Category Archives: Society

New Year, New Team

GLOBUS: A Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
1st January 2018

To all our readers, old and new,

First of all, allow me to wish you all a very happy, and prosperous, New Year. I hope that, this time next year, we will be able to look back at one that has well and truly moved on from the relative gloom of 2017.

And what a year it has been! Donald Trump (need I say more?), the advent of Brexit negotiations, escalating tensions in the Middle East, North Africa, and on the Korean Penninsula… and that’s just to skim the surface. As a student of Global Sustainable Development, what perhaps stands out most to me is the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement – an event that, I believe, most in the field have viewed with a feeling of despair.

What I would like to express today, however, is hope. The defiance of all other signatories to the Paris Agreement is, to continue the theme, perhaps the best example of this. We have the tools to fight the problems of our time; with such winds of global change blowing, and with people more than ever before fighting for their rights, their livelihoods, and their world, perhaps now is the time that we will see them used.

It is into such a context that I, and my new GLOBUS team, step into our roles this New Year. I would like to take a moment to thank last year’s team for their work, and to wish them luck as they move on to exciting new parts of their lives – with the majority of the team moving this term and next to Australia or Malaysia, to study at the University of Monash as part of their Global Sustainable Development courses.

This year, we’ve got a huge variety of exciting new projects we’ll be looking to launch. Already, the GLOBUS team is involved in an outreach project with the Sutton Trust, working with a variety of ages on projects examining aspects of food sustainability, championed by staff from the School for Cross-Faculty Studies, the home department of all members of our GLOBUS team. This month, on January 26th, we will be having our landmark online relaunch event, followed up on February 2nd. Both events will see a variety of new content released, so be sure to check in here, or on our Facebook or Twitter pages @GlobusWarwick, to keep up.

Later in the year, we hope to be hosting some all-new events – plans for those are currently in the works, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that news with you all. I would also like to welcome in particular members of our new team from the Liberal Arts degree programme, who we look forward to working with to expand our perspective, and develop further our understanding and programme of content.

If you would like to get involved in writing, or producing other content (podcasts and videos are inbound!), for or with GLOBUS, or you would like to get involved with our GLOBUS team, please do get in touch via the contact form on our ‘About Us’ page, or directly with me at editor@globuswarwick.com.

All that remains for me to do is to thank you all for your continued support of GLOBUS; I hope that you will all enjoy engaging with our publication in the coming year, and find it insightful, stimulating, and most importantly -global.

 

All the best,

171230 Signature

GLOBUS Editor-in-Chief, 2018

How I fell out of love with education – The Alternative (2/2)

by Arifa Akther

What are the alternatives?

If you read the first part of this piece, you’ll know some of the problems with the current education system including: standardised testing, reduced funding for the Art’s programmes and the pressure on teachers. So, what can be done/ has been done to address these issues?

Firstly, we need to allow children to be children. Islamically, the teachings state that for the first seven years are to be allocated to allow the child to play. But most children are in formal education by the age of 6, with years in pre-school before that. The consequence? Potentially stunting our children’s spiritual and emotional growth. Hanson analysed many western child development psychologists’ work studying the effects of early academic education interfering with a child’s emotional development. A 5 year old child views the world differently, they cannot distinguish between the imaginary and reality. To them, their garden can very well be the Amazon Rainforest. They simply won’t view the garden they way you see it. Thus, when yelling at them because they can’t identify a paint brush as such, but instead as a wand which can summon tigers from Asia (the family house cat) can cause them to “feel angry and confused” and later in life unable to think in the abstract.

Between the age of 5 to 7 the child starts to rationalise until the age of 7 when there is now a clear split. Hence why in Islam it is incorrect to punish a child before the age of 7 as they have “no intellectual capability to understand right from wrong… therefore the punishment will not serve as justice but instead likely to leave emotional wounds”. These years are therefore meant to focus on “laying a strong emotional foundation that will serve them well throughout their life” by playing games that build their ability to empathise with others. So, if they play via acting as a: mother, talking horse, a poor child in the street or an elderly man, they learn how to step in the shoes of another. By neglecting this aspect of the childhood and instead sitting in class to practice their handwriting, you end up with an entire generation who are uncompassionate to others. Through no fault of their own. Therefore, I would like to see pre-school last until the age of 7, focusing on arts, crafts, creative play and sports. Finland has this exact system in place.

Finland has children starting formal education later but also has:

  • Shorter school days with no homework- so students can disconnect and have time to focus on hobbies and physical fitness.
  • Open text book exams- children learn how to navigate through our information revolution rather than regurgitate information.
  • Topic learning- has recently been introduced so you can see how all subject interconnect.

 

On top of it all, being a teacher is one of the most respected professions and are paid appropriately for their contribution to society. Finland encourages collaboration over competition and as a result outperforms every other country. I would like to see more of Finland’s education system replicated universally.

