some of the key features and traits that primates typically have in common:

  • Forward-facing eyes:
  • Primates generally have eyes positioned at the front of their face, which allows for binocular vision and depth perception.
  • Grasping hands and feet: 
  • Primates possess hands and feet with opposable thumbs and, in many cases, opposable big toes. This adaptation enables them to grasp objects and manipulate their environment more effectively.
  • Nails instead of claws: 
  • Primates typically have flattened nails instead of sharp claws on their fingers and toes, which aids in precise gripping and dexterity.
  • Enhanced sense of touch: 
  • Primates have a highly developed sense of touch, particularly in their hands and fingers, allowing for intricate exploration and fine motor control.
  • Complex social structure:
  •  Most primates, including humans, exhibit complex social behavior and live in social groups. They engage in various forms of communication, such as vocalizations, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Large brain relative to body size: 
  • Primates generally have relatively large brains compared to other mammals of similar body size. This increased brain size is associated with higher cognitive abilities, problem-solving skills, and learning capacity.
  • Parental care and extended childhood: 
  • Primates commonly exhibit a longer period of parental care and a more extended childhood compared to other mammals. Offspring receive significant attention and learning from their parents or social group members.
  • Dietary flexibility: 
  • Primates have a diverse diet, including fruits, leaves, seeds, insects, and sometimes meat. This dietary flexibility allows them to adapt to various habitats and ecological niches.

It’s important to note that while these characteristics are typical of primates, there can be variations within the primate order, and not all primates may possess every single trait listed above.

10 Naming in zooland (SH)

Species and subspecies are concepts used to categorize and classify living organisms based on their similarities and differences. These terms are primarily used in the field of taxonomy, which is the science of classifying and naming organisms.

Species: 

A species is a fundamental unit of biological classification. It represents a group of organisms that are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring in nature. Members of the same species share similar genetic and physical characteristics and can mate with each other to produce viable offspring. However, they are typically reproductively isolated from members of other species.

The naming of species follows a binomial nomenclature system, where each species is given a unique scientific name consisting of two parts: the genus name and the species epithet. For example, Homo sapiens is the scientific name for humans, where “Homo” is the genus and “sapiens” is the species epithet.

Subspecies: 

A subspecies, also known as a race or a variety, is a taxonomic rank below the level of species. It represents a geographically or genetically distinct population within a species that shares most of the characteristics of the species but differs in some traits. Subspecies are often defined based on variations in physical appearance, genetic makeup, or ecological adaptations.

The scientific name of a subspecies includes an additional third part, known as the trinomial name, which further specifies the subspecies. For example, Panthera leo leo refers to the African lion subspecies, while Panthera leo persica refers to the Asiatic lion subspecies.

Subspecies can arise due to various factors such as geographic isolation, ecological adaptation to different environments, or genetic divergence over time. They often occupy specific regions or habitats and may exhibit distinct morphological, behavioral, or physiological characteristics.

It’s important to note that the classification of species and subspecies can sometimes be subjective to ongoing scientific debate. Advances in genetic research have provided new insights into the relationships between organisms, leading to revisions in the classification of certain species and subspecies over time.

* Chatbot technology can be utilized effectively in education to enhance learning experiences and support students and educators with particular reference to personalized learning.  Chatbots can add personalized learning experiences by adapting content and activities to individual student needs. They can assess student knowledge, provide relevant resources and materials, and offer immediate feedback and guidance. In other words the teacher is a mentor.  This blog presents a selection of essays produced by  students aged 14 to 16 (the Cardiff humanist group).  It was an end of term project for each student to use artificial intelligence to develop their own body of knowledge about the biodiversity of birds and primates in “zooland” as an “institution of captivity”; it is a work in progress.

Denis Bellamy, (IC0l)

Education for a climate crisis

Tuesday, June 27th, 2023

1 Key Aspects

Education plays a crucial role in addressing the climate crisis. It is essential to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the challenges posed by climate change and to take informed action to mitigate its impacts. Here are some key aspects of education for the climate crisis:

  • Climate Science: 
  • Education should provide a solid understanding of the science behind climate change, including the causes, impacts, and potential solutions. This includes topics such as the greenhouse effect, rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, and the role of human activities in driving climate change
  • Sustainability and Conservation:
  •  Promoting sustainable practices and conservation is essential in mitigating climate change. Education should focus on teaching individuals about renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable agriculture, and responsible consumption patterns.
  • Systems Thinking: 
  • Climate change is a complex issue that requires a systemic approach. Education should encourage critical thinking and help individuals understand the interconnectedness of social, economic, and environmental systems. This includes exploring the impacts of climate change on different sectors such as agriculture, water resources, biodiversity, and human health.
  • Climate Adaptation and Resilience: 
  • As climate change continues, communities need to adapt and build resilience to its impacts. Education should highlight strategies for climate adaptation, such as urban planning for extreme weather events, designing resilient infrastructure, and promoting sustainable land and water management practices.
  • Environmental Citizenship: 
  • Education should foster a sense of environmental citizenship, empowering individuals to become active participants in addressing the climate crisis. This includes promoting civic engagement, encouraging sustainable lifestyle choices, and advocating for policy changes and collective action.
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Perspectives: 
  • Recognizing and respecting indigenous knowledge and perspectives on climate change is crucial. Education should incorporate traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous practices that have sustained ecosystems for generations, fostering a holistic understanding of the environment and its interconnectedness with human societies.
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches: 
  • Climate change is a multifaceted challenge that requires interdisciplinary approaches. Education should encourage collaboration across various disciplines, such as science, technology, engineering, arts, and social sciences, to foster innovation and holistic solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Global Perspective: 
  • Climate change is a global issue, and education should provide a global perspective on its impacts and solutions. This includes learning about international climate agreements, understanding the disparities in vulnerability and responsibility among different countries, and promoting global cooperation to address climate change collectively
  • Practical Skills: 
  • Education should equip individuals with practical skills to take action in their daily lives. This includes skills such as sustainable gardening, energy conservation, eco-friendly transportation options, and the ability to critically evaluate and implement sustainable technologies.
  • Lifelong Learning: 
  • Education for the climate crisis should promote lifelong learning and continuous engagement. As climate science and solutions evolve, individuals should be encouraged to stay updated, adapt their knowledge and practices, and contribute to ongoing efforts to address climate change.

By integrating these elements into formal and informal education systems, we can create a well-informed and empowered generation capable of tackling the challenges of the climate crisis and creating a more sustainable future.

2 Cultural ecology: an interdisciplinary ideational scaffold

Cultural ecology is an interdisciplinary field that serves as an ideational scaffold, providing a framework for understanding the complex relationship between human societies and their environments. It combines insights from various disciplines such as anthropology, geography, sociology, archaeology, and ecology to examine the ways in which culture and environment interact and influence each other.

At its core, cultural ecology recognizes that human societies are not separate from their natural surroundings but are deeply intertwined with them. It acknowledges that culture is not only a product of social and historical processes but is also shaped by the ecological conditions in which societies exist. Similarly, the environment is not seen as a static backdrop, but as a dynamic force that shapes and constrains human activities and cultural practices.

Cultural ecologists study the ways in which different cultures adapt to and transform their environments. They explore how societies develop unique strategies and technologies to exploit natural resources, organize their social systems, and respond to environmental challenges such as climate change, resource scarcity, or natural disasters. This interdisciplinary approach allows cultural ecologists to analyze the reciprocal relationship between human culture and the natural environment, understanding how cultural beliefs, values, and practices influence resource management, land use patterns, and environmental conservation efforts.

The ideational scaffold provided by cultural ecology allows researchers to address complex questions about the interactions between culture and environment. It helps in examining the historical processes that have shaped human-environment relationships and in understanding the cultural factors that influence contemporary environmental issues. By integrating insights from different disciplines, cultural ecology offers a holistic perspective that considers both the material and symbolic dimensions of human-environment interactions.

Moreover, cultural ecology is not only a theoretical framework but also a practical approach that has implications for policy and management. It provides valuable insights into sustainable development, natural resource management, and environmental conservation by emphasizing the importance of understanding the cultural dimensions of environmental issues. Recognizing that culture plays a central role in shaping human behavior and attitudes towards the environment, cultural ecology encourages the inclusion of local knowledge, beliefs, and practices in environmental decision-making processes.

In summary, cultural ecology serves as an interdisciplinary ideational scaffold by providing a framework for studying the complex interplay between culture and environment. It helps researchers and policymakers understand the ways in which human societies adapt to, transform, and interact with their natural surroundings. By integrating perspectives from multiple disciplines, cultural ecology offers a comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationship between culture, society, and the environment, with practical implications for sustainable development and environmental management.

3 An Environmental Syllabus of Radical Hope

Course Overview:

The Environmental Syllabus of Radical Hope is an interdisciplinary course that explores the intersection of environmentalism, activism, and the concept of radical hope. This course aims to inspire and empower students to take action and make a positive impact on the environment while cultivating a mindset of optimism and resilience. Through readings, discussions, and hands-on activities, students will develop a deep understanding of environmental issues and learn how to channel their hope into effective environmental advocacy.

Course Objectives:

  • Understand the concept of radical hope and its relevance to environmental activism.
  • Develop a comprehensive knowledge of key environmental challenges and their global implications.
  • Explore different environmental movements and their strategies for creating change.
  • Analyze the psychological and emotional aspects of activism and cultivate resilience.
  • Identify opportunities for individual and collective action in addressing environmental issues.
  • Apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to develop innovative solutions.
  • Engage in practical activities to contribute to environmental sustainability and conservation efforts.
  • Foster collaboration and community engagement in environmental initiatives.

Course Outline:

Module 1: Introduction to Radical Hope

  • Defining radical hope and its significance in the context of environmental activism
  • Historical and philosophical perspectives on hope and its role in social change
  • Exploring the relationship between hope, despair, and action

Module 2: Understanding Environmental Challenges

  • Climate change and its impacts on ecosystems and societies
  • Loss of biodiversity and the consequences for the planet
  • Pollution and waste management issues
  • Resource depletion and sustainable development

Module 3: Environmental Movements and Strategies

  • Historical overview of environmental movements (e.g., conservation, environmental justice, climate justice)
  • Case studies of successful environmental campaigns
  • Examining different approaches to advocacy and activism

Module 4: Psychology and Resilience in Activism

  • Emotional well-being and self-care in environmental advocacy
  • Dealing with eco-anxiety and burnout
  • Building resilience and fostering hope in the face of challenges

Module 5: Individual and Collective Action

  • Sustainable lifestyle choices and their impact on the environment
  • Responsible consumption and waste reduction
  • Effective communication and engagement with policymakers and communities

Module 6: Innovation and Solutions

  • Introduction to sustainable technologies and practices
  • Design thinking and problem-solving for environmental challenges
  • Encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in the environmental sector

Module 7: Hands-On Activities and Projects

  • Field trips to environmental organizations and initiatives
  • Volunteer work with local conservation projects or community gardens
  • Group projects focused on addressing specific environmental issues

Module 8: Collaboration and Community Engagement

  • Building partnerships with local communities, NGOs, and government agencies
  • Organizing awareness campaigns and events
  • Promoting environmental education and empowerment

Assessment Methods:

  • Class participation and engagement in discussions
  • Written reflections on course readings and activities
  • Individual and group projects
  • Practical assignments related to sustainability and activism
  • Final presentation or portfolio showcasing students’ learning and contributions to environmental causes

Note: The syllabus outlined above is a sample curriculum and can be modified and expanded based on the specific requirements and resources available in a given educational institution or program.

Denis Bellamy

https://corixus.wixsite.com/icol

ToTheZoo

Friday, May 26th, 2023

(A Partnership Between Children Watch & The Bellamy Fund)

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, authored one of the greatest insights into the importance of education for conservation during a 1968 speech in New Delhi on Agricultural Development.  “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we’re taught.” 

1 The Project:

It is interesting and significant that two charities working to meet the needs of young people and adults in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu have independently settled upon the ideas behind school/community democracies.  They are seen  as the routes to actions for improving  well-being in both school and community.  One of these NGOs ‘Children Watch’ is working with the Irula tribal villagers in Kanchiporum, people who have been expelled from their forest heartland in the Western Ghats.  

In 2021 The Bellamy Fund supported a development worker to make an assessment of how school/democracies could be established in Irula communities to create a sense of place.  The idea is to develop the educational theme of animal conservation, expressed as a combination of peer educators, animators, child protection units, parent classes and children parliaments.  This led to the Bellamy Fund in 2023 supporting a day out at the local zoological gardens, organised in partnership with Children Watch, where mothers and their children could begin to bond through the life of animals to create a shared sense of place.

This project, called ToTheZoo, has been initiated with 150 Irula children, aged between 10 to 16, with their mothers.  They are going for a day trip to the local Arignar Anna Zoological Park in batches of 60 children and mothers each with 3 volunteers representing Children Watch.  AAZP  is a zoological garden located in Vandalur, in the southwestern part of Chennai.  Established in 1855, it was the first public zoo in India.  It is situated at a distance of 60 kms from the main Kanchipuram tribal villages. 

The park has 81 enclosures and more than 170 species of mammals, birds and reptiles.  The dense vegetation of the park supports about 56 species of butterfly.  The children with their mothers will spend their time at the zoo from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, the working hours and opening hours of the Zoo. They will be guided by the Children Watch volunteers and  Children Watch’s Chief Functionary to get the most from their visit, applying informal or free choice learning to understand the relationships between people and animals under the threat of extinction.  

