How would you design a future curriculum? Here are our thoughts which were recently included in the Eton Journal for Innovation and Research in Education – by no means definitive but intended as a framework to start with – if you would like to talk further about our work in schools please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
EMBEDDING ENQUIRY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF PERMACULTURE IN THE CURRICULUM
When thinking about what education should look like post-COVID, it seems likely there will be a wide variety of vital interventions that need to be developed to help children catch up on academic gaps or missing skills following a long period of lockdown.
There are also many schools, local authorities and private organisations excellently promoting a ‘Recovery Curriculum’ designed to support children’s return to school, focused on their emotional and mental well-being following the wide range of losses they may have experienced during the lockdown (Carpenter, 2020). There are also, however, wide- ranging, fundamental discussions emerging about the role and shape of traditional education models in a post-COVID, climate-emergency society. These are important
discussions that certainly need to be addressed and this article proposes some possible curriculum solutions which could help to build a greater resilience for the future – for individuals, communities and society in general.
Before ‘normal’ teaching and learning can take place again, schools will definitely need to consider children’s immediate emotional and mental well-being. In addition to the different types of loss outlined by Carpenter (2020), in the recovery curriculum, experienced by children during the lockdown, early data shows that it also created a complicated situation where the measures taken to protect physical health have caused the symptoms for people suffering from poor mental health, including children, to worsen during lockdown (Veer et al., 2020).
Some children will have experienced a very stable home life during lockdown, but for others life will have become less stable or chaotic. It is acknowledged by the EEF in its Guide to supporting school planning: A tiered approach to 2020-21 that identifying where children may have dropped behind is important but so is a recognition that children may have acquired new useful knowledge, skills and experiences as part of the lockdown which needs to be heard (EEF, 2020). All children’s experiences and views on the lockdown period will be unique. During the pandemic we have all been part of the same storm, but each of us is in an individual boat, with our own story of survival, adaptation, transformation, loss or inertia.
Therefore, we believe that there also needs to be a recognition that the current focus on acquisition and reproduction of knowledge and the narrow ‘teaching to the test’ curricula is no longer enough for our society to be resilient. We believe that long term resilience for individuals and society should incorporate the integration of philosophical and ethical thinking throughout core curricula, and in particular the four types of thinking – Critical, Caring, Creative and Collaborative – central to the Philosophy for Children (Lipman, 2003) and Communities of Philosophical Inquiry (‘CoPI’) pedagogical approaches (McCall, 2009).
Philosophical enquiry and facilitation strengthen teaching, learning and assessment and have been proven to increase children’s cognitive levels, particularly in maths and reading, as well as many other wider abilities – primarily, children’s ability to solve problems, collaborate with each other, think critically and care about the quality of their interactions and relationships with others. For example, The 2015 EEF Efficacy trial (EEF, 2015) of Philosophy for Children, carried out by Durham University, showed that pupils made between two and four additional months of progress in reading, maths and writing as well as improvements in their confidence to speak, listening skills and self-esteem following their regular involvement with philosophical enquiry.
Philosophical teaching and learning is a pedagogical approach and not an ‘added extra’, as developing a critical and enquiring mind should be central across subjects. It can also usefully support the work of the education sector to meet the Ofsted (2019) requirements for schools to enable children to become ‘responsible, respectful and active citizens’ who have more skills to shape their lives in a sustainable and fulfilling way, as well as ‘developing pupils’ confidence, resilience and knowledge so that they can keep themselves mentally healthy’.
Philosophical thinking puts pupils’ personal development at its heart and has the potential to take children to a level of understanding where knowledge and facts are combined with the ability to reflect and reason, which can help enable children to ‘make a significant difference to the kind of society in which we are able to live’ (Cam, 2006).
When school leaders actively integrate communities of philosophical enquiry into their teaching, learning and assessment strategies they enable young people to develop the skills, knowledge and character necessary to achieve academically in the short term, and in the longer term to lead happy, resilient and fulfilling lives, taking greater care of themselves, society, communities and the planet.
Building on this, we would like to suggest that long-term individual resilience is only really possible if measures are taken to ensure that our communities are also more resilient. The recent call for volunteers by the government during lockdown followed by the overwhelming oversubscription of volunteers showed that there is huge potential within communities to take greater care of their own people. Schools could build on this potential by creating opportunities within the curriculum for children to know how to build positive, resilient relationships and help others in times of need.
