Optimism assembly

137,000 people escape poverty Breaking News

This assembly was delivered to BGS, 23 November 2018.  Contact me for the full slideshow.

Is the world getting better?

Thinking generally about the world, all things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?  You choose:

A: Getting better
B: Neither getting better nor getting worse
C: Getting worse

So, what do you reckon?  Please vote now.

This is surely one of the most important questions that humanity can ask of itself.

Dhaka slum picture Alcock 2001

Photo of slum in Dhaka, 2000 (Author)

My faith in human progress was shaken when, almost twenty years ago, I went on a round the world trip which ended up lasting 17 months.

I had learned about development in school and how some people said that rich countries made poor countries poor.  This trip was part of what led me into teaching – I felt like I needed to show people what the world was really like.

What I saw – for example, street dwellers in Kolkata and slum dwellers in Dhaka – seemed to back up my preconceptions.

Anti WEF Protest Melbourne Alcock 2000

Protests against the WEF in Melbourne, 2000 (Author)

It also led me to take part in protests against what I felt was an unjust situation – of forces, perhaps capitalism, perhaps globalisation – which were dragging the world down – this one happened whilst I was in Melbourne.

But what I didn’t fully realise was that, yes, extreme poverty was real, and yes, humans do have a capacity to harm each other, but what I was seeing was only what was happening at one point in time, and that over time, progress is being made – people are escaping poverty, they are living longer, more and more people are getting an education, there are growing numbers of democracies, there are fewer wars…  In fact, in virtually every social and economic aspect, and in many environmental aspects too, progress is being made.

Poverty % with my travels

Graph source: Max Roser et al (2018): http://www.ourworldindata.org

The theme of this week is optimism, and I would like you to question both your attitude towards the future and why you hold your opinions.

So, back to the question I kicked off with.  I have been doing a little bit of research about your opinions.  Thank you to my Year 8, 11 and 12 Geography sets, and ten members of staff I collared at random.  So what did these groups believe about the future of the planet?

Year Group getting better

It appears that the staff are more optimistic than the pupils, but that the majority view is that the world is going to carry on as it is, or get worse.

Country getting better

Source: Author’s research; Ipsos-MORI

In fact, the BGS average is higher than the results for the UK and similar countries – but it’s still not a resounding victory for optimism.  Let’s see what beliefs about the world might lie behind the lack of optimism.

In the last 20 years the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, worldwide, has…?

A. Almost doubled
B. Remained more or less the same
C. Almost halved

Think about it.

The answer is C: Almost halved

I asked the groups for their verdict.  Here it is:

Poverty survey

You will notice that I have put a column for a chimp on the right hand side, to represent the 33% chance of the answer being chosen at random (inspired by Hans Rosling, author of Factfulness – show book).  So every group here underestimated the true degree of economic progress in the world – their results are worse than random!  But why? We’ll come to that later.  Next question please.

Slide: In all low income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
A. 20%
B. 40%
C. 60%

Think about it – what would you have voted?

The answer is C: 60%

How did the respondents do?

Low income girls in primary school survey

Oh dear – we have underestimated progress yet again.  Next question.

Slide: There are two billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100 according to the United Nations?
A. 4 billion
B. 3 billion
C. 2 billion

Think about it – what would you have voted?

The answer is C: 2 billion

How did my group do?

2 billion children in world survey

Well done to the two Year 11s who got this correct.  To everyone else in my survey – never mind, better luck next time.  I will pause to explain this one, because your results were so far out.

The world’s population is now almost 8 billion and it will probably top out at 10-11 billion.  Most of this growth is due to today’s children having children, and to people living longer.  But it’s not due to more births: women around the world have fewer babies than ever before – the global average is only just over two.  In 1960 it was 5.  Family planning and good healthcare mean that the so-called ‘population bomb’ has fizzled out.

Let’s have one more question.

Slide: How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
A. 20%
B. 50%
C. 80%

What do you reckon?

The answer is C: 80%

Our survey said…

Elec access survey

Well done Year 12s!

Here is a summary of just some of the positive trends in the world over the last few decades – it has become more peaceful, more democratic, healthier, better nourished, better educated, more connected, gender equal, and more tolerant.

For example, current UN trends show that the “ending of extreme poverty for all people everywhere” is due to occur by 2026.  The end of extreme poverty for all people everywhere – in only eight years – before some of you even turn twenty – is this a dream?

So at least one part of John Lennon’s lyrics – for ‘Imagine’ in 1980 – “Imagine there’s no need for greed or hunger” – is due to be met within perhaps all of our lifetimes – wow.

Lennon also sang “Imagine all the people living life in peace” – might this happen, barring relatively minor skirmishes, by the middle of the century?  With wealth comes property and with property comes a degree of calm…  Something to ponder.

There are significant challenges facing the world – many of them environmental.  Here are some of these challenges: climate change, extremism, cybercrime, pollution, inequality and recessions.  I am not saying that you should sit back and do nothing.  I am saying that we should carry on striving – and that we should not give up hope.

