jueves, 4 de julio de 2024

Postgrowth and citizen science in secondary school: a necessary but not sufficient condition

 This is the talk given at the 15th Conference of the European Society for the Ecological Economy, held in the city of Pontevedra from June 18 to 21, 2024.

Within the forum "Understanding the just ecological transition of Pontevedra through citizen science", in this talk, I exposed my vision  the citizen science project in which participated my students of 1st year of high school studying economics.

As I had promised, I share here the complete talk with some extended information.

1. Economics in Secondary School

This citizen science project has been developed with students in the 5th year of secundary school who are studying economics. The students are aged between 16 and 17.

When The Postgrowth Innovation Lab sent me the information about the possibility of participating in a project of this type, I had no doubt that I wanted to take part in it, as it could be a very good opportunity for my students and for myself.

I am an economic´s teacher in secondary school. In the subject of economics we see a lot of content, but traditionally we did not deal with topics such as degrowth or post-growth, but it is true that we did deal with some content such as "Economic imbalances and the role of the State in the economy", "Conflicts of interest and commitments for the future" or "Inequalities and underdevelopment. Sustainable development". Although they could be related to the contents of this Conference, there was no specific mention as from the last legislative change (since september 2022), incorporating the following:

- Collaborative economy. Circular economy.

- Theories on economic degrowth.

- The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and current economic challenges. Case studies.

The participation in this project is therefore a great opportunity to link the new contents to the reality of classroom practice.

2. The scientific research method in social sciences: the inductive-deductive method

One of the first things I try to explain to my students is how scientific research in the social sciences is carried out by explaining the inductive-deductive method.

Although I am sure that everyone in this room is familiar with the method, I would simply like to comment that research in the social sciences is usually carried out through a process of observation of reality. Through its study we develop hypotheses, laws, theories and models, and, once they have been checked again in reality, the inductive-deductive cycle begins again.

What is the biggest problem with this method? The fact that the researchers are people with their own interests, feelings and preconceived political ideas, all of which imply prejudices that influence the whole process.

3. My own prejudices as an economis

As an example of my own personal prejudices that influence the process, I am going to tell you something about myself.

I studied a degree in Business Administration, in which all the contents are about trying to achieve the greatest efficiency in the production of goods or services, the greatest amount of sales possible for the company and seeking the greatest possible profit, always more.

I have to admit that after these lessons, when I started working, in this case in a family business, the numbers were what worried me most. I used them to draw up reports and, after the analysis I had been taught, the numbers said that one or two company offices had to be closed, there was no doubt about it, the numbers were right. One or two sites had to be closed and staff had to be reduced as a consequence.

After presenting these numbers on several occasions to one of the company's directors, in this case my father, he told me that they could not be closed, that there were people who had been working with him for many years, on whom families depended, and that they could not be fired. He told me that they were like family, and they really were, because I had known them since I was a child, but my learning did not allow me to see the reality.

From here, I started to reflect and think in a different way. I believe this is the key of these initiatives such as the project in which we participate, somehow we must unlearn, me first and then all of us, something I always invite my students to do.

4. The importance of developing students' critical spirit

I usually tell my students to be critical with me (in the end they are not very critical ... but still). I think this is the best way for them to learn and for me to learn with them.

Students have their prejudices as a consequence of living in society and are strongly influenced by their immediate environment. The problem is that in many cases it is difficult for them to question problems from a scientific point of view, from a deep and informed analysis.

Teaching practice in many cases does not develop this critical spirit: we teachers teach our content and students assimilate it, in many cases without considering anything beyond the content we teach, without going deeper. This is a problem of the education system in general, in which memoristic learning is given priority. When students are offered another type of task, one more critical, one that develops their thinking, it is not easy for them, as it is much easier to study something and then drop it in the exam.

I have tried on many occasions to develop tasks that encourage this critical spirit, with mixed results. When I was asked to participate in this project, I thought it was what I needed to delve deep in this problem.