 Free choice learning refers to the process of individuals pursuing their own interests and learning in an informal and self-directed manner. Zoos can provide an excellent environment for free choice out of school learning because they offer a wide range of educational opportunities and experiences for visitors of all ages.  The Irula groups will be encouraged to share their experience with feedback when they return to their homes in the evening.  In this way a visit to the zoo enables children to self learn about animals and effectively, foster cognitive development and promote empathy and compassion for animals.  In addition the group visit provides opportunities for societal bonding between children and their mothers, between children and between families.  This is a general starting point for building a bottom-up democratic learning community facing up to a world deprived of animals.

A Managing Trustee of Children Watch, with 3 volunteers, will facilitate, coordinate and implement the project activities of ToTheZoo. Volunteers, and the Managing Trustee will report on the project activities on a day to day basis and a report on the whole project will be produced by the Children Watch Team.  There will be reviews to evaluate and compare the future of ToTheZoo to spark an interest in learning for its own sake.  In this connection, an important learning target for ToTheZoo is to make a bilingual picture dictionary of animals.

2 The Hunter Gatherer Legacy

In 2018 Joseph Berger and Trevor Bristoe, published a paper entitled ‘Hunter-gatherer populations inform modern ecology’ which highlighted questions for understanding how humans have rapidly transitioned from a sparsely inhabited planet of hunter-gatherers to the densely populated agricultural and industrial lifestyles of today. Hunter-gatherers hunt animals in the wild.  To hunt food successfully requires the application of knowledge about the human ecosystem from close day-to-day contact with wild animals as prey and the intergenerational learning of a local cultural ecology of animal behaviour. Often nomadic, this was the only way of life for humans until about 12,000 years ago when human lifestyles began to change.  Groups formed permanent settlements and tended crops.  Few of these tribal groups survive and those that do are well aware of the social, economic, environmental and political challenges that they are facing.  They are seeking to address these challenges along with support organizations and researchers in an attempt to ensure their long-term security and well-being in biodiverse managed landscapes. 

People who recently have had  to define themselves as former indigenous hunter-gatherers are well placed to consider both past and present in their education systems. In this context, ‘being an animal’ is the unifying theme for successful resettlement in an industrial society, where they also have to focus on the non-hunter-gatherer societies with whom they are interacting.  They must do both these things with pride in their tribal origins when they may be viewed as conservationists who coexisted closely with animals as did the whole of humanity.  When humans coexist with animals, avoiding persecuting them in and around communities, they safeguard ecosystem health, agricultural stability, food security, and the creation of new sustainable economies (e.g., ecotourism). Ultimately, coexistence with animals is essential for human survival in a hot, hungry, and crowded world. Increasingly obvious are the impacts of education’s old negative attitudes towards animals as competitors. We can no longer separate humanity from nature, fail to consider long-term effects of our actions, and perpetuate conflict by indiscriminately killing wildlife.  Inter-species harmony is required to sustain life on Earth in the Anthropocene, imparting what can be learned from living with animals, such as how to share and give fair treatment to others regarding compassion with moral values.

3  Societal importance of interacting with animals

Five principal categories of benefits that people may seek during a zoo visit are family togetherness, novelty seeking, enjoyment, education and escape.

Interacting with animals almost always has a positive influence on children because animals play a role in socializing and humanizing people. Many researchers and writers have noted the value of utilizing animals as mediators to help people who are not being reached by other methods. That is why everyone should have the opportunity to build their own personal body of knowledge to live sustainably.   This means sharing Earth with other animals in a global network of protected sites governed by conservation management systems.  The network is really a huge animal sanctuary, keeping those under threat from human activities safely until sometime in the future when they can be free. This is the essence of how modern zoos see themselves, being on a par with UNESCO biosphere reserves, oceanic fishing stocks and local nature sites.  Visiting a local zoo from these perspectives can make visitors think that maybe there isn’t that much that makes us uniquely human. Maybe we need to pay more attention to what animals are doing, and try to view the world through their eyes. And, perhaps our ability to consider animal’s feelings and hope for the well-being of these other creatures is our best, and most uniquely human ability to bridge the gap between people and other animals.

Nowhere is this gap wider than in the Indian tribal Irula community of Tamil Nadu who for millenia, have had a close relationship with the forest of India’s Western Ghats. Due to forest conservation policies and environmental protection laws, these people are actual forest dwelling conservationists who have been displaced and forced to leave their homeland, becoming rootless migrants. The Irula tribe is one of the victims within this process of deforestation. As forest resources are destroyed, Irula are denied the rights to collect minor forest produce they had as as hunter gatherers, and their activities have shifted to unreliable unorganised bonded manual labour available in farming and allied activities outside the forest, such as quarrying stone, making bricks, milling rice, making charcoal, cutting wood for fuel and harvesting sugar cane. As the vast majority of Irula adults are now uneducated and illiterate it is essential for Irula children to be allowed the opportunities of a formal education. Irula parents as a community do not understand the values of education as it’s never been a part of their unsettled lives. Irula who want their children to attend school face many obstacles.  The concerned authorities hesitate to provide the children with the Community Certificates to access free education boarding facilities and scholarships earmarked by law for all Scheduled Tribes in India. Therefore admission and enrolment in schools, attending examinations, moving to other levels of school and higher education is being prevented. A lack of money for uniforms, school equipment and text books as well as social discrimination within educational institutions remains a block to their participation. 

Irula self-esteem and mutual respect is lost as individual and local powers develop and expand to leave no room for displaced tribal peoples.  They follow tradition, keeping their few customs with them.  However, there is a gradual erosion of these practices in today’s India making them even more isolated and the poorest of the poor.  Hence, enrolling in schools, attending classes regularly, listening to teachers, interacting with classmates from other communities is alien to the Irula children. Under these circumstances, the Government encourages Tribes to put their children in residential schools where children will stay in hostels and attend free schools under the Scheme for Scheduled Tribes. Children in other low income castes have opportunities to travel to villages, towns, festivals and other important historical places, with hill walks, and amusement parks. In contrast the Irula are living out of touch with modernity.  

Under these circumstances, ToTheZoo is working in partnership with Children Watch, a local Indian NGO, to sponsor a new kind of humanitarian aid where the local zoo becomes an education window on a wider societal development.  For Irula children, an outing to the zoo will open their eyes to a new understanding of the world of animals which they can explore through guided self education to reconnect them with the workings of the Western Ghat forest, now under protection as one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. 

4 A Democratic Learning Community

A democratic learning community is one in which each member has equal opportunity to influence change and contribute to the learning environment in a real and respected way, one in which learning is understood as something that every single person is capable of doing and has the right to access. In a democratic learning community the educator is no longer the omniscient teacher, telling students what to know and how to learn it.  Teachers become facilitators of daily learning,who understand the many ways in which individuals learn and value the opinions/ideas/knowledge of each learner while providing them with ample space to share that knowledge with the rest of the community. Simply put, a democratic learning community is one in which learners are educators and educators are learners. Both contribute to the educational discourse of the learning space and both share power, never yielding it  to those who want to control or manipulate learning or the space in which it occurs.

5 ZooPost

ToTheZoo is about involving communities in the educational process to provide real-world opportunities to make learning more memorable and impactful. ZooPost is about using a visit to a zoo to enhance ecological awareness using words and pictures to describe the natural world and our impact on it.  It becomes a resource for students to observe, feel, enjoy and communicate to others. ZooPost uses the exchange of postcards, analog or digital, to reveal an attachment with the wider world, which can increase their motivation to learn.  In a time where the world feels more divided than ever, connecting children with a global community of junior zoologists holds a whole wealth of positives for their education and wellbeing.  It increases their motivation in school, giving them a sense of belonging.  Students can see a reason as to why they’re learning what is being taught. Zoology is the easiest of the ‘ologies’  to democratise in this way.

6 The Welsh Connection

The ideas underpinning ToTheZoo, as an exercise in conservation education have emerged in Welsh schools where the Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to alleviate the persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.  Teachers are free to design a humanities syllabus that is relevant to the needs of their learners and communicate their ideas and achievements with ZooPost across continents.

Socialising Influences of a Zoo Visitation

https://www.mdpi.com/2673-5636/4/1/6

https://exploringdemocraticlearning.weebly.com/

https://sites.google.com/view/tothezoo/home

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00938157.2019.1578025?journalCode=grva20

https://hundred.org/en/articles/connecting-children-to-the-outside-world-benefits-everyone-here-s-why

Modeling a Citizen’s Environmental Network

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

1 Education Theme

International Community Understandings (ICU) is an expression of cosmopolitanism that gives an opportunity for education to bridge worlds and to work in the interest of human beings at all ages. Cosmopolitans consider themselves as world citizens. So, they “resist the temptations of the narrow nationalisms of the countries where they were born. They would never go to war for a country; but they will enlist in a campaign against any nation that gets in the way of universal justice.  Hence, cosmopolitanism can be considered as the foundation of a People-based International Community. (Bado Arsène Brice).

2 Education Objectives

(i) Groups:- Make local conservation plans and share them.

(ii) Individuals:- Become a good steward of local biodiversity.

(iii) Groups and Individuals: Create a permanent sense of place.

3 History

SCAN UK (1992-2000)

https://sites.google.com/site/nowscan/science-communities-and-nature-a-teachers-resource

The Schools Communities and Nature project (SCAN) developed in Wales UK as a practical response to  the Rio environment summit in the 1990s.  It originated within the Dyfed County Council’s teacher’s advisory service from the response of schools in Pembrokeshire to the local Sea Empress oil spill.  It involved primary and secondary schools in Pembrokeshire piloting simple classroom methods for pupils of all ages to probe the quality of life in their communities. The aim of SCAN was to alert children to the character of their surroundings, and establish a features database that lists the good and bad things in their neighbourhood.  It failed to take root because it was a pre-INTERNET paper system that was eclipsed by the long drawn out development of classroom IT. 

4 Rationale

(i) Why India?

India is the first country to adopt the idea of a Citizen’s Environmental Network (CEN). It is centred on the concept of ‘Smartpur’ for villages.  ‘Smartpure’ emerged from the underlying idea of integrating IT into the existing practices, processes of community life.  The aim is to enable people of the community to make their lives better and contribute to the overall well-being of the village.  The IT roll out is funded by Nokia in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation (https://www.defindia.org/).  The content is managed locally by the community, its schools and businesses.

Smartpur stands on the foundation of six cultural pillars, namely education, health, finance, governance, livelihood and entertainment. Each of these pillars is further supported by wireless broadband access-enabled digital infrastructure, leading to efficiency in daily lives, transparency in governance, economic prosperity for households, and ease of access to various kinds of services and information.

Examples of Smartpur objectives:

  • communities have access to affordable medical diagnoses and consultation through digitally literate ASHA workers and telemedicine services; 
  • youth have relevant skills to find jobs or become entrepreneurs; 
  • people have timely and relevant access to welfare schemes or entitlements; 
  • households have access to digital financial services; 
  • the community has access to arts workers to help local communities plan and take part in activities like drama, dance, painting and photography and there is access to high quality audio-visual entertainment;
  • people have access to digital content for self learning about unfashionable school subjects, such as zoology, to gain an understanding of the natural world and how this can help consider ways to face global challenges such as climate change and food security, seeking to find solutions that help both animals and humans alike.

(ii) Why Kanchipuram?

‘Smartpur’ is aiming to reach Kanchipuram and become embedded in 10 villages with Asoor as the hub center and remaining 9 villages as the spoke centers. These locations may be considered as pilots for modeling a CEN.

HUB: Asoor

SPOKES: Kilpermunalur, Tennari, Kavathndagllam, Periyanattham, Kolathur, Vitchanthangal, Avalur, Chiniwalkam, Pallavaram.  Asoor village is in Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu located on the north east coast of the state. Kanchipuram is home to 3.9 million people. 

5  Social exclusion

https://sciendo.com/pdf/10.2478/rsc-2021-0018

Eliminating social exclusion is one of the goals of the Indian constitution, wherein the masses can completely participate in all aspects of life with dignity.  Actually, the increased usage of the Internet and information and communication technology (ICT) in contemporary times has resulted in a newform of social inequality. This social inequality is arising because of the disparities between and among the individuals in terms of digital skills, use of the Internet, and access to digital devices. This divide is referred to as “the digital divide”, which is more visible today, especially in the form of social exclusion in India.

The nexus of the climate crisis and socioeconomic and political inequalities is at the root of various climate injustices, making India an archetypal site for their manifestation.  The worst impacts of the crisis are being denied, ignored and normalised, because these burdens fall on the poor, women, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and others with little political voice.

Internet usage by the masses largely depends on factors such as the availability of affordable devices, network coverage and connectivity, along with data costs. Today, when India is encouraging the digitalization of services, affordable data availability becomes crucial. However, even after the improvement in availability and accessibility of affordable devices and data, there are certain sections of society who, because of their social and cultural capital, have greater access to resources as compared to others. Because of its social, economic, and political implications, the digital divide has recently stimulated  the interest of academics and policymakers in community/school strategies to engage with an international community.

6 Digital literacy

.ICT, or information and communications technology, is the infrastructure and components that enable modern computing to occupy a substantial role in all our lives (especially in Covid-19 times). Digital literacy and successful use of Internet technology have become essential in today’s world. India is known for its social diversity, and the concept of social inclusion is enshrined in the Indian constitution. However, some groups and categories of people have historically been excluded and continue to be excluded today. There are varied reasons for such exclusion (e.g. caste, gender/transgenderism tribe, disability). The challenge to Smartpur is to focus on the assessment of the impact of the digital divide on Indian society, specifically on the phenomenon of social exclusion because of the coming digitalization of almost all aspects of our lives.  The notion of digital inclusion is not only about access to the technology and Internet sources, but also how access directly and indirectly influences the lives of the marginalized and deprived sections of the society.  The phenomenon of social exclusion has a deep impact on a person’s access to opportunities, especially in the context of power relationships.  Just reducing the financial and social hindrances towards Internet access would not reduce social inequalities until and unless equal efforts are made towards supporting the population and providing them the necessary digital skills. As a result, it’s critical that digital economic policies conceived and developed for sustainable growth should include initiatives to bridge these digital inequalities. Further research in the area will be more effective in addressing India’s hurdles to digital inclusion.