In summary, many of us underestimate the amount of progress that has been made in the world.  This is explored in great depth in books like ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling et al (in the school library).

But don’t blame yourself for getting things wrong!  Blame these instead: the media, outdated information, mistrust of good news, and human psychology.

Let’s start with the media: be aware that bad news sells, and most bad news comes suddenlyGood news tends to come slowly.

If news outlets truly reported the changing state of the world, they could have run the headline ‘NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY’ every day for the last twenty-five years.

137,000 people escape poverty Breaking News

I acknowledge http://www.breakyourownnews.com for the template (Photo: Author)

Outdated information – this one is quite simple – keep up to date!  Watch documentaries, and follow trusted news outlets.

Mistrust of good news: Steven Pinker says “Those who spread fear about a dreadful prophesy may be seen as serious and responsible, while those who are measured are seen as complacent and naïve”.  Try to prove him wrong!

Your mind warps your perceptions too.  Psychologists talk about anchoring – where we tend stick to the first opinion that we form about a subject, and defend it, often against the weight of evidence.

They also talk about the negativity instinct – negative stories have the edge over positive ones, because of the risks we faced in humanity’s formative years, such as bear attacks.

There is availability bias – a misjudgement where we believe that reality is all we can easily call to mind.

And finally, confirmation bias – where we seek validation rather than challenges to our views.

Adjusting your world view

Here are some rules of thumb so you don’t get caught out again!  Look for more on the Geography corridor.  Why is this important?  Negativity allows seeds of discontent and despair to take root.  Many people today have difficulty imagining, valuing, or even believing in the promise of incremental change, which leads to a greater appetite for revolutionary change.

Is it time to reconsider your answer to the question we started off with?

Slide: Is the world getting better?
Thinking generally about the world, all things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?  You choose:

A: Getting better
B: Neither getting better nor getting worse
C: Getting worse

Thank you.

START Learning Effectively

Assembly – START Learning Effectively – Bradford Grammar School, 15 September 2017

Abridged scriptDo you ever wonder what the secret ingredient of learning is?  What is it that successful pupils do that makes them perform so well?

Of course, there is no secret ingredient.  I am going to attempt to offer a clear summary of what has been shown to work, together with examples that you can try.  Some of them you might already do, some you might not.

Why now?  Exams are ages away, surely?  But it’s important to START the year by learning effectively – not to leave it until exams and coursework deadlines creep up later on.

Learning how to learn is almost as important as what you learn, but we don’t pay much attention to it.  Educational researchers have been looking into how learning works for decades.  Some of their insights are being adopted by teachers.

But some of them can be adopted by you.

I am asking you this morning to consider which ones you should concentrate more on, and then in form time, you will be given time to narrow down your aims to fit your circumstances – for example, a Year 8 learning words for a French vocab test might use different techniques to a Year 13 preparing for a Geography exam.

Let’s START. What does effective learning entail?

  1. Make things stick

Effective learning involves making things stick.  What does this mean? It means making learning memorable and interesting.

For example, you could make a mnemonic.  Everyone knows ROYGBIV and Never Eat Shredded Wheat.   Why not make your own up?  Professor Paul Dukes refers to the three aspects of a superpower as being the ability to destroy, transmit an ideology, and have economic influence.  Boring?  Not if you remember it as DIE.

If it’s a simple key word or vocab test, try visualising words as part of a story.  Walk through an imaginary high street, picking up, holding, or even eating the items you have to learn.

Draw it, model it, chant it, sing it, act it.  How do rivers erode land?  Abrasion, attrition, hydraulic action and corrosion.  If this sounds too ‘dry’ then why not act it out [rub, bash, splash and sizzle]?

And as well as talking about what the building blocks of a superpower are, why not draw them as pillars of a superpower temple?

Finally, you could make it funny or unusual – e.g. what’s the pizza recipe for fascism in 1930s Italy?  Take a base of populism, add on toppings of racism and propaganda, and cook in the heat of recession-era discontent for a decade or so…  You get the picture.

  1. Test yourself

Effective learning involves testing yourself.

One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it – so make a quiz for your friend, and they can make one for you.   Make them frequent, short-answer, and low stakes – e.g. points, pennies, sweets, etc.  They could be True/False, multiple choice, or slightly sneaky.

Use Kahoot – don’t just let the teachers do it, you can make your own game for free.

  1. Be aware

Effective learning involves being aware.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

Follow a range of media – commit to following a news app; sign up to news updates from a reliable source; don’t just let news come to you via Facebook.  Instead, spend time reading good quality newspapers, and you could follow YouTube channels on topics that interest you

A potential medic in my form even watches surgical operations on You Tube in her spare time.