Ken Robinson explains how children are natural learners and are very diverse, but the current system is “not about encouraging diversity but enforcing conformity, to find out what kids can do in a very narrow spectrum.” Sal Khan, discusses about how we need to “teach for mastery.” In this aspect, Khan emphasises how throughout school, we cover a topic, do a topic test, then move onto the next topic. In doing so, we never really cover the topic in full. Take for example in Chemistry, we cover Kinetics, and we get 85% in the exam. You have 15% of knowledge that’s incorrect, but you never truly fix it. In the next topic, about haloalkanes you gain 65% in that exam, now you’re missing 35% of that knowledge. We then repeat this process until we are at an advanced point in that subject that no longer makes sense due to that missed understanding that should have been taught fully beforehand. To put it in context, imagine if you were building a house. The foundation passed the inspection and received 85%. You then went and built the first floor, which by inspection received 65%. As you continue to build, at one point, the building will collapse due to the faults on the previous floors. No one would build on a foundation only 85% secure. You would complete it until it is 100% safe. So the alternative would be to teach for mastery. Once a topic is completed, for students to work together to fully understand 100% of the topic before moving on.

Crayon

Finally, if we run through other alternatives provided by “educational pioneers”:

Francisco Ferrer– “planned to establish a curriculum based on the natural sciences and moral rationalism, freed of all religious dogma and political bias. Although students were to receive systematic instruction, there were to be no prizes for scholarship, no marks or examinations, indeed no atmosphere of competition, coercion, or humiliation. The classes, in Ferrer’s words, were to be guided by the “principle of solidarity and equality.” Instruction was to rely exclusively on the spontaneous desire of students to acquire knowledge and permit them to learn at their own pace. The purpose of the school was to promote in the students “a stern hostility to prejudice,” to create “solid minds, capable of forming their own rational convictions on every subject.”

Séparateur

Dr. Maria Montessori– “is a child-centred educational approach based on scientific observations that children are naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive via: mixed age classrooms, Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options, Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours with a trained Montessori teacher who follows the child and is highly experienced in observing the individual child’s characteristics, tendencies, innate talents and abilities.” This method is exceptional for the fact that, education is proposed to be the process to create employable adults, however when applying for job- are we only competing with people our age for a position? Do we only work with people of our age? If so, my colleague Sarah will be happy to know she is no longer 54 but 20 like me!

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A.S Neil in Summerhill– “an influential model for progressive, democratic education around the world. Summerhill is the oldest children’s democracy in the world. It is probably the most famous alternative or ‘free’ school. The system that Summerhill employs is not only about education – it is also a different way of parenting which eliminates most of the friction and many of the problems experienced by modern families.” A similar school exists in Nepal, called Ashram orphanage which took in a young boy from age 3, and by the age of 22 received his PHD in Physics in Germany.

Steiner- created Waldorf Schools which “pedagogy emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of pupils. Steiner’s division of child development into three major stages is reflected in the school’s’ approach to early childhood education, which focuses on practical, hands-on activities and creative play; to elementary education, which focuses on developing artistic expression and social capacities; and to secondary education, which focuses on developing critical reasoning and empathic understanding. The overarching goal is to develop free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.”

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Home-schooling– Is a very real possibility, allowing your child to focus on themselves and develop in a safe environment rather than a competitive one. However, with both parents in work for households around the globe and mothers in developing countries poorly educated I would argue in favour of funding and creating new progressive, “creative schools”. I also favour the socialisation between children. From personal experiences, although there are consequences of “forced socialisation” including exposure to drugs, smoking and pornography- all this would also occur during their part time job at the age of 16. I believe instead, to teach about finding fulfilment in family and hobbies that prevent them turning to the alternatives for stress relief/pleasure. I also believe that by spending time with new people, developing mutually respective friendships having to interact with people you don’t necessarily like but seeing their view on things is more beneficial than without. Also, as I can see the very real potential in what school can become, I would argue in favour of these schools rather than the home environment if for anything, to disconnect the home from academia so when at an older age you can truly “turn off” to rest your mind from rigorous academic work. This is why you shouldn’t revise in your bedroom. You need to dissociate one from the other even in subtle contexts such as the room you carry out an activity. But for many it’s easy to see why home-schooling is the better option, especially in the short term when “creative schools” don’t exist. But this must be done with careful and consistent action as the latest figures show how “92 percent of superintendents believe that home learners are emotionally unstable, deprived of proper social development and too judgemental of the world around them, according to a California study by researcher Rd. Brian Ray.”

Séparateur

In conclusion there is no single solution to be implemented to help better educate the next general. It is a process and measurements are needed to protect the mental and physical health of our children. Let’s allow them to fall in love with learning. And the previous generations to fall back in love with learning just as I have. However, I have fallen out of love with our education system, and I can do my best to try to change the system for future generation to get back to the roots of real education, which allows and even encourages fish to swim not climb trees.

For all references please follow the link here.