The next step on from creating stronger local communities, and could be argued as the most significant issue of our time for which we need creative, critical, caring and collaborative thinkers, is the need to re-examine the relationship humans have with the planet and its resources.
The climate emergency will only be tackled through whole systems thinking instead of solely relying on one-off initiatives. We believe that the principles and ethics of permaculture would allow schools to weave creative, critical, caring and collaborative thinking into real actions that will tangibly improve the futures of our pupils, their communities and the planet.
The twelve principles and three ethics of permaculture, developed by Bill Mollison (1988) and David Holmgren (2011), are below and although their roots are in sustainable agriculture, they can be applied to all aspects of human life and can be applied by school leaders to have a lasting positive impact on well-being and resilience for individuals and the whole school ethos.
The Principles of Permaculture
- Observe & Interact
- Catch & Store Energy
- Obtain A Yield
- Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback
- Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services
- Produce No Waste
- Design From Patterns To Details
- Integrate Rather Than Segregate
- Use Small & Slow Solutions
- Use & Value Diversity
- Use Edges & Value The Marginal
- Creatively Use & Respond to Change
The Three Ethics of Permaculture
- Care for the Earth
- Care for Others
- Only take a Fair Share
By adopting and applying the principles and ethics rooted within philosophy for children and permaculture we can make the transition from being dependent consumers, vulnerable to change, to becoming responsible producers and resilient, active citizens with high-level thinking skills.
There is a virtuous cycle to be achieved here, where this approach, based around a greater sense of community and sustainability, has the potential to transform pupils’ well-being, building the resilience necessary for them to move forwards, promoting as they do their deeper understanding of sustainability and its relevance to all of our futures.
Instead of tinkering around the edges with curricula in a post-COVID age, we support Berry and Orr (2001, p 9). Berry speaks of ‘The Great Work’, where humans remake their presence on earth – including how they provide themselves with food, energy, materials, water, livelihood, health and shelter. Orr adds that ‘we must build authentic and vibrant communities that sustain us ecologically and spiritually and for this challenge we need a generation equipped to respond with energy, moral stamina, enthusiasm and ecological competence’.
In conclusion, we believe that this is the moment for educators to assert their experience and understanding of young people to create the curricula and ethos which they believe will genuinely allow their pupils and teachers to develop as resilient and active citizens where academic performance and emotional well-being are in balance. We urge and strongly support school leaders who take this opportunity to re-invigorate education’s potent and positive role in building societal and individual resilience, instead of simply returning to a system that is disproportionately focused on testing and the symbolic capital of results. A new resilience curriculum developed and delivered within strong communities of enquiry is now necessary. This is one that focuses on developing individual well-being and agency through dialogue and critical thinking, as well as strengthening the sustainability of communities through collaboration and care for each other and the planet.
- Berry, T. (1988). The Dream of the Earth. Sierra Club Books: CA.
- Cam, P. (2006). 20 Thinking Tools. 2nd Edn. Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research.
- Carpenter, B. (2020) A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic. https://www.evidenceforlearning.net/recoverycurriculum/#mentalhealth
- The EEF guide to supporting school planning: A tiered approach to 2020-21 available online: www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk
- Education Endowment Foundation (2015). Philosophy for Children Efficacy Trial 2012-2014. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/index.php?/projects-andevaluation/projects/philosophy-for-children/
- Holmgren, D. (2011). Permaculture: Principles & pathways. Beyond Sustainability. Hants: Permanent Publications: Hants.
- Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in Education (2nd edition). Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press.
- McCall, C. (2009). Transforming Thinking. Philosophical Inquiry in the Primary and Secondary Classroom. London: Routledge.
- Mollison, B. (1988). Permaculture: A Designers Manual. Australia: Tagari Publications.
- Orr, D. (2001). ‘Forward’ in Sterling, S. (2001) Sustainable Education: Re-visioning Learning and Change. Devon: Green Books Ltd.
- Veer, I. M., Riepenhausen, A., Zerban, M., Wackerhagen, C., Puhlmann, L., Engen, H., … Kalisch, R. (2020). Psycho-social factors associated with mental resilience in the Corona lockdown. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/4z62t
- Ofsted (2019). Education inspection framework (EIF).:58-59 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/educationinspection-framework