You should also make connections between your topics…and between your subjects – this will save you time (I love it when someone includes a relevant point from another subject in Geography – it might be recognising that epiphytes are plants (‘phyte’) that grow on top of (‘epi’) others; or that studying transnational corporations in Business Studies or Economics just might be relevant to globalisation).

Also, use photos as stimulus material – Looking at a picture of greenhouses in Almeria, Spain, the issues could be food miles, local food sourcing, employment, climate, energy, and so on.  If you were studying Spanish it could be the basis of a role play, if it was biology it could be considering how to grow plants indoors.

Greenhouses in Almeria, Spain

Source: Getty Images https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/an-aerial-view-taken-on-october-23-2009-in-the-coastal-area-news-photo/92319234#an-aerial-view-taken-on-october-23-2009-in-the-coastal-area-of-where-picture-id92319234

 

  1. Revisit content

Effective learning means revisiting content.

Cramming all of your revision into the last few days before an exam has been proven to be an ineffective way of learning.  Instead, stagger your revision, starting as near to the end of each lesson as you can.

Revising does not just mean re-reading.  It does not just mean highlighting.  It does not even just mean noting and summarising.  It means engaging actively with the content.

When making notes from your work or from a textbook, why not try the ‘Cornell method’, which is to write key words or questions to yourself in the margin, and summarising the notes at the end of the task at the bottom?

Or start a learning diary – I am trying this with my Year 13s – and then having an end-of-week recap of your notes, then looking through your notes at the end of every half-term, and finally in the weeks leading up to your exam.

This links in with the last part of the START strategy:

  1. Make time to learn

Effective learning means making time to learn

I have talked about staggering the times that you revisit content.  But there are other ways of managing your time too:

Firstly, have a timetable and stick to it!

Source: Ryburn Valley High School https://www.rvhs.co.uk/revision-help/

Take a break during bouts of revision too,

Mix it up with sport, other types of physical exercise or another pursuit. e.g. a musical instrument; art; …

Have an away day – revise in different locations

So we are asking you to START this year off by learning more effectively.

Read the card again.

Think of some concrete actions that fit into the START programme.  Then write 2-3 of these down.  Then act on them, and later in the term you will revisit your action plan to review your progress.

Good luck.

Contact David at dga@bradfordgrammar.com for more information and for the slides that go with this assembly.

Think Global Act Local

Assembly – Think Global Act Local – Bradford Grammar School, 27 April 2018

You can make a difference.  You can make a difference.  You can make a difference.

 

In this uncertain world, where despite economic, social, and scientific  advances, there exists a slow-burning environmental catastrophe; in this era of convenience and short-termism where long-term sustainability is threatened; in this time where being a citizen of the world apparently means you are a citizen of nowhere, you _can_ make a difference.

 

This week’s theme is perspective, and although you might be thinking that if the world is a stage, then you are only an insignificant actor, you must know that you can make a difference _now_, when you have a wide circle of friends and family to influence, you can make a difference after you _leave_ school, when you can tailor your studies to find out more about our impact on the world, and you can make a difference in the _future_, when you will have roles as responsible citizens, leaders, carers, educators, businesspeople and influencers.

 

Pupils from across the school community have stepped forward to tell you about an environmental issue that concerns them, and each one will offer a few practical steps that you, yes you, and you, can take. Please listen to Hibbah, Rebecca, Laura, Aliza, Joe and Billy and choose one or two of these steps and act on it. Because _you_ _can_ make a difference.

 

Acid Rain – Hibbah

‘Acid rain is rain which is unusually acidic. It is caused by compounds of chemicals which are released into the air by pollutants and then react with water and oxygen to form more pollutants which is called acid rain. Acid rain mainly affects environments which contain water as it makes the water acidic. This can harm fish as they cannot tolerate the acid. Plants are also damaged as the acid breaks up soil and makes plant roots weaker meaning they can die.

 

In school and at home, it is really easy to reduce acid rain simply by switching off electrical plugs, lights or other appliances when not using them as you are limiting the amount of fossil fuels burnt resulting in less pollutants meaning less acid rain.

 

Another way to limit the amount of pollution is by not using a car as much. You could travel to school via public transport, cycling, walking or by arranging a car share with your parents.

 

Ocean acidification / coral bleaching – Rebecca

 

What is the problem?

Ocean Acidification occurs when carbon dioxide gas is absorbed by the ocean and reacts with seawater to produce acid. Carbon dioxide reacts with the seawater to create carbonic acid, which increases the acidity of the ocean.

 

What can be done?

 

The next time you buy a new gadget or appliance, make an energy-efficient choice – check the label.

Heat and cool your home efficiently! Change your thermostat to 19 degrees – put on a layer rather than turn up the dial.

Ask your parents if you can improve the insulation levels of your home.

Support renewable energy sources when the time comes to make such a decision.

 

Climate Change – Laura

What is global warming ?