 

REFERENCES
“A. S Neill’s Summerhill School.” A.S Neill’s Summerhill School.  http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/. Web. 28/08 2017.
“Introduction to Montessori Method.” American Montessori Society.  https://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori. Web. 28/08 2017.
“Is the Education system Obsolete?” “https://Www.Booksie.Com/481510-Is-the-Educational-System-Obsolete.”  2016.  https://www.booksie.com/481510-is-the-educational-system-obsolete. Web. 28/08 2017.
“Studies Show Normal Children Today Report More Anxiety Than Child Psychiatric Patients in the 1950’s ” American Psychological Association 2000.  http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/12/anxiety.aspx. Web. 01/09 2017.
“Waldorf Education.” Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education. Web. 28/08 2017.
Bookchin, Murray. “About Francisco Ferrer.” The Modern American Poetry 2013.  http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/scw/ferrer.htm. Web. 30/08 2017.
Butler, Patrick. “No Grammar Schools, Lots of Play: The Secrets of Europe’s Top Education System.” https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/20/grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare. Web. 28/08 2017.
Coughlan, Sean. “Student Suicide Figures Increase.” BBC 2016.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36378573 Web. 28/08 2017.
Ellie, Widdowson. “At Breaking Point: Why Are Young People More Stressed Than Ever?”  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ellie-widdowson/young-mental-health_b_8574520.html. ington Post 2015. Web. 02/09 2017.
Elliot, Larry. “Millions of Uk Workers at Risk of Being Replaced by Robots, Study Says.” The Guardian 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/24/millions-uk-workers-risk-replaced-robots-study-warns. Web. 30/08/17 2017.
Garner, Richard. “Education Secretary Nicky Morgan Tells Teenagers: Want to Keep Your Options Open? Then Do Science.”  2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/education-secretary-nicky-morgan-tells-teenagers-if-you-want-a-job-drop-humanities-9852316.html. Web. 27/08 2017.
Haverluck, Michael F. “Socialization: Homeschooling Vs. Schools.” CBN 2007.  http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2007/may/socialization-homeschooling-vs-schools/?mobile=false. Web. 30/08 2017.
Higgins, Charlotte. “Arts Funding Cut 30% in Spending Review.” The Guardian 2010.  https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/oct/20/arts-cuts-spending-review-council. Web. 28/08 2017.
John Taylor Gatto, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Nabila Hanson, Dorothy Sayer. Educating Your Child in Modern Times. Kinza Academy, 2010. Print.
Mintz, Jerry. “Alternative Higher Education Pioneers, Bringing Them Back to Life!” TedxTalks Bergen 2013.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwqdcSwznTY. Web. 29/08 2017.
Pedro. “Devil’s Advocate. A Plea against Prince Ea (Casper hulshof).” The Economy of Meaning 2016.  https://theeconomyofmeaning.com/2016/10/13/devils-advocate-a-plea-against-prince-ea-casper-hulshof/ . Web. 29/08 2017.
Savage, Michael. “Almost a Quarter of Teachers Who Have Qualified since 2011 Have Left Profession.” The Guardian 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/08/almost-a-quarter-of-teachers-who-have-qualified-since-2011-have-left-profession. Web. 29/08 2017.

 

How I fell out of love with education (1/2)

by Arifa Akther

“The paradox of education is that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which (s)he is being educated” – James Baldwin

I got lucky with education. First and foremost, I had parents who never studied further than GCSE standard, my mother married before she completed her O-Levels exams. As a result, both were adamant to give me and my siblings the best education. Secondly, my father worked incredibly hard and created a highly profitable business in which he chose to send me to private school rather than spending it on buying a Ferrari. From a young age they both encouraged me to study hard. They went as far as setting homework for us, consisting of store bought handwriting books and learning the times tables off by heart before the age of 8.

In all honesty, I fell in love with learning, to the point of being called “try-hard” as if it were some derogatory term for having tried my best in every exam I sat. Knowing facts and getting high scores in all my classes gave me a much-needed confidence boost. I was great at finding information, memorising it and regurgitating it in exams and this method worked for me all the way through from primary school to my GCSE’s where I attained 7A*’s and 2A’s. Despite this, I stumbled during my A-levels as it wasn’t the case of learning and regurgitating anymore, but using information and applying it to questions. However, due to the current system, you had even more content to memorise and less time to practice questions. This was the case with A-Level Biology, where teaching all the content meant we had no revision time in class. The exam questions, by contrast, were all applied science questions which we had no time to practice in class. Geography was the biggest leap: with memorising information to the analysis of that information and applying it to real world context. Even though Geography was the biggest setback in my A-levels, I realised that it was the subject that really tested the important aspects of a 21st-century-student. The ability to extract information, analyse its social, economic, environmental and political influence then to suggest a real solution to the current problems facing our world today. After resitting, I was accepted by the University of Warwick to study Politics, International Studies and Global Sustainable Development (PAIS + GSD).