5. Polarisation and prejudices in society

Society is too polarised: in football you have to be a Madrid supporter or a Barcelona supporter, in politics you have to be right-wing or left-wing, a large part of society feels the need to identify with something for various reasons that are not the subject of this talk. There are people who believe in climate change and those who don't, people who defend capitalism and those who attack it, people who believe in the public sector and those who attack it, people who believe in degrowth and post-growth as a good way of developing future societies and defend it and those who see it as nonsense and therefore attack it.

As I am sure that in this case those present here are much more open-minded, so let’s think about the need to practice empathy in order to reach out to society. And that must be the way to transmit this knowledge, these ideas.

In many cases we run around like headless chickens, we don't stop to reflect and this is increasingly necessary. A project like this one has helped my students and their immediate environment to reflect on this.

6. The application of citizen science in secondary schools

As I mentioned, when I saw the opportunity to participate in this project, I didn't hesitate for a moment.

When I suggested it to my students, I suppose they initially had doubts about what it was and how they were going to develop it. Many doubts were resolved step by step thanks to the Post-growth innovation lab team, with very interesting talks and activities that got the students hooked into the project. In this case I would especially like to thank Cristina for her collaboration, without her, without her kindness and her ability to reach out to the students, it would not have been possible.

We have been working throughout the course, my students have finally developed the subject of Employment in Pontevedra, and I can say that the experience has been very enriching. Nevertheless, the best people to evaluate its impact are the students themselves, so here are some of their reflections.

The participating students' evaluation of the project:

"I found the classes very entertaining and dynamic, and I learned a lot of concepts and solutions to many local problems".

"Participation in this project has been an opportunity to learn more about the subject and about Post-Growth in an unusual way, with classes that were very pleasant and that we all enjoyed in general".

"For me, this project was an opportunity to explore a different way of looking at how the economy works and how we develop ourselves".

"For me it was a project in which I was able to get information that I didn't know and it has also helped me to have a different vision than the one I had."

"Honestly I would like to repeat the project next year and that more institutes have the possibility to have these talks to learn the same way we did."

7. Analysis of the understanding of the meaning of post-growth before and after the project

In the application of this type of project, it is always interesting to analyse the learning achieved by the students after the project has been carried out. It would have been interesting to carry out a previous survey on knowledge of the concepts of degrowth and post-growth and, once the project was completed, to carry it out again to analyse the results.

To solve this problem, I carried out a survey with the participating students and another one with students a year younger, who have not participated in the project and would be equivalent to the students who participated in the project but at the beginning of the academic year. I have to say that the younger students have participated with me in the subject of Economics and Entrepreneurship in the development of socially responsible business ideas aligned with the SDGs, but not directly addressing these concepts.

This is a series of multiple-choice questions. I am not going to present all the answers but some of the majority answers given by the students who participated and those who did not participate, which are the following:

A: students who did not participate in the project.

B: students who participated in the project.

1. Have you heard of the concept of "degrowth" or "post-growth" before?

A: I am not sure

B: Yes, I have heard about them but I don't fully understand them.

2. How would you define the concept of degrowth?

A: A social approach that promotes a gradual decrease in economic growth to improve the quality of life.

B: An economic strategy that seeks to reduce consumption and production in order to preserve natural resources.

3. What do you think is the main reason for promoting economic degrowth?

A: I have no opinion on this.

B: To preserve the environment and natural resources. - To reduce social and economic inequalities.

4. What effects do you think degrowth would have on society?

A: I don't know

B: Improved quality of life and mental health.

5. What is your opinion on the viability of degrowth as an economic model?

A: I'm not sure, I would need more information.

B: I see it as difficult to achieve given the current structures of society.

6. What is post-growth for you?

A: I don't know.

B: An economic approach that proposes a balance between development and sustainability.

7. What role do public policies play in promoting post-growth?

A: I don't have an opinion.

B: They should encourage the transition to a circular and sustainable economy.