Global warming is when carbon dioxide is realised into the air when fossil fuels are burnt for energy – this energy powers our homes, cars and everyday electronic objects.  The extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun resulting in the earth getting warmer.  This results in many impacts like ice caps melting, coastal flooding and droughts.

 

You can prevent it

1. As Hibbah has mentioned, you could take public transport more often, or cycle or walk to school

2. Don’t waste your food. Energy is used in the raising of farm animals and preparation of food as well as transporting it

3. Speak to others about global warming

4. Reduce water waste, e. g. having a quick shower rather than a bath. This also reduces carbon dioxide

5. Use better bulbs. LED bulbs use 80 percent less energy than other bulbs.

When using less energy we can help save our world. Stopping global warming starts with us. Our world is burning and we need to stop it.

 

 

Aliza – clothing

Fashion plays an important role in many of your lives.  It defines you and affects how people view you. However, there are some aspects of fashion that we are not always aware of, such as the wastage of it.

 

In Britain we wear only 70% of the clothes that we own, which means there is a total of around 1.7 billion unused items. As well as that, a person keeps their items of clothing for only three years on average.

 

Instead of throwing away your unwanted clothing, you can donate them to charity or give them to another family member. Donated clothing is sold in charity shops and the items which are not sold are resold in the used clothing industry and sorted to be used in different ways. The clothes will then be distributed all over the world.

Plastics – Joe

Show video

 

Coffee Cup Waste – Billy

 

Disposable Coffee Cups

 

A lot of us need a coffee to get up in a morning, and a lot of us get that coffee in a disposable plastic cup. And when I say a lot, I mean around 7 million of us a day. And of those cups, that we throw away day in day out, only about a quarter of a percent of them will be recycled, which is appalling.

 

The cups themselves have a super strength plastic resin inside which makes them waterproof and ensures they doesn’t spill out everywhere, but also incredibly hard to recycle. The cups themselves hardly stand the test of time because they get thrown away the minute you’ve downed your coffee.

 

The problem is that they are convenient, that’s why the problem is so prolific. But can you really be proud of choosing convenience over making a meaningful contribution to society? Can you really be proud in fuelling a market that cuts down over 5 million trees a year because you can’t be bothered to have a cup of coffee at home or in a flask? Will you be proud leaving a planet to your children where there are more cups in the ocean than fish? I don’t think so.

 

But there are things we can do rather than just stand here and complain. Every morning at breakfast at school, X (need to ask a dinner lady how many are bought each day) of you get a hot drink from the machine in a disposable cup. That’s roughly X (need to calculate) cups being thrown away a year by this school alone. Here’s an idea to cut this, bring in your own mug or flask, keep it in your locker and use that at the machine instead. I use a mug for my tea every morning – it’s not a particularly glamorous mug but it does the job perfectly. And by doing just that every day we can make a profound impact on the environment, scything away at this convenience that kills.

 

Concluding Remarks

 

What we have seen today are a variety of problems that we as a society face. These problems can seem too large, too great for just a thousand of us sat here to do anything about. But that’s where we are wrong.

 

For every coffee cup we don’t use, for every piece of plastic we re-use, for every piece of clothing recycled, that’s one less cup in the ocean, one less piece of plastic killing wildlife, one more piece of coral saved. And it’s with a mind-set of thinking just like that, thinking of the problem on a global scale and not being over awed or diminished by the challenge we face, but by acting locally on a small scale that we can effect a real change. If you can change just one habit today, our job is done.

 

Thank you very much for listening.

 

 

 

 

Reasons to be happy – the real state of the world

Assembly – Reasons to be happy – the real state of the world  – Bradford Grammar School, 13 Jan 2017

What a depressing day – It’s Friday 13th, the days are short, the weather is terrible and term has just started again!  In the wider world, Trump is about to take over at the White House and there is great uncertainty over what exactly Brexit means.  There’s a crisis in Syria and Yemen, suicide bombs and terrorist attacks, and climate change looming over us.  Indeed, virtually every headline shouts out ‘crisis’!

But stop! Shouldn’t we look at these developments in context?  What’s the real state of the world?  If you look at the facts about the world socially, economically, and in most respects, environmentally, I want to show you that there are reasons to be satisfied, and – as befits the theme of the week – even happy.  And I need the help of some of you to do so.

So, let’s look at the direction the world is going in terms of just two aspects – health and violence.

Let’s start with the basics – how long are we living for?  Life expectancy is going up and up, as Hans Rosling is keen to point out.

In 1800, the global life expectancy at birth was between 20 and 30. In 1900 this had crept up to 31, by 1950 it was 48, but what is it today?

68 years old.  And this is a global average!  Even for those who survived the dangerous first few years of life, in 1845, a five-year old in the UK could expect to live until they were just 55, but a five-year old today – someone just starting Clock House – can expect to live until they are 82.  Surely this is a reason to be cheerful?

How many babies are living into childhood?

In 1800, 43% of children died before their fifth birthday.