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© Camille François

During my first-year at university, I only completed core modules. Nonetheless, the freedom to choose what I studied further in those modules is my favourite aspect of higher education. In my summative assessments I attained 1sts as well as in my oral presentations. In my exams I achieved 2:1 resulting in me achieving a high 2:1 overall, pulled down due to the politics exams. Despite the fact I had written 4 formative assessments in which I achieved a first overall, the Politics department decided to make our year grade 100% dependent upon our performance during the summer exams. I achieved 65% and a 1st in GSD. During the week running up to my exams, as I sat amongst the other thousands of students in the library memorising the exact answer I would regurgitate when asked “what makes a revolution?” for my Introduction to Politics module, that’s when I realised even at uni, it’s a case of being back to GCSE, and memorising information to regurgitate under exam conditions.

An outdated system.

This system of education is outdated. The 150-year-old compulsory state education system’s linear development to the current British education system has become one which has destroyed creativity, individuality and resulted in normal children today reported to have more anxiety than child psychiatric patients in the 1950s, studies show. The source of the problem is how the current system prepares students to be effective workers who aid the industrial revolution in the 19/20th century and claims it “prepares students for the future” when it is no longer appropriate for the 21st century.

Dr.Inglis broke this down into “6 purposes of modern day schooling” including:

1.  Adjustment– “Schools establishing fixed habits of reaction to authority- precluding critical judgement completely.”

2.   Diagnostic function– School determining each child’s social role.

3.  Sorting function– Schools sorting children by training them for that specific social role.

4.  Conformity– making children to be alike as possible, to assist markets as people who conform are predictable.

5.  Hygienic function– School is there to accelerate Darwin’s theory of natural selection by identifying those most “unfit for education” so clearly via displayed exam grade, “bottom set classes” and D grades results- enough to make them drop out of the system, accepting the school’s judgement of their inferiority to others of their age.

6.  Propaedeutic– where a fraction of children- eg those in the “gifted and talented schemes” to be taught how to take over management schemes to perpetuate this system naturally.

John Taylor Gatto, links the “Hygiene function” to Julius Caesar’s “Divide and Conquer” strategy – “by dividing children by school class, age grading, by constant ranking on tests and many other more subtle divisions from one another and one’s own self; the ignorant mass of mankind, divided in childhood would never re-integrate into a dangerous united whole in adulthood.” Poor Marx didn’t see this preventing his workers to unite against the Bourgeoisie.

Due to the rise of technology, Artificial Intelligence and global competition, the future is one no one could have foreseen. Most jobs are estimated to be replaced with robots within 15 years. What we need to do, is stimulate creativity, innovation, ingenuity and human culture. What makes us human? Well, I believe this consists of our ability to debate, create art and music as well as performing theatre. Currently art is facing the biggest loss of funding (-30%)  due to the Conservative’s policy, who would rather keep up this factory farm of graduated students with the same level of Maths, English and Science skills without any investment in new careers of the future in renewable energy or coding etc.

No, instead, we keep the same setting for education. In a seat, for 8 hours a day, with a lunch break being taught what to think (not how) and raise your hand if you want to speak whilst rushing to get every note on the whiteboard copied onto your book. This way, you can complete your homework properly at night because clearly, 8 hours in school isn’t enough time that a child should spend on education. No they need 10-12 hours of studying and 8 hours of sleep meaning 4(/6) hours to: socialise, do sports, do extracurricular activities such as drama, help their parents at home, have a part time job, volunteer, eat, shower and of course, relax. Is it any wonder why suicide rates are at “their highest level since at least 2007, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. These figures – for 2014 – show 130 suicides in England and Wales among full-time students aged 18 or above.” Oh, and even if you do all of that, keep up and complete all your work, you actually have to do BETTER than everyone, as the marking system is on a curve- only a set amount of people can attain an A grade. Brilliant.

With most people unable to attain the top grades, after having sacrificed so much of their time that should have been distributed to sports, socialising and unwinding we now face problems with obesity pandemics to staggering mental health issues. “Whilst depression has long been the main culprit of mental health problems on campus, levels of anxiety have skyrocketed in recent years to become the number one health concern among students. While nearly one-third of students say they felt depressed during their first year, nearly fifty percent felt intense anxiety to the point that it interfered with their studies and their ability to concentrate.”

All about exams.

Let’s take my example of 7A*s and 2As. This shows I’m smart, right? I’m able to take on information, and give the right answer to a given question. I got 3 As at A level- ok, now I’m able to take on information, analyse it and give the correct answer in a given context, better than most other students because we all sat the same exam, in the same time (equal even if you needed extra time), having learnt the same syllabus. All of these measures have been put in place due to policy makers obsession with standardised tests, except it doesn’t take into account anything that really matters in a student. It doesn’t show how hard you worked – topics could have just worked in your favour. Or, against. Of the 4 topics that were on the paper out of 10 you learnt, two of the topics you struggled with the most appeared and it means you struck out. It doesn’t show how creative you were in your answers. It doesn’t show how you work in a team. It doesn’t show how apathetic you are. It doesn’t show how many languages you can answer the question in. Mr. Frederick J Kelly, inventor of the standardised tests even went onto state how “these tests are too crude to be used and should be abandoned”.