7  Richness of a digital learning environment

Our rapidly changing world has posed the long-standing question to education, ―How can today’s schools be transformed so as to become environments of teaching and learning that makes individuals lifelong learners and prepares them for the 21st Century?” The response to this question is the focus of the OECD project, ‘Innovative Learning Environments’, and has produced a sampling of the rich array of new visions for education around the world. As one might imagine, many learning environments have looked to technology in their efforts to redesign teaching and learning. While technology integration has long been a key area of concern in education, the intersection of technology with our rapidly transforming educational landscape is framing the nature of technology in education in profound, new ways. New and emerging technologies are provoking a re-conceptualisation of teaching and learning, while also serving as catalysts for transformation and innovation. Successfully preparing all learners with the skills and capacities for 21st century citizenship— global awareness, creativity, collaborative problem-solving, self-directed learning—is no small order, and many educational leaders are finding that the traditional forms of education that have evolved through the end of the last century are simply inadequate for achieving these goals. At the same time, while our outer world was transforming, considerable advances have been made in the learning sciences, forcing educators to reconsider how they approach learning, instruction, and the environments created to foster these. Finally, dramatic advances in educational technology have inspired powerful new ways for learners to engage with all kinds of content and activities in their own self-direct learning experiences. The juxtaposition of these three events creates a very interesting challenge and opportunity—a space to reconsider, re-imagine, and re-invent learning environments able to prepare and excel each individual for effective life-long learning.

Artisan Ecologies

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

1 Consumer culture

Consumer culture has been defined as an economic arrangement in which the lived cultural experience of everyday life depends on social resources, plus the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, entering households (Fig 1).  The environment is thereby brought into the home as part of a process of cultural ecology mediated through markets.  Consumption, a set of behaviors found in all times and places, is dominated by the purchase of commercial products. The socio economic system is largely understood to be carried out through the exercise of free personal choice in the private sphere of everyday life. Social democratic actors are deemed to be individually free and rational.  Furthermore, consumer culture is also bound up with the idea of modernity, that is, it develops in a world no longer governed by the traditions of generation-on-generation stasis, but rather by year-on-year flux in fashion.  Consumer culture denotes a dynamic ever changing global economy in which value has been divorced from the material satisfaction of wants and the sign value of goods takes precedence.  The term sign value denotes and describes the value accorded to an object because of the prestige (social status) that it imparts upon the possessor, rather than the material value and utility derived from the function and the primary use of the object.  In this process of the global marketing mass produced goods the local artisan producer has become an ‘endangered species’.

Globalization is a process driven by multinational companies embedded in capitalism, which extinguishes old production systems to make way for the new.  It entails the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour around the world. Currently both capital and goods move freely, and services such as banking, telecommunications, media and advertising will do so increasingly. Labour mostly moves freely but the vast majority of working people in the world congregate in towns and cities where they are static.

Stasis used to be a feature of rurality which transmitted existing cultural values, norms and customary ways of doing things unchanged from generation to generation.   Its mainstay was access to the local countryside.   Countryfolk were sustained by its biophysical resources within an artisan ecosystem defined as the creative interactions beteen a wide range of practices, organizations, resources, activities and connections.  The interlocking elements of this rural ecosystem enabled culturally significant designs, products and practices to flourish in small communities. 

Artisan ecologies are focused on communities that are bottom-up and human centred aggregations of families embodying the craft atmosphere of a territory due to proximity of resources and a shared material cultural background. Such communities based on artisanship are engaged in giving form and meaning to local natural resources and managing the process of making culturally and socially significant products. 

Clay is one such natural resource.  An abundant and accessible material, clay is sustainable. Humans have used it for centuries to produce ceramics. Easy to excavate from the ground, clay requires very little processing  .

Fig1 Mind map of global consumerism

Ceramics is one of the most ancient industries on the planet. Once humans discovered that clay could be dug up and formed into objects by first mixing it with water and then firing, the industry was born. As early as 24,000 BC, animal and human figurines were made from clay and other materials, then fired in kilns partially dug into the ground.

In the present day, artisan ceramics is in decline in a world of global consumers fed by mass production.  From a 21st century perspective, where the cultural focus is now on the  sustainable use of natural resources, there can be no doubt that an understanding of the cultural ecology of ceramics should hinge on the relationships of ceramics and their production to the rest of the sociocultural system and the broader ecosystem.  Frederick R. Matson first suggested the term ceramic ecology in the published papers of the “Ceramics and Man” symposium held in 1961 under the auspices of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. He expressed a desire to move ceramic studies toward a more human focus—ceramics and man—reflecting the symposium’s title. Matson thus coined the term ceramic ecology to represent   “… one facet of cultural ecology, that which attempts to relate the raw materials and technologies that the local potter has available to the functions in his culture of the products he fashions” (Fig 2). 

Fig 2 A mind map of ceramic ecology

Invention of Eduardo Williams

Since his formulation of ceramic ecology more than half a century ago, Matson’s ideas have inspired a number of studies and the publication of several volumes. In particular, In 1985, Dean E. Arnold broadened the ceramic ecological perspective to include a systems paradigm and identified a number of systemic relationships between ceramic production and the physical environment, on the one hand, and the sociocultural system of which it was social focus on the other.  These relationships consist of basic feedback mechanisms that stimulate and/or limit ceramic production in a cultural-environmental system. Based on certain chemical, ecological, and social phenomena that underlie the nature of pottery itself, these relationships occur in many of the societies of the world and are isomorphous cross-culturally. Thus, it should be possible to explain the development of an ancient craft and the maintenance of a modern craft in a broad intercultural conceptal framework, which is applicable to all crafts.

In 1989  Lorette Mouat and Deane E Arnold, reporting on their research into the potters of El Porvenir, Honduras, revisited Matson’s ideas. They took a viewpoint that the concern with raw materials, technologies, and products in Matson’s definition implies a focus on ceramics as objects.  There is no explicit recognition of the relationships that exist between ceramic production and society on the one hand and the environment on the other. In their view, if ceramic ecology is truly one facet of cultural ecology, as Matson states, then one would expect a wide range of relationships among the production of ceramics, society, and the environment (like weather and climate), distance to resources, and sedentariness as well as the functions of the ceramic product in society. 

Thus, the term ceramic ecology implies a broader relational paradigm beyond Matson’s narrow definition and represents an important conceptual change in the way that ceramics traditionally have been viewed. 

With respect to choosing a suitable operational model to construct a cultural ecology of ceramics, pottery in the Indian subcontinent has an ancient history and is one of the most tangible and iconic elements of Indian art. Artisan family potters are one of the largest castes, spread across 212 districts of India, predominantly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They are known by different names in each state.  All are facing decline.

2 What’s in a name?

The castes and sub-castes of India are mainly based on occupations and the associated skill levels. The potter caste is very ancient and widespread throughout India and is concerned with the production of earthenware utensils and images of deities which are essential for domestic wellbeing and efficiency.. These terracotta handicrafts have been recovered in archeological excavations, particularly at the ancient sites of the prehistoric  Indus Valley Civilization.  This was an early example of urbanisation located in what is Pakistan and northwest India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity. Evidence of religious practices in this area date back approximately to 5500 BCE. Farming settlements began around 4000 BCE and around 3000 BCE there appeared the first signs of urbanization. By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and cities had been established, and between 2500 and 2000 BCE the Indus Valley civilization was at its peak.  Harrapa was one of these flourishing cities with a thriving population of terracotta potters.  The glazed Harappan pottery is the earliest example of its kind in the ancient world showing a great inventive genious.  Terracotta, taken from Latin terra cotta or baked earth, is the art of creating glazed or unglazed porous earthenware, figurines, and other decorative materials from clay which is dried and fired in temperatures of around 1000°C giving it a distinctly orange, red, brown, yellow, or grey colour. It is then covered in sand to allow it to cool down. This colour depends not only on the type of clay found in the beds of the water bodies in the area where the artist is based but also on the firing process. For example, if the smoke from firing is allowed to get out through the vents in the kiln, a red or orange colour is obtained. On the other hand, if the vents are sealed, it gives the items a black colour. Decorative pieces are either left with their original colour or painted in multiple hues to make them more attractive.

Polychrome pottery is rare and mainly comprised small vases decorated with geometric patterns mostly in red, black and green and less frequently in white and yellow. Incised ware is rare and the incised decoration was confined to the bases of pans. Perforated pottery has a large hole at the bottom and small holes all over the wall and was probably used for straining liquids.  Some pottery was ornamented on the outside with knobs. The Harappan pottery includes pans, goblets, dishes, basins, flasks, narrow necked vases, cylindrical bottles, tumblers, corn measures, spouted vases and a special type of dish on a stand which was an offering stand or incense burner.

The people of India who worked as family potters, making utensils, tiles or any related products from earth were called, “Kumbhkar.” Kumbh means clay utensils and kar means maker. Therefore, Kumbhkar later became,”Kumbhar.” Many of them belonged to the ancient “Jati” people of the mythical Prajapati community, named after Prajapati the Hindu god of creativity which positions potters at the heart of Hindism.  

Some Prajapatis/Kumhars trace the origin of their community to the beginning of civilization when humankind started using utensils to prepare and eat food. As potters they proudly consider themselves to be the initiators of the world’s first industry.  They also situate themselves in one of the most famous stories of Hinduism which is known as the great churning of the primeval ocean by the gods and demons in the quest for the nectar of immortality. This tale has deep dimensions, capturing insights into the nature of existence.  

According to a Hindu myth, the first Kumbh (earthen pot) was a gift from the Gods to collect the Nectar. Another mythological story says that when Lord Shiva was about to marry Parvati he realised he had forgotten the water carrier integral for the ceremony. Therefore, he gave a part of his skin for clay to Prajapati to make a pot and Parvati gave her blood to decorate the pot. That is when the first kumbh (earthen pot) was created and Prajapati became the first potter. 

The classification of Kumhars in the Hindu social caste system differs from region to region. For example, because the making of a pot was the first creative act of HIndu mythology, in some temples in Rajasthan, only a Kumhar can lead the worship, not the traditionally priestly Brahmins. 

The geographical location of pot-making is revealed by mapping the distribution of family names, such as Sorathia, Ladwa, and Varia. The potters who lived in Sorath were known as “Sorathia Prajapati.   Today, the Kumhar caste is mainly found in Pakistan and Punjab, Bijnor(U.P.).   

The following surnames of Prajapati. potters have persisted  through the centuries;

Bhalsod, Bharadwa, Bharadwaj, Buhecha, Chandegra, Chavda, Chhaya, Chitroda, Chohan, Dabhi, Devalia, Dhokia, Dodia, Fatania, Gadher, Gadhia, Ghadhvana, Ghedia, Girnara, Gohil, Gola, Jagatia, Jethwa, Jogia, Kamalia, Kansara, Kataria, Kholia, Koria, Kukadia, Ladva, Majevadia, Mandora, Mavadia, Maru, Nena, Oza, Pankhania, Parmar, Pithia, Poria, Rathod, Ravat, Sarvaiya, Savania, Shingadia, Solanki, Taank, Vadher, Vadukul, Vara, Vegad, Visavadia, and Yadav.  Some of these family names are often spelt in a variation for example, Gohil is spelt Gohel and Ladwa is spelt Ladva, etc.

3 Decline and revival in artisan potters

Down to the late 20th century the Indian potters worked as families with division of labour between men, women and children, each contributing a particular skill.  At the beginning of the 21st century it became apparent that throughout India the art of family potting was dying in the face of mass production of factory glazed wares.   In recent years, the decline in artisan potters has followed the decrease in the number of artisans engaged in the handicraft industry using clay, metal or stone. These artisans are now employed in manual labour or are unemployed, giving up their high skills. One of the major reasons for this change is the commercially and machine-made cheaper alternatives available in the market. The limited exposure of artisans to the market, loss of urban consumer interest, and factory competition has also added to the decline of the handicraft industry. Today India adds only 2% to the global handicrafts market. Thus, many of these artisans are living in abject poverty and economic conditions.

The government, the private, and the non-profit organizations have played a major role in trying to revive the handicraft industry. However, the impact has been isolated and limited. Much effort is required to completely revamp the rural handicraft industry using local resources. Various organizations are helping by setting up exhibitions both domestically and globally to showcase the crafts produced by these artisans. These organizations are creating marketing opportunities for craftsmen and craftswomen, to sell their products at a better price to a wider consumer base. They are using unique business models to create these market linkages from artisan to consumer, thus being profitable to all involved, especially the artisan.

With the advancement of communication networks across the country, networking can be used positively to the artisan’s advantage. New designs, ideas, orders, and markets can be within the reach of the artisan with the right training. Educating customers too is an important part of revitalizing the handicraft industry. Today online marketing is a buzzword to buy and sell artisan products. Some organizations are already connecting buyers and sellers directly online.

The handicraft industry is very important for India as it is the second largest employment generator in the rural sector. Efforts are being made to revitalize and develop it to its full potential. It is also an industry that helps to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the country. New initiatives have the potential to boost the lives of millions of Indian artisans, not just the potters.  An estimated 7 million artisans according to official figures (and up to 200 million artisans according to unofficial sources) are engaged in craft production to earn a livelihood. It further states that the global market for handicrafts is $ 400 billion with India’s share below 2 percent, representing a tremendous growth opportunity.  The report further adds that 39 percent of artisans incur production expenditures of less than Rs 12,000/ $ 215 a year and only 19 percent spend above Rs. 50,000/ $ 900 a year.