How has this changed over time?  Well, thanks to healthcare, scientific improvements and so on, by 1900 this had fallen to 36%.

By 1950 it was 22%.

But how about 2015?

The answer is 4%

How about access to education?

Back in 1800, only one in eight people around the world could read and write.  This meant that an almighty 88% couldn’t read or write.

By 1900 it had barely decreased – it was still high at 79%

By 1950 it had nudged downwards to 64%

So what was it in 2014?

The answer is 17% – and it’s dropping fast!

But how often do these statistics make the headlines?  Very rarely.  Why not?  Good news does not sell papers, good news does not entice you to click the hyperlink, good news does not make you watch, well, the news.

One reason why we do not hear about how global living conditions are improving in the media is that these are the slow processes that never make the headlines. The media is overly obsessed with reporting single events and with bad news and does not nearly pay enough attention to the slow developments like these that reshape our world.

Max Roser points out that a media that would report global development could have had the headline “The number of children dying globally fell by 455 since yesterday” and they wouldn’t have this headline once, but every single day over these more than 2 decades.

Good news does not sell papers, good news does not entice you to click the hyperlink, good news does not make you watch, well, the news.

How about the way that we die?  Steven Pinker is a Canadian writer who has noticed more slow-burning good news.

How many people will meet their death in a violent manner?  Let’s start with murder.  You’d have thought that this is an ever-present threat.  But we live in an increasingly peaceful world.  Even at its peak, in tribal societies, your chance of being murdered in any one year was only 0.7%.

By 1800 the world average was 0.003%, by 1950 it was 0.001%, and it has fallen slightly since then. All these figures are over-represented by a Lego man.

So there is less murder nowadays – a reason to be cheerful!  Here is a list of other things which are getting rarer and rarer in the world:

Wars? Rarer? Surely some mistake?

Year 7s and 8s – you will all recognize this man from Geography and History – Otzi the Iceman.  How did he die?

Otzi the Iceman – Source: Thilo Parg [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, and 120 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, both from Wikimedia Commons

From an arrow.  DNA analysis found traces of blood from two other people on one of the arrowheads he was carrying, blood from a third on his dagger, and blood from a fourth on his cape.  He belonged to a raiding party that clashed with a neighbouring tribe.  So how many people will meet their death from conflicts and wars nowadays compared to tribal societies?

In tribal societies the rate was, on average, 14%.  NB this includes civilian casualties.

In the early 1600s the rate was about 1%

It did peak again in the first half of the 20th Century – don’t forget, 100 Old Bradfordians died in WW1 – the worst war was WW2 – and the chance of someone dying from this was 1.5%

But how about today? There has been a tenfold increase in war deaths globally since 2005 – but what is the total chance of being killed in a war today – or of being a civilian victim?

It’s actually about 0.003%

The world has always been a violent place.  It is still a violent place – but it is much, much, less violent that it used to be.  The twentieth century was a violent century – more people died in wars in that century than in any previous century.  But most of those deaths occurred in the first half of that century – in one of the two world wars.  Since then, what Pinker refers to the ‘Long Peace’ has spread over the world.

Since 1950 – in the lifetime of everyone here, one number stands out clearly in the history of war: Zero.

How many nuclear weapons have been used in conflict?  Zero.

How many western European countries have fought each other?  Zero.

How many major developed countries have fought each other?  Zero.

How many developed countries have expanded their territories by conquering another country?  Zero.

How many states have disappeared through conquest?  Zero.

You might say – well how about other forms of conflict in recent decades?  There may not have been a world war, but how about civil wars?  Genocides? Terrorism? Surely they are in the news so they must be on the rise!

No.  Deaths from civil wars, genocides and terrorism have all fallen over the past twenty years.  In 1950 the average armed conflict killed 33,000; in 2015 it killed about 4,000.  Terrorist attacks hit a natural barrier beyond which they sow the seeds of self-destruction as potential converts are more exposed to being hurt.

It’s not just violence that is decreasing – tolerance is increasing.  In every issue touched by the human rights revolution of recent decades – interracial marriage, the empowerment of women, the tolerance of homosexuality, the punishment of children, and the treatment of animals – the attitudes of conservatives have followed the trajectory of liberals, with the result that today’s conservatives are more liberal than the liberals of just a few decades ago.

But why are these trends happening?

Why are we getting healthier?

  • Government investment in healthcare, sanitation, clean water, schools and science
  • Trade and aid, both of which spread wealth around
  • Private enterprise pushing the boundaries of medical endeavour
  • Individual actions and breakthroughs – we are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants

Why are we getting less violent?