8. How do you think post-growth could affect the culture of consumerism?

A: I am not sure, it depends on how it is implemented.

B: It could foster a culture more oriented towards well-being and personal satisfaction.

9. How important do you think degrowth and post-growth are in the debate about the future of the planet?

A: I am not sure.

B: They are fundamental to addressing today's environmental and social challenges.

10. Would you be willing to change your lifestyle to contribute to degrowth or post-growth?

A: I am not sure, I would need more information on how to do it.

B: Maybe, depending on the alternatives available.

8. What does post-growth mean for students after their study. Examples of classroom tasks

Examples of classroom tasks

After developing the project, one of the contents I had to teach was state intervention in the economy, asking whether different services have to be public or private (we assume they can only be either public or private):

- Banking

- Health care.

- Education.

- The supply of hydrocarbons

- Electricity supply.

- Railways.

- Motorways.

- Arms production.

- The supply of drinking water.

Another of the activities consists of asking whether or not the state should guarantee certain minimums, such as:

- A minimum pension for the elderly

- A minimum interprofessional wage

- Quality public TV

- Should the environment be specially regulated by the state to guarantee its conservation?

- Free and universal health care

- Free medicines

- Free education

- Free public transport.

Apart from minor divergences, most of the students considered that all of the above should be free of charge.

Then I asked them, if all of the above services should be guaranteed by the state, should basic necessities such as water, clothing, housing and food be financed free of charge by the state? Here doubts begin to arise, it can't be all, absolutely all free, I am told.

Why do students respond that there should be more state intervention? I think that, after the development of the project, they have gone deeper into their own beliefs and way of seeing things so that they try to apply more criteria of equity and justice to these kinds of issues. And I'm not going to go into whether private is better than public, but what is necessary is that all these questions are raised on the basis of their own reflection, and that is something that I believe we have achieved with this project.

9. Conclusions: Necessary but not sufficient condition

It is
 necessary to develop this type of project in secondary schools ...

In economics, there are many projects that seek a more social approach, one that is more respectful of the environment and, in short, of sustainable development. Speaking of the polarisation of society, in the academic sphere, when assessing the subjects that should be taught, it is often said that economics should not be taught because all economists are liberal. In many cases it seems that we are the bad guys in the film, but if we were to take a look at the interests of economics teachers in secondary schools, we would see that this is not the case.

In fact, even in the subject called economics and entrepreneurship (in fourth grade of secondary school), entrepreneurship is often approached from a social point of view. Many projects are developed on the premise of a business idea aligned with the SDGs. In the case of my school, my students developed projects with the aim of caring for the Galician coastline, caring for our elderly, seeking to reduce hunger, helping teenagers with psychological problems or helping to improve the physical self-esteem of their clients, all objectives that could be closely related to the Post-Growth philosophy.

We can continue to work on these lines in economics, but it is necessary to reach more students, as one of my students says, it is necessary for more students to have access to these projects.

... but it is not enough to do it with a reduced number of them to reach the whole society.

It is necessary
 to carry out this type of Conferences from the University level ...

We are sure that in this International Conference we have learned a lot, but now it is time to consider how to reach society. If we limit ourselves to the academic university world, we will not reach it. When we bring these kinds of projects closer to society, they are better understood and truly reflected upon, which I believe is the way in which public opinion can be changed.

... but it is not enough if it does not reach society, for this we must have all the possible spaces and a collaboration between secondary education and the university is essential.

For all these reasons, I encourage the University of Vigo and those present here to continue developing this type of project, to defend the teaching of this type of content in schools and to open up a sincere and calm debate based on the study and analysis of reality in order to achieve fairer, more equitable and sustainable living conditions. I have already started to do this and so has the University of Vigo, what we need is to continue working on these lines.

Finally, I would like to thank the University of Vigo, particularly the Post-growth innovation Lab, for allowing us to participate in this enriching project and for inviting me to give this talk.

Thank you!

Jose Vázquez Carpintero

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