Gujarat

Because of their proximity to the prehistoric Indus valley, Gujarat potters have always been regarded as as continuity-inheritors of ancient terracotta working skills.  It was significant in this respect that in 2010 the Gujarat government funded a scheme to train artisans to fine tune their art to meet  modern needs.  The state government acted through the Matikam Kalakari Rural Technology Institute (MKRTI), with the help of the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute (CGCRI) and designers from National Institute of Design (NID) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), to impart training to potters in reinventing their products and designs so that they can be sold in the domestic as well as international markets

Delhi

A large number of the potters in Delhi have migrated from the neighboring states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. They are located in Govindpuri and Hauz Rani: Kumbhar Basti.  A number have settled in the Prajapati Colony in A Uttam Nagar that was set up in the 1970 to house the potters coming from the countryside. As most of the potters had names connected with their caste occupation the colony was called Prajapati. Currently over 400 families practicing this craft in the colony and provide their products across Delhi and NCR. The methods adopted by the potters are similar to those employed in the pottery tradition(s) of their ancestral homelands. Black, red, and yellow clay in the form of small pieces is obtained from Rajasthan and Delhi. This is mixed and dried, after which water is added to it. The resulting mixture of wet clay is filtered through a fine sieve to remove pebbles. After the clay has been kneaded into homogenous flexible dough, the prepared clay is made into a variety of artifacts using either the throwing technique. Coiling techniques are used in making large products that are too big to be thrown on the wheel and to make those with shapes that cannot be turned on the wheel. After giving shape to the item and drying it in the shade, it is baked in the kiln. 

Aruvakode in Nilambur, Kerala

Pottery making in Aruvacode is the story of Jinan, a rebel, activist, designer. Moreover this is the story of lives that he touched and changed positively for ever.

A news report on how the destiny of Aruvacode, from being a simple potter village had changed to becoming a hub of sex-workers, impelled Jinan to proceed to Aruvacode, a sleepy village by the river in Nilambur in Kerala. 

According to Jinan,“the reason for such a drastic transformation in the village was the rush of cheap substitutes of steel, aluminum, and plastic products to pottery in the market. The rush had pushed the demand for earthenware off the edge and the artisans were left a troubled and distressed lot. Seized of their traditional labour, women of the village were forced into sex-work.”

Several years with the potters of Aruvacode had revealed to him that the issue of development lies deep in preserving the self-respect and creativity of the concerned community.  

In his presentation in “De-colonising the Aesthetic Sense: The story of craft revival in Aruvacode potters’ village”, Jinan argues that “any community, armed with an absolute sense of self-respect and untarnished creativity, is well able to sail through all their problems. It is a dilemma of the ‘educated’ and the culturally uprooted sections of our society that development is perceived more on an economic plane. It is these sections that genuinely consider the distressed community as incapable of confronting and solving their own problems”.

“The advent of consumerism had held out its stakes and the artisans failed to keep pace with the fancy needs of the new consumer. In earlier times the artisans had always responded excellently to the local needs of the people, as a strong cultural bond held the user and the producer in unison. But every nuance of modernity brought with it newer difficulties for the potters”.

Treading therefore very carefully, not to step on to the much-travelled path of the interventionist agencies, he took up work with the potters.  Honouring his own integrity, he ensured that the aesthetic quality of whatever they made was to be rooted in their own culture. He therefore limited his role to encourage the incorporation of novel utilitarian aspects into their creations. It was a slow process and the products that emerged were evolved at a natural pace  (Fig 3).

 Fig 3 ‘Kathakali depicted in terracotta tiles

. Designed by artisans and potters trained by social entreprenuer K.P. Jinan Posted by GP (The Blue Wonder blog:March 2011)

Jinan concludes ; “My journey into the world of the rural artisan communities was not with the intention of ‘developing’ them or educating them. I went to them to regain that which I had lost in the process of getting educated; to learn from them. Having escaped ‘education’ and ‘development’ they were still original and authentic and were holding on to the culture and world-view, which sustained them for centuries. I perceived the rural / tribal communities as being wise and evolved; and recognised that only by learning from them could we lead sustainable lives.

The basic ideas behind their training programmes were to help the individuals regain their wisdom and confidence which lies embedded within their own communities and culture, believing that creativity can and does solve many a problem related to self-esteem.  Jinans work has created a demand for the unique products developed at Aruvakode and products from this small ‘colony’ are being displayed publically and privately in several cities in India”.

4 An ecological model of artisanship

In a recent debate at London’s Tate Gallery about when craft becomes an art, it was suggested that perhaps intention makes the distinction. If a maker intends to express something perhaps that makes it art.  However, makers often felt that it was the material they worked with that made it craft – textiles, ceramics, glass seem to fall into the craft category, never mind if their intention as maker might be an artistic one.  

On the other hand, ….”perhaps it’s how a maker learnt their skill. As an apprentice coming through a process of learning a skill, hand to hand, as it were? That’s craft. As a fully formed genius honing an expressive talent? That’s art.  Perhaps it’s use. Something wearable or useable – jewellery or furniture for example – seems to fit neatly under the craft label, while something that has no clear practical purpose might be called art. However, this doesn’t take into account the decorative crafts, nor the artists who produce practical items”.

Trying to answer such apparently simple questions misses the point that creativity arises in the maker’s environment.  Ceramics, for example, has a cultural ecology that presents an holistic, conceptual understanding of how people, craft and art connect in the environment through the creativity in families. The diversity of the artisan’s immediate landscape is an essential resource.  Instead of endlessly debating the question, what defines an artist or a craft maker, or even divides an artist from a craft maker, an environmental approach leads to a total understanding of artisanship as an expression of communities’ creative ways of organizing and triggering social interactions.  The broad aim of ‘making’ is to master local ecosystem services to improve livelihoods.  

Increasing, global competition from mass production is leading many artisans to live in a precarious, fractured and marginalised condition.  Artisans are even more endangered in the developing world, where they often face subjection to large monopoly businesses, market corruption and unreliability, as well as lack of perception of international consumers’ trends. To face the complex challenges of the current and future world, the activities of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of production, described as service design, have to change.  They have to move towards strategies and systems that address social and environmental problems, particularly those associated with living sustainably.

Within this dynamic arena, there is a general upsurge of interest in artisanship. Artisanship is defined as the human-centred economic activity of giving form and meaning to local natural resources.  Hand work or the control of mechanised and digital tools, are applied to the process of making small, unique and flexible batches of culturally and socially significant goods.   The new aim of service design is to improve quality of the products and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.  This is considered as a necessary resilient response to the increasing demand for flexible, customised and redistributed manufacturing that reconnects communities to their local material culture and reaches out to global markets.  These ideas may be summarised in a concept map of ceramic ecology Fig 4).  

Fig 4 Concept map of ceramic ecology

The map may be generalised for other expressions of artisanship.  For example, the textile sector has its own artisan ecology.  It encompasses a high level of employment of skilled workers, has a wide range of applications and ever-increasing consumption trends.  These all cause urgent environmental and social challenges. Also, it is one of the most complicated productive artisan ecologies, involving many different actors (i.e. farmers, manufacturers of fibres, yarns, fabrics and apparel/carpet retailers), service sectors and waste management issues.

Several service design approaches could be adopted by textile artisanship to produce textiles which are environmentally responsible, socially just and economically fair, as well as culturally meaningful and enriching at a personal level. The weaver’s imagination could be summoned to encourage sustainable development, building resilient interconnections between environmental, technological and economic resources, social and cultural values. This could be achieved through the shared efforts of policy makers, NGOs, artisans’ communities and individuals, as summarised in Table 1. 

Jaipur artisan weavers

Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF) is a non-profit organization that catalyzes sustainable livelihoods for people engaged in an entire carpet making chain by empowering them to establish collective enterprises through enhancing their artisanal and business skills. The overall work mandate of JRF is to reach out to remote rural areas of India and establish bonds with destitute communities, especially the women, enabling them to start weaving not just rugs but also their own lives.  NK Chaudhary established JRF to promote economic prosperity among marginal communities. Starting with two looms and an extraordinary vision, he has been able to connect people around the world with craftsmanship of Indian village weavers. 

Most of the artisans are women and the JRF enables them to gain economic independence working at home. The goal is to bring positive sustainable change in the lives of artisanal communities ‘providing a life of happiness and dignity’.  To achieve this, the JRF concentrates on providing work for unemployed and unskilled women living in rural villages and seeks to give training in the craft of rug-weaving. Once a woman becomes a working artisan, she also gets an opportunity to integrate with the Jaipur Rugs inclusive development business model.  The subsequent phase is to deliver technical training and augment their skills and knowledge and release their artistic creativity (Fig 5).  For the first time ever, weavers get to be the designers of their own rugs. Each rug is a masterpiece for the design inspiration it weaves. It is imbued with the individuality of the artisan who made it and evidence of the release of her unique artistry.

Fig 5 Developing creativity

https://www.jaipurrugs.com/shop/artisan-originals

To release this creativity every weaver is part of a grassroots network that requires specialised logistical support.  Raw material is dropped off at an artisan’s home where they work on the product. To ensure customers receive high quality products, quality supervisors inspect looms to help ensure a consistent output while tracking progress. These supervisors also ensure the artisans are serviced so they are not interrupted by the shortage of yarn or any other such factor limiting their earning capacity. When completed, the rug is picked up at the weavers doorstep and sent on to the next stage of the rug making progress. These visits also ensure that weavers are paid every month at their looms. At present, these networks stretch across 600 villages in five Indian states connecting 40,000 artisans. 

Jaipur’s weavers thus have the ability to work creatively from their rural home in a more comfortable working environment than most entrepreneurs and corporate employees across the world!  However, one of the biggest challenges faced by artisans is the lack of awareness and knowledge regarding opportunities intended for them under various social welfare schemes. JRF has been playing an instrumental role in facilitating access to artisan cards. These are issued to the artisans by Development Commissioner, Handicrafts (Government of India) with support from District Industries Centers (DICs).  The cards recognise the recipient is a skilled worker and eables them to receive various benefits provided by the government. JRF also seeks to equip artisans with basic knowledge and skills that help them save money to shape a brighter future for their families. The focus is on improving well-being of artisans and their communities by providing access to various socio-economic educational and medical benefits. This entails assistance in formalities like filling forms, providing supporting documents and linking them with banks. In addition, a system of payment, ‘M-Pesa’ by Vodafone, has been promoted for weavers to facilitate their financial transactions.  M-Pesa means “m-money” in Swahili and is the global brand for Vodafone’s Mobile Money service. The service is now present in 10 countries. Mobile money is a digital representation of cash which Vodafone stores safely in a ring-fenced bank account (a “trust” account). The mobile money account of each customer is linked to their mobile phone account.  M-Pesa is specifically designed to benefit customers who have no access to banks.

To summarise, the Jaipur Rugs project is a very sucessful process of engaging village artisans with the vision of a commercial organization with a charitable arm that promotes empowerment through instilling an entrepreneurial mindset. The purpose is to enable artisan weavers acquire higher responsibilities and take control of their lives with an owners’ mindset. The is realised in the last facet of entrepreneurship development that creates leaders at the grassroots who create more leaders as they spearhead the mission of enabling sustainable livelihoods to all those in need.  

Jaipor rugs are marketed globally with the motto ‘purchase with purpose’. In effect JRF is helping to shift urban wealth from the rich to the rural poor!

Educating For Climate Change

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

1 The need for a syllabus of radical hope

The mission of the University Consortium of Small Island States was operating 2014-18 to enhance its education institutions. The aim was to facilitate development of the capacity needed to implement the UN’s Programme of action, popularly referred to as the Barbados Program of Action (BPOA).  BPOA is an important historical policy document that comprehensively addresses the economic, environmental, and social developmental vulnerabilities facing small island states.  It outlines a strategy that seeks to mitigate those vulnerabilities.  BPOA remains the only internationally approved programme specific to Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which has been collectively and unanimously endorsed by SIDS since the 1990s.

The full text of the BPOA was produced in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1994 at the first Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island States.  This  was a conference mandated by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 47/189. The need for an island’s specific conference was highlighted some two years previously at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), held in Rio de Janeiro where 179 governments voted to adopt Agenda 21.  Chapter 17, section G of Agenda 21 acknowledges that small island developing states are a special case both for environmental protection and education for sustainable development.  We now know that SIDS are considered extremely vulnerable to global warming and sea level rise, with predictions of social upheavals that will be associated with climate change.  Local communities must meet this situation with hope (Fig 1).  In this context the BPOA is the global model for learning how to live sustainably.

 Fig 1  Creating a community syllabus of radical hope 

Survey what is good and bad about where you live. Design an action plan to celebrate what is good and improve what is bad.  Reflect on what the community has learned about local culture and its ecology as the basis for a  community syllabus of radical hope linking schools with the communities they serve.

Hope can be defined as ”the belief that circumstances in the future will be better.” It allows us to be optimistic about a positive outcome and increases our chances of realizing our goals and dreams. Although there are many obstacles in life, hope allows us to approach them with a successful mindset.  Radical Hope is an idea that helps us to imagine the future after a moment of upheaval and change. The term was first defined by philosophers looking at the big questions of human existence, knowledge, reason and the mind. They wanted to better understand how people can recover after a traumatic experience, such as the loss of their culture. Jonathan Lear illustrates this idea with the experience of the North American Crow Nation after the 19th Century destruction of the buffalo herds upon which these peoples were totally dependent. The Crow were faced with the end of their traditional way of life, yet with firm leadership, they reimagined a future without buffalo.  