  • Countries are becoming less warlike.  The move to democracies has helped in this: since 1900, democracies have been less than twice as likely as non-democracies to engage in militarized disputes.
  • Strong governments and law enforcement mean that mankind’s baser instincts are held at bay.
  • Belonging to groups of countries like the United Nations and, yes, the EU, means that we are bound by more ties which we don’t want to destroy by fighting.
  • Being wealthier means that there is more at stake – more to lose – if we were to go to war.  Trading with other countries means that we have more to lose – no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever gone to war with each other.
  • Social norms in developed countries have evolved to incorporate the conviction that was is inherently immoral because of its costs to human well-being and that it can only be justified when it is likely to prevent even greater costs to human well-being.

There is now more empathy for human life than ever before – thanks to reading and writing, we know more about other people.  So thank you, TV, radio, publishing, travel and thank you, the Internet. Education saves lives.  We have enlarged our ‘empathy circle’.  It is so much harder to kill or hurt someone when you know them, or even know about them.

Similarly, being exposed to more ideas saves lives.  Education saves lives.  The more you learn, the fewer mistruths and inaccuracies you will hold about ‘other’ people.  So read, read, read.  And think, think, think.

We believe that the world is going to hell in a handcart because the media tells us that it is.  David Hume says we are laboring under a “false sense of insecurity”.  But keep your wits about you.  Look wider, look further back, read, listen and ponder the facts.  Let’s try to avoid the state of worry and terror that many people live in today.

Caveat

Avoid the complacency trap – ‘now I know that life in most of the world is getting better, I can sit back and let progress happen’.  Well, progress is built on many small acts, and sitting back would be to avoid your responsibility as a member of society.

Be aware – declines in violence are caused by political, economic and ideological conditions that take hold in particular cultures at particular times.  If the conditions change, these trends could reverse.

I hope I haven’t belittled the victims of violence and ill health who can be found across the globe and particularly in developing countries – there is still work to be done!

There are still threats to humanity – especially with regards to the environment – and especially climate change – that we should be turning our attention to.

Conclusion

I could go on about how the world is progressing in other areas like reductions in poverty… but you get the picture.  So what can you take away from today?

Understand what has led to the declines and it will guide you towards what might work in the future.

Be open to facts, not rhetoric.

Read widely and not just fiction – don’t just trust the first thing you find online – be aware of ‘fake news’ – and be willing to pay for good journalism and writing, whether that is via a magazine or newspaper subscription or via licence fees and taxes

Try to see the big picture – try to set the most recent disaster on the news in context.

Finally, I would say not so much ‘don’t worry, be happy’ as ‘worry less, be slightly happier about the state of the world’.

Thank you.

Source for Pinker: Pinker, S (2011): The Better Angels of Our Nature

Source for Max Roser statistic: Max Roser (2016) – ‘Child Mortality’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality/ [Online Resource]

Credit also due to http://www.gapminder.org

Addicted to the outdoors

Assembly – Addicted to the outdoors – delivered to Bradford Grammar School, 5th February 2015

I have an addiction.  I have been addicted for years now.  My teachers and parents helped me to become addicted.  In fact, many teachers here are helping you to become addicted too.

Strenuous efforts are made to get the whole of Year 7 addicted in their first term here.  Most of Year 10 choose to sign up for whole weekends dedicated to it, and dozens of Sixth Formers have devoted weeks of their lives to it.

These efforts are advertised quite openly around the school – you just need to listen carefully to the Daily Bulletin.  For some subjects, it is even part of the curriculum.

Once you are addicted, it is hard to go back.  It really is.  I satisfy my addiction about a dozen times a week.  Some of you – and that includes staff – have had binges lasting weeks or even months!

Many of us have been abroad to satisfy our addiction, but there are plenty of opportunities to do so on home turf.  There is a daily chance to get a quick hit every lunchtime here.  My last hit was yesterday afternoon.  So what am I talking about?  Here are some clues. [show 3 slides]

You might have guessed already – I am addicted to the great outdoors!

So, why do so many people get addicted to the great outdoors, and if you haven’t done so already, why should you join them?  Here are seven good reasons, illustrated by photos from fellow outdoor addicts from across the school.

The first reason is to try to achieve “a healthy mind in a healthy body”.

This is the first in the Roman poet Juvenal’s list of what is desirable in life.

But what does it mean in relation to the outdoors?

Well, getting outdoors can make you fit but it can also help you to stay mentally alert.

A 2013 UK government report showed that “Children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression”, whereas people who spend time in the outdoors usually find that their mental health improves.  Just like these two Year 11s!

This has even been recognised by psychologists, and ‘ecotherapy’ is now a common form of treating mental health problems.  In other words, “get some fresh air – it’ll do you good!”

Why does it work?  Partly because you need to co-operate with others in the outdoors, so your mind is distracted from your own worries.

For other people who choose to explore the outdoors alone, the solitude and lack of pressure to satisfy the demands of peers and family leads to significant improvements in self-esteem.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Reason 2: Improve your grades

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Those of you who have been to Pompeii, or to the Dales, or wherever you have been on school trips… how much easier did you find it once you sat the exam or did a project on it?  School trips in the outdoors aren’t just fun, they are a sneaky way of getting you to learn things!  And it’s not just school trips – just being out and about gets you to ask questions – and answer them!