Séparateur

Einstein famously said

“everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Any parent with two children will be able to tell you just how differently they learn. And any teacher, that same fact on an industrial scale. Yet, we don’t account for this difference. And what’s worse, is that we reduce some subjects to be of less worth than others. Let’s take for example science. Science was the first subject I fell in love with. I could name most of the human body bones before Secondary School and the planets in our solar system, from their distance to us to describing their surface conditions. Science has an exceptional importance to our society, it is the subject that helps to cure diseases, grow crops, produce clean energy and create super materials which all have vast benefits for our society. However, our obsession with science has led to a negative attitude to anything which isn’t categorised as a STEM subject. Or even, God-forbid you decide not to go to University at all and enrol in an apprenticeship scheme or work from the bottom, up in any company, or even start your own business. With the education minister Nicky Morgan saying you shouldn’t take arts/humanities subjects to children AGED 10 as “it will hold them back for the rest of their lives” in gaining high earning careers. Ah yes, the main aspect of careers we should emphasise to our children. I’m not going to go on about how money doesn’t matter at all, because obviously that’s a lie- but a job as a history teacher? UN Translator? Nurse? Driving instructor? They don’t make millions but they are of indispensable value to society. What happened to education, for education’s sake? Wasn’t the original point of education meant to be a system in which a child homes in on their strengths and talents, even interests- develop them and achieve their dreams – regardless of the income they’ll be earning in a decade’s time?

What exactly are we competent in after our A Levels? How tax works? How to debate? What non-cognitive skills have we attained? Courage? Honesty? Independence? I don’t think so. Lubberly discusses how childhood has been deliberately extended by 4 years through this current process. “Denying children, a range of associations with the complex adult world, and a dose of responsibility” resulting in a successful economy founded on upon, essentially a “dumb, dependent, fearful and incomplete population.” Hear me out, the current state education system can only encourage critical thinking to a certain extent. Too much of it would result in the breakdown of the economy. For example, you can think critically about how the solution of a sea wall as opposed to a dam would be a better flood defence. That’s fine. Think critically about Steinbeck’s use of foreshadowing in “Of Mice and Men”. That’s fine. Think critically about the banning of medical marijuana which could potentially alleviate depression patients’ dependency on pharmaceutical pills- woah woah woah, a few steps back please. Gatto supports this, stating how schools can’t “encourage reliable morality because too many components of our economy depend upon slackness in this regard, from cigarettes, fast cars, and dirty pictures”. As a result, “young people would grow old but never grow up.”

And what’s worse than the way students are educated? The way teachers are treated.

The latest figures show how teachers are leaving the profession in drones, with “almost a quarter of teachers who have qualified since 2011 have left profession.” Can you blame them? Teachers are the most underpaid and underappreciated people in the workforce. They have the responsibility to educate entire generations and people have the audacity to say, “but they have long holiday hours” … except they have to use their holiday hours planning lessons, so called “after hours” during term time to mark work and sacrifice time with family to act as supervisors during visits and extracurricular trips. Teachers are now in charge of meeting “targets” leaving them incredibly stressed when they have certain students who are so disconnected to the current education system refuse to “meet their potential” when in reality, they weren’t going to in the manner the school wanted them to do so. A teacher is responsible for getting information to a child to prepare them for an exam, when they have class sizes breaking max restrictions due to government funding, it is easy to see why most students don’t get the education I received. Class sizes at A-levels were maxed to 14, preferably never over 12 in the school I attended. Meaning real one-on-one interaction and that teachers were able to truly engage and inspire students to learn, witnessing their interest and passion for the subject. But no, instead we are stuck with policy makers who seem to be trying their best to enforce a curriculum through outdated teaching methods without ever having stood in front of a classroom to teach. I’d really like to see Michael Gove stand in front of the bottom set maths class and get them to engage with the curriculum including vectors… the entire system needs a switch up. Maths has the ability to develop real problem-solving skills through problem-based learning. Instead, we force students to memorise all the equations to answers questions in the exams because we still examine under conditions that assume you will not have access to that information at the tips of your fingers.

What we need to do is reinvent education. Teach students how to deal with large quantity of information, extract facts, confirm it, and apply it so we have a generation who are resourceful. If we fail to address these issues, we will fail the next generation of students who will be forced through the same system of standardisation, destroying any creative or innovative potential they have to offer society.