Everyone needs a personal syllabus of radical hope to focus their values that will carry them successfully into a post 2030 future. This blog outlines a syllabus of radical hope produced for teaching the new Welsh Humanities Area of Learning and Experience (HALE).  HALE encourages learners to engage with the most important issues facing humanity, including sustainability and social change, and helps to develop the skills necessary to interpret and articulate the past with the present.  The aim is to awaken a sense of wonder, fire the imagination, and inspire learners to grow individually in knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  

The Welsh HALE is being presented to members of the Green Forum as an online educational resource that could be developed for meeting the two key objectives of the BPOA. namely: 

  • improved information flow between SIDS on courses offered, facilities available, student needs and relevant online content.
  • cooperative curriculum development through research into managing, indigenous knowledge and outreach in the key areas of sustainable development of SIDS that support resilience building for sustainable development.  

Strengthening a pedagogy for environmental issues requires action in two main areas: training for educators in environmental issues and syllabus development with the production of appropriate indigenous teaching materials.  Both areas introduce environmental issues unique to SIDS.  These can be mind mapped across a range of disciplines (Fig 2) , to support an anthropological syllabus of radical hope.

2 Starting With Anthropology

Fig 2 Anthropology online

Anthropology is the scientific study of humanity, concerned with human behavior, human biology, cultures, societies, and linguistics, in both the present and past.   Social anthropology studies patterns of behavior, while cultural anthropology studies cultural meaning, including norms and values.  A portmanteau term, sociocultural anthropology is commonly used to explore how people, variously positioned within the world today, live and understand their world. It includes their aspirations and struggles to share systems of ideas (i.e., culture) which are related to the structured ways that people act and interact in society (i.e., power) and the environment (i.e.natural resorces).

Anthropology of art is a sub-field in social anthropology dedicated to the study of art in different cultural contexts. The anthropology of art focuses on historical, economic and aesthetic dimensions in non-Western art forms, including what is known as ‘tribal art’

The anthropology of art studies and analyses the wide range of material objects produced by people around the world. These are considered not merely as aesthetic objects but are understood to play a wider role in people’s lives, for instance in their beliefs and rituals. The materials studied include sculpture, masks, paintings, textiles, baskets, pots, weapons, and the human body itself. Anthropologists are interested in the symbolic meanings encoded in such objects, as well as in the materials and techniques used to produce them. Perhaps the simplest, yet most appropriate distinction between artefact and art would be that an artefact is primarily the product of craftsmanship and skill, while a work of art is invested with an emotional, philosophical, spiritual or aesthetic quality that reaches beyond. It has an ambiguous something that is not always easy to define, perhaps a special element that elevates it from the realm of workmanship to a more-significant level, where arts reasoning is applied to explain sustainability.  In this respect the culture of members of indigenous communities in SIDS directly relates to a specific way of being, seeing, and acting in the world. Their culture is developed on the basis of a close relationship with their traditional territories and the resources they harbour, not only because they are their main means of subsistence, but also because they are part of their worldview, and therefore, a part of their culture as an ecological entity. Objects in human life can become integrated into social relationships: for example, strong emotional attachments are found between people and material culture that is connected to ancestors. Such objects transmit culture with them, creating and reinforcing cultural norms: this kind of object needs tending, this does not. Scout badges, fraternity pins, even Fitbit watches are “symbolic storage devices,” symbols of social identity that may persist through multiple generations. In this manner, they can also be teaching tools: this is how we were in the past, this is how we need to behave in the present.  Those objects leave “traces,” that have established narratives associated with them.

3  Cultural Ecology

Culture and ecology merge in cultural ecology as a sub-discipline of anthropology that sets out the complex relationships between humans and the environments which they inhabit. This takes many shapes and forms. For example it includes examining the hunting/gathering patterns of humans tens of thousands of years ago and, archaeological investigations of early agriculturalists and their impact on deforestation or soil erosion.  In modern times it deals with how human societies are adapting to climate change and other anthropogenic environmental issues.  Cultural Ecology is a growing subfield of anthropology because of  the challenges of understanding and addressing human-caused environmental problems.  Like climate change, species extinctions, plastic pollution, and habitat destruction all require an understanding of the complex cultural, political, and economic systems that have created these problems (Fig 3).

Fig 3 A mind map of cultural ecology as the managerial balance between conservation and exploitation of natural resources.

Cultural Ecology developed in the 1960s as anthropologists borrowed methods and terminology from growing developments in ecology and applied them to understand day to day issues of living in an overcrowded polluted world.  In the first decade of the 21st century, there are publications dealing with the ways in which humans can develop a more acceptable cultural relationship with the environment. An example is sacred ecology, a sub-topic of cultural ecology, introduced by Fikret Berkes in 1999. It seeks lessons from traditional ways of life in Northern Canada to shape a new environmental perception for urban dwellers. This particular conceptualisation of people and environment comes from various cultural levels of local knowledge about species and place, resource management systems using local experience, social institutions with their rules and codes of behaviour. It takes a world view through religion, ethics and broadly defined belief systems.  The global message is that culture is a balancing act between the mindset devoted to the exploitation of natural resources and that which conserves them. Perhaps the best model of cultural ecology in this context is, paradoxically, the mismatch of culture and ecology that have occurred when Europeans suppressed the age-old native methods of land use and have tried to settle European farming cultures on soils manifestly incapable of supporting them.

There is a sacred ecology associated with environmental awareness, and the task of cultural ecology is to inspire urban dwellers to develop a more acceptable sustainable cultural relationship with the environment that supports them.

As a knowledge framework, cultural ecology can be customized with information from environmental anthropology to assemble a personal syllabus of radical hope about human adaptations to rapidly changing social and physical environments.  Human adaptation refers to both biological and cultural processes that enable a population to survive and reproduce within a given or changing environment.This may be carried out diachronically (examining entities that existed in different epochs), or synchronically (examining a present system and its components). The central argument is that the natural environment, in small scale or subsistence societies is a major contributor to social organization and other human institutions concerned with sustainability.

Cultural ecology is expressed physically in a group’s material culture, a term used  to refer to all the corporeal, tangible objects that are created, used, kept and left behind by past and present cultures. Material culture refers to objects that are used, lived in, displayed and experienced; and the term includes all the things people make, including tools, pottery, houses, furniture, buttons, roads, even the cities themselves. One focus is the meaning of the objects: how we use them, how we treat them, what they say about us.  Some objects reflect family history, status, gender, and/or ethnic identity. People have been making and saving objects for 2.5 million years.  Material culture studies, however, focus not just on the artifacts themselves, but rather the meaning of those objects to people. One of the features that characterize humans apart from other species is the extent to which we interact with objects, whether they are used or traded, whether they are curated or discarded  .

4   Circularity

Fig 4 The environmental outcome of a linear economy

Circularity is a topic within cultural ecology  which models human systems of production and consumption.  It involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.  Circularity aims to manage global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution by implementing the three base principles of the model. These principles are: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and the regeneration of nature. Circularity is defined in contradistinction to the traditional waste-generating linear economy (Fig 4). The idea and concepts of circular economy have been studied extensively in academia, business, and government over the past decade. Circularity has been gaining popularity since it helps to minimize emissions and consumption of raw materials, opens up new market prospects and principally, increases the sustainability of consumption and improves the efficiency of the use of natural resources.

5 Degrowth: a syllabus for a democratic pedagogy

All economic value is derived from nature by way of society.  Economic value is therefore rooted in human values and ultimately in the spiritual values that give purpose and meaning to human life.  In the absence of purpose, there is no logical motivation for sustaining human life or sustaining human economies. Thus, economic sustainability is deeply rooted in spirituality.  So fundamental challenges in achieving sustainability are ethical, moral, and ultimately spiritual rather than technological or economic. Therefore, sustainability ultimately depends on creating a moral and ethical culture that gives long term economic sustainability priority over short term economic expediency. 

“Deep sustainability” goes beyond the normal shallow or instrumental strategies, which focus on resource efficiency and substitution, motivated by economic incentives. Deep sustainability explores the philosophical, ethical, and transcendental roots of ecological, social, and economic integrity. In so doing, it calls for a spiritual-rooted, cultural revolution. This revolution must be motivated by an understanding that the pursuit of economic sustainability is synonymous with the pursuit of authentic happiness—which is inherently social and spiritual as well as material. A degrowth economy would be one which simply provides the material requisites and means for a pursuit of happiness motivated by a spiritual sense of wellbeing.  

Spiritual wellness comes from having connections to something greater than yourself.  It is about having a set of values, principles, morals and beliefs that provide a sense of purpose, hopefulness and meaning to life.  Applying those principles to guide your actions generates a personal prosperity that can make life worthwhile in a steady state economy.  However, currently we are demanding more from Earth than it can regenerate. For more than 40 years, humanity’s demand on nature has exceeded what our planet can replenish. We would need the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide the natural resources and ecological services we currently use. Only for a brief period can we cut trees faster than they mature, harvest more fish than the oceans can replenish, or emit more carbon into the atmosphere than the forests and oceans can absorb. The consequences of “overshoot” are already clear: habitat and species loss, and accumulation of carbon waste we throw in the sky.  In order for the poor world to get richer, the rich world has to become poorer. These are the outcomes of the rich nations signing up to a global strategy of equal shares for all nations.

6 Teaching with hope

Hope is about the belief that you can make an impact. Hope is about allowing students agency in their own learning. Hope is about ensuring that students are looking ahead, identifying for themselves what needs to be improved, and giving them the skills and confidence to go out and do it.  There are many different curricula for teaching a syllabus of hope, most of them hoping that science will lead the way.  ‘Starting from within anthropology’ is just one of them.  

In his keynote address to the Royal Anthropological Institute Conference entitled ‘Art, Materiality and Representation’, on 1st June 2018,  Tim Ingold presented his view that art and anthropology potentially afford new ways of thinking about democracy and citizenship — ways that could give hope to future generations. The universal goal is to reach a zero waste in ways that are ethical, economical, efficient and visionary.  Education  guides people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for other systems to use.  Zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing a zero waste strategy will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.

Regarding a curriculum that applies arts reasoning to explain sustainability (AARTES), Ingold believes that this approach has been pushed to the margins, above all by the relentless expansion of big science, aided and abetted by multinational corporations and neoliberal globalisation. With them has gone the question from which all inquiry must begin and indeed from which Ingold began his lecture: how ought we to live? His standpoint is that big science is not interested in this question because it believes it can deliver the answers that will maintain a growth economy through mega-projects of geoengineering, if not already, then within the not too distant future. Ingold’s parable is that, when the dinosaurs went extinct, it was the small mammals that inherited the earth, among them were some weasel-like carnivores. On 29th April 2016 it was a weasel that bit through an electric cable, putting the largest machine ever built, CERN’s vast £4bn Hadron Collider, out of action for a week. 

For many, the collider is the greatest expression of scientific hubris we have yet seen. Its interaction with the weasel… 

“…is the delusional project of our time, truly a machine for the end of the world.  But when big science collapses, as it is bound to do, along with the global economy that sustains it, art and anthropology, like that famous weasel, will hold the future in their hands”  

Educationalists must be ready for it with a syllabus of radical hope.

7 The Green Forum

The growth economy is now failing in two ways:

1. positive growth is becoming uneconomic in our full-world economy;

2. negative growth, resulting from the bursting of financial bubbles inflated beyond physical limits, though temporarily necessary, soon becomes self-destructive.

This leaves a non-growing, or steady-state economy, as the only long-term alternative. Herman Daly  has articulated the basic rules of a steady state economy as follows:

  1. It should exploit renewable resources no faster than they can be regenerated.
  2. It should deplete non-renewable resources no faster than the rate at which renewable substitutes can be developed.
  3. It should emit wastes no faster than they can be safely assimilated by ecosystems.

Presuming depletion and regeneration rates and resilience of ecosystems can be accurately determined, two basic strategies follow these steady state rules:

(1) an economizing strategy 

(2) an innovating strategy. 

Economizing involves reducing the inputs used in economic activities and minimizing the waste outputs. It entails conserving, re-using, maintaining, and generally embracing the wisdom of ‘enough’ rather than succumbing to the consumer demand for ‘more’. 

Innovating entails doing things more efficiently. It means learning, inventing, adapting, and using appropriate technologies to achieve desired ends. Innovation (and the increased efficiency it engenders) in a non-growing economy, is the basis of conservation management.  

A steady state economy, therefore, will adopt some combination of economizing and innovating to achieve sustainability, supported by a local syllabus of radical hope.

To discuss this proposition an international Green Forum has been created to connect schools and the communities they serve,  across the globe who are interested in making local action plans to adopt a circular, steady state, zero waste economy.  It is for those who require space to discuss Ideas for a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources.  To participate in The Green Forum, which is free, go to- https://thegreenforum.org/group/288/stream

8  Internet references

Learning from each other

Building the circular economy through education and infrastructure

Cultural Ecology1

Culture ecology2

Material culture

Material Culture2

Environmental anthropology

Circularity

Teaching with hope

Zero waste curriculum toolkit

Zero Waste International Alliance)

Degrowth

Learning Circularity With Small Island Developing States

Monday, December 5th, 2022

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

Ecumenes and Ecological Islands

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2022

1 Ecumenes: economic units 

The term ecumene comes from the Greek word oikoumene, which means inhabited land or inhabited world. Ecumenes are bounded geographical areas where people have made their permanent home.  Ecumenes contain all work areas occupied and used by the population for agricultural or any other economic purpose. They also include areas or features of special interest protected and managed for purposes of conservation.  They provide opportunities for study or research into social heritage.   The UK town of Grimsby is a good example of an ecumene with dire economic issues (Fig 1). The coastal landscape around it  has been characterised by mudflats and salt marshes.  The town was mentioned in the Domesday Book, when it had a settled, self contained population of just 200 and a priest, a mill and a ferry.  It stands on the creek of a small river which flows into the Humber.  For many years and at the end of the Middle Ages, the town itself was virtually an island with only one road into it from the South. Grimsby’s economy was built on fishing the River Humber and the North Sea   The arrival of the railway in 1848 made it easier to transport goods to and from the port.  Direct rail links to London allowed for fresh ‘Grimsby fish’ to arrive at London’s Billingsgate Fish market and became renowned nationwide. The demand for fish grew to such an extent that at its peak in the 1950s, Grimsby became the largest fishing port in the world.  