So, what better way to learn about volcanoes than by walking in their shadow?…

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­…or even watching as they erupt?

Studies of adventure learning consistently show positive benefits on academic learning, as well as other outcomes such as self-confidence. On average, according to the Education Endowment Foundation, pupils who participate in structured adventure learning appear to make approximately three months additional progress over the course of a year over those who don’t.

On a personal level, I didn’t know how to explain a temperature inversion until I was in Tasmania and walked uphill through the clouds then saw this…

­­­­­­Reason 3: Stretch yourself in the outdoors and you will set yourself up for a rosy future.

­Succeeding in the outdoors can breed success in a competitive workplace.

Does that sound like fanciful thinking?

Well, apparently not!

The United Learning Trust (ULT) recently undertook a survey of major employers.  They were asked what attributes they looked for when taking on board new recruits.  The following were rated the highest: leadership, teamwork, self-motivation, communication, confidence, consideration, and the ability to learn.  For those of you who have taken part in Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expeditions, like this Gold group in the Lake District, these attributes must ring a bell!

And no wonder, because the sample was also asked what they considered to be the most important activities undertaken at school and were asked to rate them from 1-5, with 1 being the highest.  As you can see, outdoor activities like DofE and World Challenge are very highly valued by employers.

Incidentally, this argument is very useful the next time you are trying to persuade your parents to let you go on a school trip!

Reason 4: Travel broadens the mind!

From new experiences to new people, you will learn more about the world – and yourself – by heading outside – and away from home – for a few days or weeks.

On another level, you also learn to appreciate what you have in your comfortable life in the UK.

On the World Challenge expeditions that I have been on, students have been humbled by the conditions that many people in the developing world live in.  Here are some BGS World Challengers from the 2014 expedition to India on a school project.

But there are more benefits: many expeditioners abroad also learn that many of our material luxuries are just that – luxuries – and that human relationships are what makes the world go around.

Reason 5.   Awe and wonder.

For this reason, pictures speak louder than words.

Mr Leake took this photo on the 2013 BGS World Challenge trip to China…

…and Mr Smith took this on the soon to be repeated Geography tour of SW USA…

…whilst Mr Hoath took this picture in Ladakh, North-West India.  Imagine waking up to that in the morning!

So, awe and wonder – well it’s all very good being overawed and in a state of wonder, but isn’t it a fleeting emotion, lost upon your return to everyday life, lessons, and assemblies?

Well, the theory proves that being outdoors has a long-term impact on your way of thinking:  The feeling that you are the centre of the universe is called into question by the sheer scale and complexity of nature.  There is something bigger than you and your everyday worries – a mountain – a wide open plain – the open sky…And this feeling sticks with you.  And you become an addict, a follower of the outdoor religion… seeking converts wherever you go [look out into audience] J

Reason 6:  Getting back afterwards!

The next three photos were taken in the last fortnight at BGS.

I’ve got to be honest – going outdoors can be a bit of a slog (although these two were having fun running in the hail the other week)!

You too can have fun in the snow, sleet and rain!

Because at least you can get back indoors and earn that hot drink, meal and a shower!

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­And when it’s all over you can feel satisfied that you’ve challenged yourself!

And if you’ve lugged a heavy rucksack for up to eight hours a day through tough terrain and challenging weather, like many generations of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditioners have, or if you’ve slogged your way through puddles the size of small lakes in a cross-country race, then a few hours of revision a day doesn’t seem quite as bad!

Just think of the relief when the Geography department returned from this visit to a geyser in Iceland!

This isn’t just conjecture: the Education Endowment Foundation suggest that skills such as perseverance and resilience are developed through adventure learning and that these skills have a knock-on impact on academic outcomes.

This winter, we’ve seen our fair share of inclement weather, but for those hardy souls who venture out in it, the sense of achievement has been massive!

And so we come to Reason 7: Let’s be honest – getting outdoors can just be fun!

Sometimes you just want to jump up in the air for joy, like these World Challengers…

…and you get to have a bit of fun with your surroundings.

Here’s a novel way of filling your cup – straight from Angel Falls in Venezuela.

This is something you won’t try everyday…

…and good times spent with friends will stay with you forever…

So get out there and explore – the world is your oyster!

­­­­­­­­So what can you do to get addicted to the outdoors?  Inside and outside of school, from a 30minute mini adventure to a month away, there’s a whole host of opportunities.  I’ll leave you with just a flavour – why not try something new?  Why not get addicted?  Thank you.

The crime of waste

Assembly – Waste – delivered to Bradford Grammar School, 8 Oct 2015

Feel free to adapt / edit / try out this assembly at your educational establishment.

[Start with ‘crime scene’ on stage]

What’s the world’s most serious crime?

Drug dealing? Murder? Mass murder? Torture? Terrorism?