How I fell out of love with Education – The Alternative (2/2)

Wanting A Better Planet, But Doing Nothing To Achieve This

by Kanto Fiaferana

 

I am a mainstream human being on this planet, although quite privileged when compared to others. You could call me a basic Western woman, who took everything for granted for quite a while, and is easily disgusted by what does not meet my (too high) standards. My parents never lived in the same luxury my brother and I are living in now. They take great care to remind us to stay grounded and humble, because not everyone has access to such a sanitized life.

I’ve always had access to electricity, clean, running water, gas… But it was only later in life that I realised what luck I had to have access to those, and I also realised that we use much more than what we actually need. Besides, school started to drill into our heads the importance of sustainable development for our own future, and if we cared, those of future generations.

Growing up, I used a lot of water whenever I took a shower, and even though I reduced my consumption in the last few years, I am still guilty of showering for too long. Let’s just say that having access to unlimited hot water in my residence is not helping me to improve my behaviour (nor my skin). 

I did develop a small environmental conscience: I do not litter (this is more common sense, but hey, people are nasty), I try to not use my phone once a week and not charge it overnight and to reduce my electricity consumption. But most important of all, I turn off the lights as soon as I am out of my room. Now, this behaviour became really prominent this year when I started living with complete strangers. It became quite evident that they were less inclined to turn off the lights when, at 5 in the morning, I would find the light in the kitchen still on.

I know I can do better, I have doubts that I ever will, but one thing is sure: my behaviour is far from being sustainable.

Pleasant Island No More – A Cautionary Tale from the End of the World

 by Tom Harrison

 

At 21 km2 Nauru is one of the smallest countries in the world. Nestled in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from its nearest neighbour and with a population of around 10,000, it truly is at the end of the earth. The first colonists called it Pleasant Island.

For decades, it had the richest citizens in the world, richer per capita than Finland, Canada and the UK. After gaining independence, the nation boomed on the proceeds from extensive phosphate mining, required as fertilizer across the world. Nauru was described by many as the Kuwait of the South Seas.

Even at the time this came at a cost. The vast open cast mines were inescapable – locals had a saying that if you weren’t looking at the sea, you were looking at a mine. Even today you can’t look across the island without seeing one, and the runoff from the mines still poisons the sea.

But the price of phosphate soared, the inhabitants barely had to work for their wealth, and many could still remember the backbreaking subsistence lives they had led before. No one wanted to return to that time of not knowing if you’d have food the next day.

The people grew lazy, the government grew corrupt, the phosphate ran out.

Even during the good times, they knew it couldn’t last forever. The government set up the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust, but it was horribly mismanaged and many investments failed abysmally; They financed a musical about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, which is considered one of the biggest disasters in the history of London theatre. They built the Nauru Tower in Melbourne, the second tallest building in Australia, but it was never filled.

To the government’s credit, their investments at home were not excessive. They built a hospital and schools, they invested in infrastructure; paved the roads, built sewers and, perhaps most importantly for an island 4,000 km from the Australian mainland, built an airport, cutting the journey time from 20 days to 5 hours. But there was no income tax, no corporation tax, no VAT; the only revenue came from the mines.

Politicians spent millions on excessive overseas travel and the government set up embassies all over the world, at one point employing nearly 10% of the population. Year after year the government blew the budget, believing the phosphate would last for centuries.

By the early 1990s it was becoming increasingly apparent that the country had vastly overestimated its reserves, as all over the island they began to reach the bottom of the mines that were expected to have decades of use left in them. The country had an annual deficit of AUD $10 million on a GDP of AUD $20 million and debts of AUD $240 million. But another very real problem was becoming increasingly apparent, and it was really the most obvious consequence of exporting vast quantities of rock from a small island: they were running out of usable land. The island was literally disappearing from beneath their feet. Nauru had to import almost all the food and over half the population left for a better life in one of their bigger neighbours. As one government minister described it, they were “getting rich in a trash can”.

“One day when

they have salted

their last field,

killed the last

beast and burned

the last tree

these people will

realize you can’t

eat money” –

Unknown

Nauru also had an increasing public health issue. In the course of fifty years the local diet has changed from fish and vegetables to one of high fat, high sugar, heavily processed food, which could survive the long boat ride to the island. This, combined with people moving from the life of a hunter and farmer to the increasingly sedentary lifestyles of people who no longer had to work for a living, meant that the people got fat.

It is by far the fattest country in the world. 95% of the people are overweight, which is combined with a culture that views obesity as a sign of wealth. Life expectancy is falling and has been for 38 years. No other country has witnessed such a stark decline.

This is a problem across the Pacific. Small islands only get resupplied roughly once a month, so fresh vegetables aren’t practical, and on the more densely populated islands there isn’t enough land to grow enough food for everyone. This is combined with the infamous ‘lamb flaps problem’; Australia and New Zealand produce vast quantities of lamb, but the primary markets demand leaner cuts, so the cheaper, fattier cuts are sold to the Pacific islanders, leading to a public health crisis, as 8 out of the 15 fattest countries in the world are in the Pacific, all with obesity rates of at least 70%. Many countries have had to bring in laws specifically banning sale of certain cuts of meat, in an effort to save their creaking health care systems.