Five decades later, Grimsby’s socio economic problems were manifold.  All that remained of the once 700-strong fleet from its 1950s peak were a couple of crabbing boats and maintenance vessels for the offshore wind industry. To this picture of the economic decline of the fishing industry could be added skills shortages, long-term jobless families, deprivation, drugs, homelessness, empty homes, fly-tipping and children in care. The government’s indices of deprivation ranked Grimsby’s East Marsh as the fourth worst place in the UK for employment, the second for crime and the worst for education, skills and training. These statistics highlight a post industrial educational deficit, which is common to developed and developing ecumenes world wide and requires classrooms in nature with a local syllabus, focussed on the concept of ecological islands, that blends prosperity with ecological localism.  

Fig 1 The Grimsby UK ecumene

2  Ecological islands

Nature reserves within ecumenes may be described as ecological islands of high biodiversity in a ‘sea’ of low biodiversity (Fig 2). Nevertheless, whether they are nature sites or urban parks they can form the base of eco learning networks. Such projects reflect current theories of learning including those focusing on the ways people construct understanding of phenomena they encounter in everyday life (constructivism) and those that describe learning as an outcome of interaction with the socio-cultural and bio-physical environment (social learning). Case examples illustrate the myriad of community learning arenas adopting a  culture of gifting in which civil society groups, local government, and volunteers collaboratively engage in environmental stewardship, communicating through learning hubs.  A gift economy, or gift culture, is a system of exchange where valuables are not sold, but rather given without an explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards.

Fig 2 Wink’s Meadow: a local nature reserve

In general, the concept of ecological islands drives the application of conservation management to protect and enhance nature sites within four key interwoven strands of environmental education (SEEs):

  • science-framed education, focussed on the conservation management of biodiversity; 
  • place-based, indigenised and bioregional education; 
  • education for climate change and disaster risk;
  • education for sustainable economic development. 

These strands of knowledge are an outline syllabus of radical hope to deliver a widespread consciousness on the fragility of the environment, which can have a very strong impact on people’s quality of life. There are few places in the world where the need for hope about the sustainable use of Earth’s resources is as acute as in islands.  Islands should therefore be positioned at the centre of education as socioeconomic models of sustainable development and biological evolution.  

The idea of ecumenes provides an overarching, integrative, flexible, humanistic approach for describing and analyzing the inhabited world and its densely populated parts that may be described as big island states.  Small island developing states (SIDS) were first recognized as a distinct group of developing countries at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992. The Barbados Programme of Action was produced in 1994 to assist the SIDS in their sustainable development efforts.  

3 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 SEEs. 

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, 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 an eco learning network for living sustainably

The blue field in Fig 3 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 to produce and apply neighborhood action plans to promote a local closed cycle economy.  People use blogs 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.

A procedure to develop an eco learning network from a grass roots level can begin with a school and the communities it serves according to the following protocol.  

(i) A School joins Ecoschools International (https://www.ecoschools.global/)

(ii) The School links with: 

  • the families in its catchment;
  • the local governance organisation e.g. the parish council;
  • a local business operating, or working towards, a circular economy.

(iii) The School follows  Ecoschool’s 7 steps to an interactive action plan using toolkits, such as those designed for neighbourhood disaster planning, to visualise and meet the plan’s objectives.

(iv) The School communicates its ongoing achievements and ideas to other Ecoschools via blogs and the Green Forum to make the network grow.

To summarise, the educational outcome is to transform learning for young  people and adults by facilitating communities to identify their own needs and aspirations.  They take action to exert influence on local decisions which affect their lives.  These local operations, through a neighbourhood action plan,  improve the quality of their own lives, the lives of communities in which they live and work, and the societies of which they are a part. This plan is created by the local Ecoschool and its community, which regularly monitors its performance indicators.

Go Kandinsky

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

1  Art That Reveals Hope

Fig 1:Water colour #2.  Wassily Kandinsky, (1911)

In 2011 the Scottish philosopher Alastair McIntosh curated a conference entitled ‘Kandinsky in Govan’. Govan was, and is still, a part of Glasgow that ranks among the most economically deprived areas in Europe.  This was the geographical cultural focus of the conference, to make things better.  Keynote speakers included leading art experts and the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, The aim was to reveal how art can speak positively in places of poverty today. 

 The conference was hosted by community groups that suffered from high unemployment and many social problems, but which retained a powerful community spirit and much artistic talent.  For example, since 2001 Plantation Productions, a registered charity, has delivered a wide range of arts and media activities and events in the south-west area of Glasgow.  The objective has been to provide  opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to benefit from engaging in the creative arts, where access to such services may otherwise be limited.  The projects were aimed at delivering outcome-based programmes to increase the life chances of people facing disadvantage; improve opportunities for families and communities and raise the profile of the area they serve. 

In the long history of Govan ‘Kandinsky in Govan’ could be seen as just another top down, short term, charitable initiative. But its novel aspect was an attempt to embed arts reasoning to express sustainability. The importance of Wassili Kandinsky, (1866-1944), in this process is that he was one of the inventors of abstract art (perhaps more accurately, non-representational or object-free art). In 1911 he produced the first abstract watercolor that concentrated on colors and shapes free from the usual subjects or objects of the outside world (Fig1).  

Kandinsky writes: 

“It has been said… that art is the child of its age. Such an art can only create an artistic future, which is only a child of the age and cannot become a mother of the Future.  She is transitory and to all intent dies the moment the atmosphere alters which nourished her. The other art, that which is capable of educating further, springs equally from contemporary feeling, but is at the same time not only echo and mirror of it, but also has a deep and powerful prophetic strength.”  

The ‘other art’ is abstraction, which he saw as a language that was not only capable of expressing deeper truths but also of communicating them to all the senses.  Abstraction applied arts’ reasoning to help draw forth a more sustainable and humane world.  In particular, Kandinsky viewed non-objective, abstract art as the ideal visual mode and language to express the “inner necessity” of people.  ‘Inner necessity’ is a major principle of art dealing with the foundation of forms and the harmony of colours.  Kandinsky defines it as the principle of the efficient contact of form and colour with the human imagination to embed and convey universal human emotions, ideas and values. He viewed himself as a prophet whose mission was to share this ideal of inner necessity with the world for the betterment of society. He realised he was placing new demands on his viewers, declaring that ‘an evolution in observance was necessary’. This meant the spectator had to take part in the creation of a meaning for the work, almost as if in a mystic ritual. In other words, the role of ‘Kandinsky in Govan’ was to acknowledge and apply abstract art as a social service to build an innovative cluster of learning, research and industry.  The long-term objective was to stimulate  community engagement with the future of Govan starting with the arts, inspiring social change to make it a more attractive place to live, visit and work.  This had to begin with  providing proactive, ‘go to spaces’ for people in areas characterized by poor availability of good work who want to discuss how to build good work which binds communities as one.  In this respect, McIntosh wrote in The Guardian. 

“I hear people yearning for what Kandinsky saw as prophetic art. Art that reveals hope. Art that breathes the flow of life into the veins.”

2 Spiritual Activism

Matt Carmichael and Alastair McIntosh, in their book ‘Spiritual Activism: Leadership As Service’ use the expression ‘spiritual activism’ (2015)  to mean the spiritual underpinning of action for social and ecological justice.

“It is an underpinning, because it is not sufficient to think of spirituality – that which gives life, – as an optional “dimension” or “element”. If activism is not grounded in spirituality it cannot be sustained in the long run: we either burn out or sell out as the oil of life runs low. We need replenishment from the wellheads of life itself. No matter what religious tradition we may or may not be coming from, this re-sourcing is a question of depth psychology and, we argue, ultimately one of spirituality’.

In October 1911 Kandinsky had gathered his ideas to promote spiritual activism in a little book that he called “Über das Geistige in der Kunst” – usually translated as ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’. Until the invention of abstraction artists were  concerned with depicting human physicality.  Physicality is a noun that defines the physical body and  the needs to make connect with the body through exercise, meditation, massage, dancing, eating and drinking, or sexuality

Spirituality is a broader concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience, something that touches us all. People often describe their spirituality simply as a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness with people and nature.  

Spirituality is a noun. It defines thoughts and beliefs about how we should think, feel, or behave about a particular group of people, an activity, a time, or a place.   It goes with the claim that abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality.  Rather than trying to figure out what the painting looks like, just allow yourself to be taken in by it. See what emotions, sensations or memories emerge. Let your eyes relax and travel around the piece without expectation. Examine the colors, forms, materials, surface, and how they interact with each other and produce the third dimension. Take your time. Let the work “speak” to you, enabling it to flow within its inner states.  Create new emotional and cognitive associations, and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to reach. This process is rewarding as far as it enables the exploration of yet undiscovered inner territories of mental spirituality that generate our values.  

What we value exerts an important influence on our behaviour.  Intrinsic values are those which are inherently rewarding; such as creativity, social justice and connection with nature. Extrinsic values are centered on external approval or rewards; for instance wealth, social status, self image and personal security. We’re each motivated by all these values to some degree and our dominant personal values can change through our lives..

These are just some of the ways in which people can express and cultivate their spirituality where making and viewing abstract art is the catalyst.

  • relate to friends, family, and neighbours in ways that give and receive love, support, kindness, guidance, loyalty, and forgiveness;
  • Express yourself  creatively or artistically (e.g., woodworking or sewing, writing poetry or making music, painting or sculpting);
  • appreciate visual or performing arts (e.g., attending a concert, visiting an art gallery, or going to a movie);
  • read books and engage in conversations about the meaning of life;
  • Pay attention to the movements of your emotional life, the stirrings of the spirit evident in sadness, longing, love, anxiety/fear, anger, joy, pride, hope, and compassion;
  • enjoy the natural world (e.g., gardening or hiking, watching songbirds or sunsets, traveling to scenic places, spending time at a cottage, savoring the first snowfall or spring buds;
  • enjoying comedy and humour (e.g., light-hearted banter in everyday conversation, the capacity to see the joke in life’s discouraging moments, or comedies on the stage or in books or movies);
  • trying to live ethically, by integrating justice and fairness, peace-making, or green practices into their lives.

Love, trust, and forgiveness are important in your search for meaning within relationships. You grow spiritually as you learn to do these things:

  • love and care for yourself, express compassion for others, delight in the natural and human-made worlds, and cherish your place and participation in the web of life;
  • trust your intuitions and conscience, develop trustworthy relationships, trust that meaning can be found in every moment and place of your life, discern whom you can trust, and trust that the universe (or higher entity) is friendly no matter what happens;
  • forgive yourself for failures and wrongdoing, seek justice when you have been abused or wronged, let go of the desire for revenge when you have been hurt, accept that in the big picture you are accepted and valued just as you are.

3 Adaptable Blogging Clusters 

There are currently no real grassroots spaces, institutions or methods to enable  people to talk about their future of work, as individuals looking to change their lives, or as members of a community looking for a sustainable future. This hampers meaningful involvement in the design of work futures and is probably the reason why past top down community initiatives, like the ones in Govan, have failed to take root .   However, we now live in a world driven by social media, there is no escaping it. So ignoring social media’s potential to advance and enhance adaptive bottom up communication is a dangerous oversight. 

This potential can be realised by the formation of blogging communities.  These are groups of bloggers formed around a central idea, commonality or interest.  Such communities exist to help writers connect around shared characteristics and blog topics, offering them a chance to grow together and learn from one another’s experiences.  A suitable mantra is “all failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation”. 

We are at the beginning of using blogging for social and educational purposes.  Blogs allow others to easily interact and converse in a public setting. They allow Internet users to communicate more easily than most websites, through tools such as comments, trackbacks and social network bookmarking. Interaction is the key to building a successful blogging platform as the go-to places for spiritual activism.  In this connection, the Adaptable Blogging Cluster (ABC) (Fig 2)  has been established on the Google Blogger platform by International Classrooms On Line to exemplify the data  basing logic of  a citizen’s environmental network 

Fig 2 A blogging system using Google Blogger

The ABC  is a group of organisations, families and individuals signed up independently to Google Blogger.  They create free blogs and posts and can invite comments on the posts. It is an adaptive micro learning, tool where people and organisations can upload authored information packages and download selected bite size pieces of content according to their ability level. 

4 Purposes Of An ‘ABC’

An ABC should:

• provide support to those who want to undertake career transitions, working with and promoting adult education and work placement opportunities with skills providers and local businesses. 

• disseminate information about how local and national government shapes the futures of work. This is a precursor to residents effectively engaging in opportunities to shape their collective work future and the architecture and infrastructure that supports it. 

• provide space for community led dialogue about how to build futures of work which match the community. 

• ensure a strong level of youth participation in conversations about the future of work. 