In Year 8 Geography we discussed this question as part of our studies into where and why crime takes place.

We decided that to classify as ‘serious’ the crime should cause severe harm, affect many people, and its effects would last for a long time.

I received several answers similar to the ones I just gave until one made me stop in my tracks:

‘Overuse of the world’s resources’

This really got the conversation going!  That’s not a crime!  Who is affected?  You can’t go into prison for that!

But we approached it logically, and tested it out against the criteria mentioned above:

The crime should cause severe harm, affect many people, and its effects would last for a long time.

__________________________

Firstly, the severity of the harm caused.  Well, it’s not as severe as murder or torture, but let’s consider the waste and the by-products of energy generation used to make the things which end up as waste.  Well, these often cause injury, disease, and premature death.  Just think, for instance, of water pollution from factories soil contamination from the degradation of waste in landfill sites

and air pollution, which leads to asthma, breathing difficulties and climate change.

Secondly, the number of people affected by the waste – well these can be measured in the billions – 7.3 billion in fact – as we’re all affected in some way by the problems that I’ve just mentioned.

Thirdly, we can be affected by waste for a very long time indeed.  Not only are many non-biodegradable items taking up valuable land, but we are still dealing now with the problems caused by toxic metals leaching into groundwater.   In addition, the thermal inertia of the oceans means that there is a 25-50 year time lag between increased levels of CO2 and the oceans warming up by a corresponding amount – the oceans will continue to expand for decades to come, resulting in rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

_____________________________________

I could go on.  But if waste is a serious crime, then who are the criminals?  Who are the victims?  And who are the police?

Who are the criminals?  I’m a criminal.  I buy things I don’t need.  I throw things away.  I fly.  I forget to turn things off.  In a way, we are all criminals.  A sobering thought.

________________________________________

Who are the victims?  Well, I’ve begun to answer that one already.  The ones who suffer the most are the most vulnerable in society.

People who have breathing difficulties suffer from air pollution.

People who drink water from polluted watercourses in the countries where our goods are made.

And people who live on the coast in low-lying countries like Bangladesh, who are suffering from rising sea levels and coastal flooding thanks to climate change.

But we all suffer in a way.  Consider the financial angle.

Do you know what this represents?  (Point to a pile of waste)  A year’s waste per person in this room.  As a school last year we created 780 tonnes of solid waste.  Much of this is institutional waste like building rubble.  But much of it is food. Paper.  Plastic containers.  That’s 650kg per person – that’s two-thirds of a tonne for every pupil, teacher and other staff who work here.  Two-thirds of a tonne – that’s almost the weight of a SMART car!  The government charges £80 a tonne for putting our waste into landfill – so about £55 of each of your fees disappears into the ground!  We use £100,000 per year in electricity.  And over £100,000 in gas.  Much of this is unnecessary – so we’re pretty much throwing away money!  Money which could be used to invest in new facilities, reducing fees, and going towards new bursaries.  What a waste.

_______________________________________

So we are the criminals and the victims of this crime – a strange situation indeed.  But who are the police?  Weirdly, we all are – or at least we all can be.  We can help to prevent the crime which we commit and which we all suffer from.  What do I mean by ‘we’?

In the broadest sense, ‘we’ can mean the government elected by you and your parents.  OK – they have belatedly brought in a plastic bag charge (on Monday this week!) – and initiatives like the landfill tax I just mentioned.  But we can’t leave it to them.

How about the school?  Talking to the bursar and the estates manager, it’s apparent that some pretty big strides have been made in recent years to reduce waste here.  Most of these ways are behind the scenes.

Did you know that through the fitting of LED lights and motion sensors, the school has shaved £40,000 from its electricity bill in the past year?  That’s fifty PCs.  Or 6,000 textbooks.  Or four bursaries.  There are even some new ‘Dali’ lights which adjust to the amount of sunlight coming in through the window.

We recycled over 30 tonnes of waste last year – saving the school £2,400 in landfill taxes – although this is only 4% of our total waste – can you help to improve on this?

And did you know that heating the water in the swimming pool now costs 12% less that it did last year, thanks to a liquid which has been pumped into the water, which rises to the top when ripples have settled, forming an insulating layer just one molecule thick?

And simple measures have been taken by our head chef to reduce waste in the dining hall, by installing recycling bins and reusing leftovers in soups and other meals?

But we shouldn’t stop there.  How about you?  What can you do to prevent the crime of waste?

(Could show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptp6JGAF3o0 at this point.)

So, here’s a small checklist of easy things you can do…

  • Turn lights off
  • Turn computers off
  • Recycle your waste paper and plastic containers
  • Refill water bottles rather than buying new ones
  • Only select what you are going to eat at lunch

These may only be small steps, but together we can make a difference – and we can all benefit.  Here and at home.  Now and in the future.

And finally, spread the word.  Waste is costly, waste is harmful – waste is criminal.

Thank you.