 

In 2005, things came to a head. Mining had all but ceased, and confronted with a massive public health care bill, Nauru ran out of money. The Nauru Tower was sold off, the island’s only plane was seized, and the country’s main power station was impounded, meaning it could no longer supply the desalination plants, the only source of fresh water on an island with only one, now heavily polluted river.

With the island cut off, without power and running out of food and water, Australia stepped in and saved the country from oblivion. They provided Nauru with aid, paying off its debt.

This came at a heavy cost: the Australians built an immigration detention camp on the old national stadium, initially to house the 438 Afghan refugees rescued in international waters by the crew of MV Tampa but refused entry to Australia. Soon there were over 1,200 asylum seekers living in the tented encampment, part of Australia’s Pacific Solution whereby they will not accept any refugees onto Australian territory, instead housing them in remote camps in camps in Nauru and Manus, a distant island of Papua New Guinea.

 

Brought in by the Howard government with bi-partisan support, the conditions have been compared to a concentration camp; there is almost no healthcare provision, there are regular water shortages and there is no education for the over 300 children held there. Amid hunger strikes, allegations of sexual abuse and stalled promises of closure, the camp erupted into rioting in July of 2013. This was met by a rolling back of the policy by Kevin Rudd’s Labour government, but Julia Glillard’s election saw a return of the policy, with all maritime arrivals being detained indefinitely with no hope of Australian residency, in direct contravention of international law.   

Award winning cartoonist, Ali Dorani has been subject to beatings, starvation and over three years of illegal detention at one of the camps. The fact that this was all after fleeing 7000 miles across the Indian Ocean, from abuses by the Iranian government in a boat no longer than a cricket pitch should be a stain on Australia’s national conscience. Being withheld healthcare and almost bereft of hope, Ali has been on hunger strike since the 31st of January.

He is by no means the only case of abuse. There have been almost innumerous reports of inhumane treatment by Broadspectrum staff, brought in to run the camp on the government’s behalf. There have been allegations of both forced and withheld abortions, at least 20 cases of rape in 2016 alone, and even deaths. To this day, nearly 1,000 people remain unlawfully detained on the island with no end in sight, some detained for as long as eight years, with no idea of their release date.

Aid from Australia now accounts for 90% of Nauru’s economy, almost entirely predicated on the continuation of the euphemistically named ‘Regional Processing Centre’. Nauru’s industrialization and isolation means that it is unlikely that tourism can revive the country’s crippled economy. 40% of the marine life has been destroyed, so fishing can’t help either, and even if it could, the island is so remote that any export would likely be unprofitable. The government attempted to become a tax haven, but international condemnation and threatened sanctions meant they quickly backtracked amid concerns that the Russian mafia laundered AUD $70 million in one year.

 

Nauru is not the only Pacific state dependent on aid; almost all the small islands are dependent on aid to remain afloat – Kiribati, Niue, Tuvalu, Palau; too isolated, too small, too vulnerable, too beautiful. They prompt the question: do humans have to live in every corner of this world?

With the depleted phosphate mines leaving a desolate, near Martian landscape, it is difficult to see how Nauru can get its economy back on track. This monument to unsustainable development is simply too small and too far gone. I believe one day the island will have to be abandoned, left as a warning of human foolishness and greed, a festering wound in the great Pacific.

Nauru. Pleasant Island no more.

Let’s be Positive

by Lena Lattacher

If you’re a GSD student or simply interested in sustainable development, you’re probably spending a lot of your time reading about all the horrible things going on in the world. And if you´re not, with exams looming, I think we could all use a little break. So, get comfortable and let the positivity of this article eliminate all your worries… at least for the next 10 minutes. Here are:

5 things to be positive about!

The Netherlands have been closing prisons due to a lack of criminals!

The Dutch government has announced it would close a minimum of 5 prisons in the coming years. The crime rate, as well as the recidivism rate (the number of criminals who return to prison) have been declining over the past years. One issue though, nobody really knows why crime is decreasing.

The Netherlands have also reduced the length of prison sentences, giving inmates the chance to re-enter the workforce sooner, which has resulted in lower recidivism rates.

Read more here

 Séparateur

Extreme Poverty is at an all-time low!

The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim stated: “We are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty”. This may be something some of us are more familiar with, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. While in 1990, 34.8% of the population were living on under $1.90/day, by 2013 this number had decreased to “only” 10.7%. Of course, this does’t mean we’re anywhere near our goal, but hey, it´s not completely out of reach either!

Read more

 Séparateur

Food for up to 100,000 people!

At the Golden Temple in India, on average 50,000 people get free and nutritious food every day. During the holidays this number can increase to up to 100,000/day. No matter who you are or where you come from.  Among other things, the kitchen uses 13,000 kg of lentils and up to 12,000 kg of wheat flour. Even more amazingly, the whole thing is run mainly by volunteers and financed through donations!

