A global approach to education

A global approach to education
Twenty years ago, in an effort to address some of the world’s most complex future challenges, Japan’s Kanto International School launched the ‘World School’ program.

For two weeks each year, a school from a global cohort of participating schools is selected to host the forum for two weeks and develop its own program to address how these challenges should be resolved.

This year, St Paul’s School, located in Brisbane, had the honour of being chosen for the second time since 2006. And so last week, four principals, 18 teachers and 64 students convened at the school to discuss solutions to a looming crisis – global water scarcity.

It is expected that by 2025, nearly two billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity. By 2047, it is expected that water will become more fought over than oil and gas resources.

The school’s principal, Dr Paul Browning, told The Educator that the forum is an opportunity for students and school heads to work collaboratively on solving important global problems.

“Because St Paul’s School is very focused on developing students’ thinking skills, we have introduced all of the other schools to the design thinking process, which leads students through problems in order to develop solutions,” he said.

Browning says one of the real benefits of World School is that students from all over the world are developing empathy for one another’s issues.

“A key element in the design thinking process is being able to empathise with the client or with the problem itself,” he says.

“As a result of each student’s presentation on their country’s issues facing water and food sustainability, everybody develops empathy from one another’s perspective, and this helps break down barriers and build friendships across borders so we can solve some of these problems together rather than in competition with each other.”

The school's head of design learning, Tim Osborne, told The Educator that by the end of the conference, the students – who had been put into 10 ‘multinational design teams’ – had created a number of innovative solutions.

“One group developed an app to help communities track their food and water usage in order to ensure the sustainability of their resources,” he said.

“We told all students that their solution had to be something they were able to successfully implement back in their home country, whether that might be in Finland, China, Russia or the United States.”

Osborne said this made students realise that they had to empathise with the issues facing one another’s countries and collaborate in order to make their solution work.

“Another group came up with a website that was centred on educating students about how in many countries, multinational companies are taking over the production of food, often at the expense of local farmers,” he said.

“While schools are raising awareness about environmental issues, such as the importance of conservation, issues like these sometimes fly under the radar.”

‘A shared problem’

Silke Weiss, principal at Kopernikus Gymnasium – a grammar school, located in Germany – was one of the 22 visiting principals at St Paul’s School in October.

Weiss said one problem she has observed in Germany is that regardless of whether students are from ‘water rich’ or ‘water poor’ countries, all of them face the same challenge of agriculture being intensified, which leads to a drain on the fresh water supply.

“This also means that more fertilisers go into the ground water or into lakes, and those problems are quite serious, but they’re addressed in different ways,” she told The Educator.

According to current statistics, agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals and up to 90% in some fast-growing economies.

“There are countries like Germany which have to compete on the European market, and increasingly on the global market, and therefore this intensifies agriculture,” Weiss said.

Trust in our own methods

Another visiting principal at the forum was Esa Partanen, who heads Sopunki Upper Secondary School, located in Finland.

Partanen said that while Finland enjoys a clean environment with an abundance of easily accessible water, helping other countries explore innovative solutions to the looming water crisis plays a pivotal part in schools.

“In Finland, we have quite a clean country, and we have lots of water, so in our everyday lives we are not facing the same kind of problems as some other countries,” he told The Educator.

“However, we are concerned about these things and we try to maintain our lakes and our seas so in the future we can help other countries.”

Partanen said that while it’s understandable that schools research what others are doing overseas, they shouldn’t copy one another.

“Copying what other countries are doing can place limitations on creativity and innovation back home, so we should be trusting in our own way of education first, because that’s how new ideas thrive.”

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