Thinking Systemically

I’ve become a big fan of these little, short videos from 12 Manage that deal with various issues of leadership and management. This one is particularly good:

12 Manage – Video – Systems Thinking

It provides an excellent, intelligent explanation of what systems thinking is and why it matters. I first came across systems thinking in the writings of Peter Senge of the MIT Sloan School of Management, especially his books: The Fifth Discipline, The dance of Change and Schools That Learn (compulsory reading for all educators in my view).

Watching the video I was provoked to think about the question – “why don’t more people think systemically, naturally?” My conclusion was that, as in too many other things, those of us in education have to take a big chunk of the blame. And, the clue lies in that word “chunk”. Schools deliver knowledge in sealed boxes called ‘subjects’. They test, assess and evaluate each one separately, as if there is no inter-relationship of knowledge across the boundaries of the subjects. In such circumstances and after so many years, should we really be that surprised if people grow in to adults who find massive discomfort if asked to deal with facts, issues, problems or challenges without defining a neat box that it belongs in, then simply applying formulaic solutions in accordance with the standard thinking practiced within that box.

We saw a classic and extreme example some years ago in the Indian education system. The Supreme Court in that country passed a ruling that every citizen growing up should be taught about the environment. Not a bad idea to believe that reduced ignorance of the citizens would lead to more responsible approaches to preserving the environment.

So, the Indian examination Boards rolled out curriculum for Environmental Studies and it was made a compulsory subject. However, the catch was that over the next few years students found high marks very easy to come by in this subject. As a result, universities and colleges refused to take account of results from this subject when considering children for admissions. So, masses of students, parents and teachers labelled the subject a ‘waste of time’. Then, one of the exam Boards proudly announced that they were terribly clever people because they’d discovered a loophole in the Supreme Court judgement that meant that it didn’t need to be taught as a separate subject. it was enough if environmental matters were dealt with, within subjects such as Biology.

So, this new subject was scrapped – and everyone rejoiced.

Now, should we wonder why we read headlines about 80 deaths a day in Delhi due to pollution? Should we wonder why everyone’s scratching their heads and saying the issues of environment are too complex to solve? Here was a classic lack of systems thinking and here is the price to be paid.

Incidentally, it was the most systemically oriented subject possible. It had the scope to blend science, humanities, the arts, sociology, psychology and many other areas in order to understand the interrelationship between aspects that contribute to environmental degradation.

When I wrote to the Board in question and pleaded with them to rethink their decision they told me I was the only person to have raised an issue, everyone else was happy – now students could focus on the subjects that would get the scores to get university places.

Because, after all – that’s what education’s for – isn’t it?

Nobody needs systems thinking more than educators!

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14 and Wiser Than Most

An amazing insight in to the thinking of a 14 year old boy, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez determined to bring about meaningful change in the way mankind interacts with the environment. He says, quite simply that it's not climate that needs to change, but the mindset of society.

Here's the MIC article about him and the making of the short film:

Mic - Article
(click on the link above to open the article)

And, here is his TED talk and hip-hop performance with his younger brother:

Power to the young Earth Guardian Crews!

Goa Goa Gone

A couple of years ago, I was very fortunate to get the benefit of a box full of DVDs of the entries in the CMS Vatavaran Environment Film competition. One film stood out and had a considerable effect on me, especially for the courage shown by the citizen campaigners. So, I was so pleased to find a copy of that film on Youtube. Here it is, in two parts. Called ‘Goa Goa Gone’ it highlights the battles of ordinary citizens of that state as they endeavoured to stand up to the bullying power of the mining elite and contended with the apathy (at best) of the government in power in the state at that time.

Since the time when this film was made there’s been a change of regime in the State government coupled with two Environment Ministers in Central government who have had the courage to stand up for what is right environmentally, especially when it comes to all types of mining and the implications for the environment, for tribal and indigenous peoples and for the legacy that we will pass to the next generation.

I don’t claim to be an expert on all the issues, but this film really strikes a chord with me:

350.org Local in Delhi

Here’s a mail i received bringing news of the creation of local presence in Delhi for the 350.org campaign on global warning. There’s an event on 5th June. I can’t attend, but the organisers are happy for me to share the details with all who read this blog. Their only request is that if you plan to attend, please RSVP before hand as they have a limited amount of space.

Dear friend,
On the 5th of May, people across the planet connected the dots between extreme weather and climate change. Climate Impacts Day was highly significant in showing the world what climate change really means, from the richest to the poorest and from different corners of the world, impacts are being witnessed at an alarming rate.
But our work is far from over if we are to address this challenge with the vigor it demands. For this reason, 350 has launched the 350 Local Platform earlier this year. 350 Local aims to provide our top organizers the resources they would need to build the movement beyond the days of action.
In Delhi, 350.org is collaborating with WISER to launch the 350 WISER Delhi local group. The initiative will look at the challenge of India’s development in the context of climate change. The group will be in Delhi and will focus on events, actions, projects and campaigns in the capital city that can transition India towards a clean energy future.

It is designed to connect, facilitate and empower the people within and beyond the 350 & wiser networks. Sounds like what you’re looking for? Then join us for the launch of the 350-Wiser Delhi Local Group.
When: June 5th, 6:30 – 9:30 PM
Where: Moonlighting, 19, Hemkunt Colony, GK I
Guest Speaker: Soumya Dutta from the India Peoples Science Forum
Facebook event group: http://act.350.org/go/1684?t=5&akid=1935.231339.WHk–A
Here is the flow of the event for the evening of June 5th.
6:30 – 6:50 – Introduction to 350.org and WISER
6:50 – 7:40 – Screening of films around climate change, coal and community action
7:40 – 8:00 – A short talk by Mr. Soumya Dutta
8:00 – 8:30 – Local group launch and QnA
8:30 – 9:30 – Snacks and the discussion continues
Given the limited seating capacity, we request you to RSVP to ayesha@350.org, +91-9873944487 or +91-9849016371.
Hoping to see you there on June 5th.
Thanking you.

Environment in Danger

Professor James Lovelock is one of the most important scientists in the arguments about climate, global warming and man’s relationship with the planet.

He was the first person to identify high and growing levels of CFCs in the atmosphere and proposed the Gaia hypothesis which proposes that living and non-living parts of the earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.

Somewhat controversially for the last few years he has suggested that the only solution to man’s power needs is nuclear power. Even then, some of his predictions are truly scary.

Here are some excerpts from a recent interview with BBC. If he’s right, then there’s a lot to think about:

We Can’t Save the Planet

Arjun Sodhi – Environmental Journalist of the Future?

There are times when students of The Shri Ram School do things that just blow us away, reminding us all why we do the work we do – and why every bit of it is worthwhile.

One such is Arjun Sodhi who has just had an article published in Tehelka.

Arjun Sodhi Tehelka Article

Arjun puts his point across eloquently and powerfully. The article is extremely well written and as a result we are left in no doubt about the strength of his feelings.

Kudos to him and the final message – Arjun, there are some adults who are listening to you and your peers. It’s not enough, but with ambassadors for the environment of your calibre there will always be reason to hope for the future.

Could We Do This?

I’ve always been a firm believer that for the problems and ills of our world to get solved the people who have shared in the creation of those problems have to be a part of the solution. Also, sometimes big audacious symbolic acts have far more impact on the citizens than incremental requests for change.

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