Read more

Séparateur

Ultrasound can wake people up from a coma!

In August, three days after doctors used a new ultrasound technique on him, a man who had previously only shown minimal signs of being conscious, regained full consciousness, as well as full language comprehension. Similar results could only have been achieved by an operation, which can be too risky in some cases. The researchers say, the man could have recovered by himself, but will test the technique on further patients.

Read more

 Séparateur

Giant Pandas are no longer endangered!

I confess, I used the title as an excuse to look at cute panda photos. In fact, it´s not only pandas which have been seeing positive development. For example, the number of wild tigers has increased for the first time since recoding began.

The move of the panda from endangered to vulnerable can be taken as proof that, with enough dedication, we can combat the decrease in biodiversity!

Read more


I hope you all enjoyed that mental break. I sure had fun compiling this list. I hope your exams went well and remember…

Stay positive!

Credits

Behind the Masks

by Ming Yang

14th December 2016, the flight lands at Beijing International Airport. 4 o’clock in the afternoon, you can barely see anything from far away, not because the sun sets earlier in winter, but because of the smog.

I got my luggage, found my dad, came out of the airport building, and walked to the car park to drive home. After breathing over 10 hours of airplane ‘reserved’ air in an uncomfortable seat, where I am unable to fully stretch my legs (sorry, I can only afford economy class, and sorry, I’m above average height), I took a deep breath without thinking when I stepped outside, expecting fresh air to fill my lungs. Cough. The smell of burning coal and tail gas that’s hiding quietly in the air captured every single corner inside my nose and lungs. Yikes. This is not what I expected. It has been 4 years since I last spent my winter holidays in Beijing, and the last time I was back in Beijing in winter, the condition of the air was nowhere near today’s. Bear in mind that in summertime (and even spring), the smog situation in Beijing is much better, because of longer daylight hours, more sunlight and trees.

© Ming Yang

So, what is happening in Beijing? I don’t want to go into too many practical details about the smog, because it’s complicated. Just a brief overview: most of the air pollution in Beijing comes from coal plants to the south of Beijing, and the source is PM2.5 (fine particulate matter), which is released mainly by the burning of coal. PM2.5 can reduce visibility, and it is very damaging to humans’ health, because it is small enough that it can bypass human mucus and travel to the lungs, and cause all sorts of lung diseases (e.g.: cancer, breathing disorders). Air pollution is severe across different cities in China, not only in Beijing. Outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people in China every year, equivalent to 4,400 people a day.

I am a person who likes wandering around the streets and staying outdoors the whole day, and I didn’t see how Beijing’s air quality could do me any harm. I just have to wear masks every single day when I am outdoors in Beijing. Mask? Doesn’t seem too bad, right? First day back home, after walking around the city centre and taking the subway back home, I took off my mask and realised it has turned black. And it is the same every day when the concentration of PM2.5 is high and the visibility is low. The masks people wear in Beijing on a daily basis when the smog is bad, are designed to filter out the majority of the damaging substances in the air, in particular PM2.5. And because PM2.5 is actually a solid particle pollutant, it can be seen from the colour of the mask that as you breathe in, it gets stuck to the surface of the mask.

However, we all know that the mask is not the solution to protecting our health, and it is certainly not the solution to better air conditions. In the past, Beijing’s government has temporarily closed schools, factories, construction sites, and limited half of the privately owned cars on the road, when the air condition gets the ‘red alert’, when you can barely see anything far away and PM2.5 concentrations are severe. Through this type of regulations, it takes some pressure off, and the air condition gets better. But a long-term plan is still needed. The Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addressed the problem of air pollution during the China’s National People’s Congress last year, and proposed a Five-Year Plan (FYP) up to 2021 for better air quality. Regulations on limiting industry pollution of PM2.5, for example, is one of the major issues addressed in Li’s speech. Other policies such as an increase in the use of environmentally friendly energy sources, control of vehicle usage, and reduction and cleaner usage of coal are also part of the plan. There is a lot to say, and even more can be done. I hope the government can use its full capacity to work together and efficiently tackle air quality issues.

The majority of people have the impression that Beijing is smoggy 24/7, but I have to say it’s not always like that: the majority of time in Beijing, especially in the summer, the air is fresh and the skies are blue. That is why I love to walk around the city centre, go between old buildings, meet citizens from different backgrounds, and listen to all the stories that are going on behind this never-stopping engine which I call home, Beijing. But with better air quality control, fewer people, including my family (and my dogs), would suffer from health problems arising from air pollution. Air is not someone else’s property, it is free for everyone, and everyone has the right to breathe clean and fresh air. Beijing, the ‘mask-wearing city’, is such an amazing place full of history, diversity and energy. We put the ‘mask’ on her for us, for the sake of development. It is now time, and our responsibility to take that ‘mask’ off, and to remove the obstacle for people to get to know her and discover her beauty.

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