The role of public art reflects a community and its surroundings working to cultivate a cultural identity by setting a community apart and attracting people to its uniqueness. Artwork of any kind helps express a community’s values and creates an elevated sense of awareness for community members and visitors.  The special role of abstract art is to encourage the brain to respond in a less restrictive and stereotypical manner, exploring new associations, activating alternative paths for emotions, and forming new creative links in the brain.   Therefore, abstract art will always remain  popular and current because it is not defined by the artist, the time in which it was created or a subject.  Abstract art is emotionally and aesthetically malleable according to the needs of its makers and viewers.  In other words every community should ‘Go Kandinsky and create a citizen’s environmental network’.(CEN) 

The following three ideas for CENs  could provide the basis for ABC solutions,

(ii) The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), first published in 1994, proposes a national (CEN) consisting  of  groupings of schools, communities and individuals to celebrate local nature sites.  The Plan suggests that local nature can be protected and promoted in many ways; through the media, tourism and local Government policy. In the longer term it might also reflect the growing interest in building design in harmony with local landscape, materials and traditions. 

The Government’s idea was that a CEN could help mobilize the community and individuals as a collective devoted to local conservation management.   In particular, it could emphasize the role of biodiversity in local culture and foster personal understandings of being at one with nature. The BAP states that Government will continue to work with voluntary bodies, Local Agenda 21, and business and will vigorously promote the schemes for which it is directly responsible. In addition the BAP says that Government will aim to increase awareness of environmental issues, including conserving and enhancing biodiversity, enlisting support and commitment.  These initiatives can take a variety of forms. They may be led in some instances by a local authority, in others by voluntary groups, the Chamber of Commerce, local churches and so on.  The BAP goes on to say that the action taken could include round table discussions of local problems and opportunities, public awareness campaigns and practical projects. 

For England the idea was that the Department of the Environment would select a small number of voluntary groups, institutions, and consultancies and invite them to tender for a commission to act as a central secretariat to this process. The secretariat would build a register of the local initiatives and put people in touch with each other – creating an informal and varied Network.  These schemes did not materialize.

(ii)  After the 1992 Environment Summit thousands of young people from nearly 100 countries worked together summarising the outcome as a book entitled ‘Resque Mission Planet Earth’, lavishly illustrated with their artwork and writings.  In the section called Getting It Together they described their aims and aspirations for a global network of youth Fig 3.

Fig 3 A global democracy of Youth.

They described  their vision as follows

“The first thing to do is to select issues not representatives. That way, we can all choose what we want to talk about, after which the question of who does the talking is less important. The first place to organize is in our schools. Each Rescue Mission will start with a conference where we would decide the issues and elect a small action council to see things get done. Like the children’s councils in France, we will have regular access to local government and work with them, perhaps to organize the Local Agenda 21.

With experience at the local level, we’ll be ready to ask for access to state governments. 

Representatives from all local councils in our state, region or province will take priority issues decided by local conferences and discuss them at a state conference, again, electing a council to see that things get done. This council would work with state governments to make sure things get done. The final goal is to move on to national, continental and international levels – a step-ladder the things that concern you and me can be carried to the highest levels of power. This is the kind of structure we need to make the Rescue Mission work.

The key to it all is keeping in touch with each other. This is hard to do with the language differences, distances, phone bills etc. The solution is to set up a series of Youth Centres around the world, run by young people from different countries. Their job would be to help set up and promote the Action Councils and to keep in touch with each other. The Rescue Mission will be promoted chiefly through the many existing eco-groups, scouts, guides etc. The Youth Centres will simply promote and network their work and success around the world. Children and governments in the rich world must help pay for centres to be set up in developing countries. Young people from rich and poor countries will work together to making each centre like a youth United Nations – a place where anybody can get the information they want on global problems. It would also be a place where local young people can meet, hang out and chat. Working there for 6 months to a year should be an option to replace National Service. Al Gore sees the Rescue Mission as a way of collecting eco-information. Many of us do that already and it would be good to network that information globally. But this structure could do other things, especially help developing countries. If Mr Gore is serious about partnership, we hope that he will sit down and hear our ideas as well.

That means access. Something we’ve never had. Sure we’ve had photo-opportunities: politicians standing surrounded by kids, or kissing babies. Now we need them really to listen to us. The day could be on different days in different countries but once a year, perhaps on the International Day of Peace (3rd Tuesday in September), we would gather all the results and tell the general public what our leaders have said – how far they kept the promises they made to us the previous year.

Who can participate? Anyone under the age of 18. Non-voters. Older people will be welcome as staff and advisers; (remember -Agenda 21 is about making partnerships!) But under 18s will be in control”.

(iii) Postcards are fundamental learning tools for collecting and organizing paper information. Working with a postcard database does not need a computer but there is always an option to integrate it seamlessly into an electronically networked information society.  Indeed, as a basic teaching tool, every postcard has a story to tell about the culture of its maker. Using postcards in class can be a motivating writing task and add a level of stimulation for students. A person sending and receiving postcards at home can quickly build a personal body of knowledge about environmental issues and the skills to tackle them.

Postcards were the first global social network binding the world together with common interests, creating links between people, places, and beliefs. Today they can alert people of all ages about the wonder of creation and the need to bring the climate crisis to the centre of education at all levels for living sustainably.  There are  forums where you can talk in your own language and share information/cards across social and political boundaries about what you are doing, or should do, individually or collectively to make the world a better place.  This means defining social action and active citizenship.

5 Blogging About Social Action & Active Citizenship

Historically, citizenship education has been understood in two ways: as promoting responsible citizens through reflective inquiry, and as active citizenship learned through social action. The responsible citizen approach proposes that schools can prepare students for their civic role by developing their ability to form thoughtful opinions on matters of public policy. Advocates of active citizenship agree that reflective thinking about public matters is important but suggest that students should learn to act on their beliefs. Active citizenship within an ABC challenges students to identify, plan and carry out responsible community actions. Participation in responsible social action is necessary if students are to become participatory citizens. By putting reflective inquiry “to work”, using social media, active citizenship provides students with opportunities to test their ideas and learn about personal efficacy through social action. 

The Bigger Picture

Why Schools Should Teach The Curriculum Of The Future

The Govan Portal

The Grimsby Project

What Does The Brain Tell Us?

Social Action Projects

International Classrooms On Line

A Leap For Wales

Sunday, August 7th, 2022

The logic for making community action plans to change things for the better  Version 1 05/07/2012   

1 Advantages of community engagement  

A national government view  

In 2010, the Social Justice Department of the Welsh Government produced an action plan to  develop a high quality and responsive community development sector in Wales, with a focus  on bringing about change founded on social justice, equality and inclusion. The aim is to  strengthen Wales’s economic performance and transform the life chances of people in Wales.  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 objective therefore is 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.  

A local government view  

Wrexham Borough Council Leader Aled Roberts has illustrated through a series of examples  how his own local authority had benefited from involving residents in setting up and running  local services. This experience also demonstrated that there is no single model of  neighbourhood regeneration because communities are best placed to decide how it should be  done. Quoted from ‘’Bringing Neighbourhood Centre Stage in Wales; 2008′ 

A community view  

‘Come Outside!’ was a Wales-wide scheme, which enables communities to gain the benefits  that the outdoors has to offer. By addressing community needs and aspirations through  outdoor activities, participation becomes valued and the benefits are sustained. Dave Horton,  Senior Community Development Worker Ely/Caerau, where this scheme was tested in  Cardiff, said:  

 “This project is aimed at uniting the communities of Ely and Caerau and giving people the  confidence to enjoy their local environment.  

“It also offers the local community a chance to learn new conservation skills such as planning  and managing green spaces.”  

A school view  

“Schools should engage with families and the broader community, including businesses, other  statutory agencies and the voluntary sector. Schools also need to work with other agencies to  address the well-being and citizen aspirations of individual learners. When schools work with  other agencies to deliver joined-up programmes, the full range of resources and expertise can  be harnessed to deliver improved learner outcomes and well-being.”  

2 General logic model for community change  

A logic model is a story or picture of how an effort or initiative is supposed to work. The  process of developing the model brings together stakeholders to articulate the goals of the  program and the values that support it, and to identify strategies with desired outcomes of the  initiative. These strategic plans are turned into action plans using an operational planning and  recording system.  

As a means to communicate a program visually, within a coalition or work group and to  present it to external audiences, a logic model provides a common language and reference  point for everyone involved in the initiative.  

A logic model is essential for collaborative community planning, implementing a plan and  evaluating the initiative. It helps stakeholders in the neighbourhood to agree on short-term as  well as long-term objectives during the planning process, decide on activities and actors, and  establish clear criteria for evaluation during the effort. When the initiative ends, it provides a  framework for assessing overall effectiveness of the initiative, as well as the activities,  resources, and external factors that played a role in the outcome.  

To develop a specific model, it will probably be necessary to use both forward and reverse  logic. Working backwards, a start can be made with the desired outcomes and then identify  the strategies and resources leading to projects that will accomplish them. Combining this  with forward logic produces an operational pathway to produce the desired effects (Fig 1).  

Fig 1 General community planning logic

The model will probably be revised. This is precisely one advantage to using a logic model.  because it relates program activities to their effect,. It helps keep stakeholders focused on  achieving outcomes, while it remains flexible and open to finding the best means to enact a  unique story of change. For these reasons it is important to start with a prepared document  template. It is important that this template produced a ‘live’ document that is kept up  to date and does not gather dust on the shelf.  

An understanding of planning logic is necessary for all human activities, from baking a cake  to running a multi-national corporation. The basic procedure for making a community action  plan is to set a measurable objective for a feature of the neighbourhood that raises a local  issue, schedule the work to be done to meet the goal, and report what was actually done.  Monitoring is then carried out to check how close the outcome is to the objective. Plans are  essentially diaries of what to do, what was done, what the outcome was and what remains to  be done. 

Making a start with local ‘green’ issues is good beginning because the increase and  maintenance of local biodiversity is the central principle of sustainable development on all  geographical scales and is closely associated with the establishment of a sense of place. This  could be tidying up waste ground, tree planting etc.  

Sense of place encompasses the meanings that a given place holds for people and the  attachments that people develop for that place. It is expressed when people say they feel good  about where they live.  

There is a broad environmental element, pinpointed by what have come to be known as ‘front  door issues of environmental poverty’ and an economic element (the ‘back kitchen’ issues of  traditional poverty.  

Environmental justice seeks solutions to front door issues of environmental poverty.  These issues are usually defined in the ‘square mile’ where people live, walk and socialise.  

The overall aim of a logic model for making an action plan for community change is therefore  to increase the proportion of people who feel good about their square mile/neighbourhood’.  Success in achieving this objective is measured with simple before and after surveys that can  be done within the community. Valid and reliable surveys for measuring sense of place exist  and have been tested successfully as assessment instruments. These yield outcome  performance indicators of the community action plan.  

Factors influencing community well being are many and varied:  

i Sociability, which includes:  

Number of women, children and elderly  

Social networks  

Volunteerism  

Evening use of the neighbourhood  

Street life  

ii Uses and activities, which includes:  

Ownership of local business  

Land use patterns  

Property values  

Rent levels  

Shops  

iii Comfort and image, which includes  

Crime  

Sanitation rating  

Littering/refuse collection  

Condition of buildings  

Trees, gardens and grass  

Graffiti  

Local history/heritage highlights  

Signage  

Recreation/play areas  

Creative arts groups 

iv Access and linkages, which includes  

Traffic  

Public transport  

Pedestrian and cycling activity  

Condition of roads and pavements  

Parking patterns  

Success in creating a good sense of place depends on bringing many different providers of  expertise and finance together to enable community volunteers to address one or more of  above factors in an action plan. 

“Action plans express the passions people have about their neighbourhood” 

3 Co-production  

Co-production as a system  

A Definitions of co-production  

“On a simple level, co-production is about involving people in the  delivery of public services, helping to change their relationship  with services from dependency to genuinely taking control.” –  Communities in Control, NHS Tayside Health Equity Strategy  

“Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and  reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services,  their families and their neighbours.” – New Economics Foundation  It recognises and aims to combine and strengthen different kinds of  knowledge and experience, changing the balance of power from the  professional towards the service user.” – Scottish Community  Development Centre  

“I dislike the term co-production…..but absolutely support the  concept. It is about involving people not only in the rowing and the  steering of the boat, but also in actually building it.” – Mr Sandy  Watson OBE DL, Chairman NHS Tayside  

“Co-production is the process of active dialogue and engagement  between people who use services, and those who provide them” – Sir  Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland  

“On a personal level it’s about learning to let go of my control, and  rely instead on my influence, as an equal partner, over the things  which affect the lives of other people.” – Dr Drew Walker, director  of Public Health, NHS Tayside  

‘For me it’s about combining our mutual strengths and capacities so  that we can work with one another on an equal basis to achieve  positive change’ – Fiona Garven, Director, SCDC  

‘…co-design involves many actors with different knowledge and backgrounds who  get together to improve on each other’s ideas and develop something new. In co design, we often use the term ‘rehearsing the future’,”  

B Co-production as a 3-step procedure  

Step 1 Social engagement to exchange ideas and values  

• Gaining insights of the community’s needs  

• Gaining insights of the community’s assets to meet the needs  

Step 2 Technical enablement to reach desired outcomes  

• Setting objectives as desired outcomes and making a plan to gather and  schedule assets to reach these outcomes  

• Review the actual outcomes against the desired outcomes  

Step 3 Modify the plan if necessary  

 4 The LEAP for Wales action plan logic  

LEAP stands for ‘learning, evaluation and planning’, which is the title of a community  framework document designed by the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) to  support a partnership approach to achieving change and improvement in the quality of  community life (Fig 2).  

‘LEAP for Wales’ is a development of the Scottish initiative as a community  planning/recording procedure, which incorporates the feedback logic of the conservation  management system (CMS) software, used by UK Environment Agencies and Wildlife Trusts  to produce conservation management plans for nature sites. Making a community LEAP for  Wales is based on answering the following seven questions (Fig 3).  

1 What are the issues that bug the community?  

(Identifying the need)  

2 What does the community want to see happen?  

(Setting the vision and the specific objectives)  

3 What are the barriers preventing the community getting where it wants to be?  (Determining the limiting factors of the objectives)  

4 How will the team know when they have overcome the barriers?  

(Setting measurable outcomes as performance indicators)  

5 What work has to be done?  

(Scheduling resources and actions)  

6 What progress is being made?  

(Monitoring by measurement of outcome performance indicators)  

7 Who needs to know the outcomes?  

(Feedback reports to the team, partners and funders)  

The SCDC says their LEAP framework should be useful to community organisations; local  authorities; voluntary sector organisations; and policy makers, particularly those involved in  community well being programmes, community planning partnerships, community  regeneration programmes, and social inclusion and social justice initiatives.  

• It encourages critical questioning to ensure that all those with a stake in taking action  for environmental improvements are working to a shared agenda.  

• The LEAP framework emphasises self-evaluation, encouraging participants to take  joint responsibility for planning and evaluation throughout a project or programme.  • It is a learning-based planning and evaluation framework to support good practice in  community working to improve the quality of community life.  

• It helps identify the difference a community hopes to make, to plan more effectively,  work in partnership with each other and other members of the community, and learn  the lessons from the experience.  

• The LEAP framework can be used in different contexts, to support the work of  different sectors, and at project, programme and policy level. It is particularly useful  as a tool to support partnership working and the production of community action  plans. 

Fig 2 The original LEAP logic diagram (2005)  

Fig 3 The LEAP for Wales logic diagram  

5 Networking for community action  

Plans can be made on paper, when a community sets out to answer the seven questions of the  CMS logic, but using software as a set of spreadsheets or a dedicated database-diary is better  for continuity and reporting. In a wider community context, conservation management is  equated with planning for sustainability in all aspects of community life. Every nook and  cranny of a neighbourhood becomes a distinctive place worthy of environmental surveillance  and a community action plan. A plan can be modelled on the preservation or enhancement of  the community’s core green heritage assets, no matter how small. The plan can then be  extended to include the management of other community assets/issues, such as health,  transport, security, energy use, tidiness, and opportunities for employment and recreation. In  this context the basic planning logic unifies action and recording across sectorial boundaries.  

When the UK strategy for sustainable development was first launched, the idea of a national  citizen’s environmental network was proposed. The aim was to unite people to share their  ideas and achievements in making and running community action plans for living sustainably.  It was envisaged that a ‘copycat network’ should be initiated and controlled at the community  level to ensure good ideas and practices are copied and multiplied. However, the idea as it  was originally proposed, did not materialise; the Internet was in its infancy and freely  available social networking software did not exist. 

An environmental network needs to have the following two features:  

(i) A system for social networking  

(ii) A freely accessible database for presenting the community’s planning process and its  current state of progress towards meeting outcomes of citizen-led environmental  improvements.  

The Internet is now available to accommodate these two features on line. The first  requirement is exemplified by text-based screen presentations such as ‘wikis’, blogs and  ‘conversational threads’; the second is illustrated by the ‘web viewer’ for presenting versions  of the databases that are used to record planning and its outcomes as a process, which can  both be interrogated on line by every member of the community.  

An Internet community consists of:  

• People, who act socially as they strive to satisfy their own needs or perform special roles,  such as leading or moderating;  

• A shared purpose, such as an interest, need, information exchange, or service that provides a  facility for the community;  

• Policies, in the form of tacit assumptions, rituals, protocols, rules, and laws that guide  people’s interactions;  

• Software systems, to support and mediate social interactions and facilitate a sense of  togetherness”  

These common activities help to create a sense of community by providing a common feeling  of identity, with which the members of the community can associate themselves. This growth  of trust between members of a community is an important factor in the success of an online 

community. The common factors that help shape the behaviour of community members  become practiced habits that help to construct the norms and identity of the community as a  whole. The strength of such a network is frequently perceived to impart a heightened vitality  to the community, and contributes to a strong sense of community identity.    

Social networking  

Social networking is the process of initiating, developing and maintaining friendships and  collegial or project sharing relationships for mutual benefit. Current discussions surrounding  social networking deal with web-based or technology-mediated tools, interactions, and related  phenomena, but social networking really takes place in many forms, including face to face. A  community that is active in strong in planning and acting grows through social networking, a  process in which the Internet is now a primary driver.  

Much technology-facilitated social networking is done in the form of person-to-person  exchanges that can be classified as question and answer, point and counterpoint,  announcement and support, action and feedback.  

Technologies that facilitate social networking tend to emphasize ease of use, spontaneity,  personalization, exchange of contacts, and low-end voyeurism. Some technologies that are  often considered social networking technologies may not be socially oriented in and of  themselves, but the communities that form around such technologies often demonstrate key  elements of social networking (for example, the discussion communities that form around  collaboratively authored wiki content).  

Online community networks are often developed and deployed to supplement residential face to-face communities in an effort to revitalise and grow neighbourhoods and to revive civic  engagement and local community identity in society. In this context, the ubiquity of the  Internet enables and encourages users to pursue ‘personalized networking’ which leads to the  emergence of private ‘portfolios of sociability’. ‘Proximity’ is the factor in on line residential  communities, which produces networked individualism. This gives online residential  communities a competitive advantage over dispersed online communities. Residential  networks allow residents to interact online and to continue developing online interaction  offline, in real life and face to face. This offline and place-based dimension introduces  challenges to the design, development and rollout of online community networks.  

Reaching a critical mass of users is considered to be the key criterion of success and has been  reported as one of the most common stumbling blocks: “If you build it, they will not  necessarily come”. However, other studies have shown that a critical mass of interconnected  users alone is not sufficient for a community network to live up to higher expectations, such  as increasing social capital in the community, fostering sociability and establishing  community identity. Those geographic communities already rich in social capital may  become richer thanks to community networks, and those communities poor in social capital  may remain poor, or simply put, connectivity does not ensure community. Something else  has to be done. The Internet neither destroys nor creates social capital, people do, and the  Internet will not automatically offset the decline in more conventional forms of social capital,  but it has that potential. 

Some examples of popular social networking technologies include:  

• asynchronous discussions via discussion boards or newsgroups  

• instant messaging, e.g. MSN, AIM, and ICQ  

• text-messaging or SMS  

• message logging and sharing, such as Twitter 

• document sharing and controlled collaborative authoring, such as Zoho or Google  Docs & Spreadsheets  

• loosely structured collaborative authoring and information sharing, such as wikis.  • photo sharing, such as Flickr and Picasa  

• video sharing, such as YouTube  

• blogs (life-sharing, news analysis, and editorialising)  

• online communities, such as Nings, Facebook, etc.  

• Second Life – sort of a combination of many of the above communication and  collaborative tools. 

Electronic networks may help support human networks and combat social exclusion provided  there is sufficient access and support. Experience shows that most communities start as small  emergent clusters organized around common interests or goals. Usually these clusters are  isolated from each other. They are very small groups of 1-5 people or organizations that have  connected out of necessity. Many of these small clusters are found in under-developed  communities. If these clusters do not organize further, the community structure remains weak  and under-producing. Without an active leader who takes responsibility for building a  network spontaneous connections between groups emerge very slowly, or not all. This  network leadership role is known as a network weaver. Instead of allowing these small  clusters to drift in the hope of making a lucky connection, the weaver actively creates new  interactions between the clusters. Through this activity useful community structures emerge.  This process is not easy to start, to maintain and to spread.  

Spreading know how, good ideas and achievements is vital so that a community knows where  it stands. This requires groups coming together in geographical nodes, which then make  connections with other nodes. Nodes can appear and coalesce in community facilities, such  as churches and heritage centres. Establishing nodes is also vital for bringing new  communities on board and to provide local training in the planning logic and how to use  software. It was to serve these purposes that the ecomuseum emerged as an idea to promote  the establishment of self-sustaining citizen’s environmental networks. 

“The greatest limiting factor in setting up a regional citizen’s environmental  

network is to establish local training centres”.

6 Neighbourhood ecomuseums  

Introduced by the French museologist Hugues de Varine in 1971, the word ecomuseum is  used to define a very special kind of museum based on an agreement by which a local  community takes care of a place (M.Maggi, 2002, Ecomusei. Guida europea, Torino-Londra Venezia, Umberto Allemandi & C.), where:  

• agreement, means a long term commitment, not necessarily an obligation by the law;  • local community, means a local authority and a local population jointly;  • take care, means that some ethical commitment and a vision for a future kind of local  development are needed;  

• place, means not just a surface but complex layers of cultural, social, environmental  values, which define a unique local heritage.  

According to “Declaration of Intent of the Long Net Workshop, Trento (Italy), May 2004” an  Ecomuseum is a dynamic way in which communities preserve, interpret, and manage their  heritage for a sustainable development.  

A ‘dynamic way’ means to go beyond the formal aspect of a museum, and beyond a simple  set course, designed on paper. It is about designing real actions, able to change society and  improve the landscape.  

Community means a group with:  

• general involvement;  

• shared responsibilities;  

• interchangeable roles: where public officers, representatives, volunteers and other  local actors are all playing a vital role in an ecomuseum.  

Ecomuseums are more properly defined by what they do rather than by what they are. Interest  in ecomuseums is growing all the time. Museums of this type are now springing up all over  Europe. Over 80% of such initiatives saw the light in the last 30 years, and the phenomenon  multiplied notably in the 1980s. After the Second World War, the entire landscape and the  economy of European countries had been turned upside down: factories closed,  unemployment reached new levels, trades disappeared, traditions, customs and modes of life  were wiped out. It is during this period of rapid transformation that the concept of the  “Ecomuseum” came to life; partly to protect some of this complex heritage and also as a tool  to help the concerned populations that gave a meaning to this heritage. Examples of abound in  Europe and notably in France around the industrial parks of Eastern and Northern France that  had been abandoned during the early 20th century.  

The basic tasks of the ecomuseum do not differ from those of traditional museums and  heritage centres to collect, document, study, conserve and communicate a given heritage.  However, “new” museums differ from conventional museums in that they ascribe utilitarian  value to the tasks of preservation and connect the work to non-museum aims, such as the  presentation of ideas to promote living sustainably.  

The area for the ecomuseum is referred to as a discrete territory, which can be a parish or  electoral ward, or a region consisting of a group of these communities networked to a regional  node, which could be a conventional museum (Fig 4). In the context of LEAP, the  ecomuseum is could be seen as a virtual on-line entity using social networking software to  present and explain its exhibits, in the form of pictures, videos, audio files and text  documents.  

Fig 4 Necklace models of ecomuseums  

“To connect is to be human” 

7 An integrated model of localism  

Organisations of all sizes suffer from the consequences of internal functional barriers. This is  a major pain point in government because because most major strategies require support from  many different support groups. In order to break down these silos, each functional group and  

the individuals within it must understand how they fit into the core functions of bigger  strategic frameworks. The problem is variously termed as Silo Thinking, Silo Vision, Silo  Mentality or the Silo Effect. This is evident when departments, teams or staff, who may be  high performers individually, fail to choreograph their activities to deliver their resources  required to integrate with the inputs from others. This symptom is so widespread that it is  often accepted as an inevitable problem within all organisations. Except that it is not  inevitable. The problem with organizations that are trapped in this siloed mentality is that  employees rarely study how their function relates to the inputs of others.  

Silo thinking of this kind can only be overcome by all providers working to a common  systems model, which for community development is described as a community resource  map. The map defines the connections between stakeholders and those in support. It shows  the alignment and deployment of the resources from a particular agency or department  towards a clear set of objectives, with accountability for the efficiency and effectiveness of  their application. Managers will then take responsibility for defining clearly what has to be  achieved for their group to secure its successful integration into the mission.  

Community resource mapping is a strategy for promoting inter-agency collaboration by better  have access to a broad, comprehensive, and integrated system of services essential in  achieving desired outcomes defined by the stakeholders. Community resource mapping can  be used to improve education, workforce development, and economic development in a  community by aligning available services and resources, streamlining those services and  resources, and identifying areas of need. The idea of resource mapping builds on the  community’s strengths by increasing the frequency, duration, intensity, and quality of  services and supports in the community. It is a route map to organize information and give  direction to meet a common community goal. As a result of resource mapping, people have  more flexibility and choice in navigating the system, whether they be providers or  stakeholders.  

Community resource mapping is particularly important as a strategy for improving outcomes  for communities with complex and varied needs. When collectively pooled, resources for  such communities can create a synergy that produces services well beyond the scope of what  any single provider can hope to mobilize. The alignment of resources, streamlining of  resources, and identification of service gaps within the community enables educators and  service providers to (a) understand the full range of services available to different members  within a community, (b) more efficiently provide the specific supports needed by each, and  (c) develop new services and supports targeted to fill existing gaps.  

An example of a community resource map is presented in Fig 4. It is a system designed to  funnel services from departments within the Welsh government, local government and partner  agencies, so that national community development strategies can be more effectively  integrated into communities who are making action plans to increase their well being. It was  outlined at the ‘Environmental Event’ held in Cardiff, in May 2012 and was later developed  into the ‘cynefin’ system for promoting place-based community action plans.

Fig 5 Community resource map for integrating top-down support for bottom-up needs 

“Everyone is a piece in the community jigsaw”