Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Boy and A Bike

A constant challenge for educators is to make sure that learning is relevant. If we want our students to be responsible global citizens they need to be able to apply knowledge to solve contemporary problems. However, why are so many courses offered for high school students rooted in the past. I understand that learning about the past helps us make informed decisions about the present. While history does not repeat itself, I comes pretty darn close (this was a famous quote from a former college professor).

I think there is a need to construct courses for high school students that are rooted in the present. I remember reading that a school in New york City had based a class around Jean-Francois Rischard's Twenty Global Issues, Twenty Years to Solve Them. According to Rischard, the next twenty years will be of critical importance to our planet. How global problems are resolved over these years will determine the fate of our planet for the next generations. Rischard outlines the twenty global problems as follows:

Sharing our planet: Issues involving the global commons

• Global warming
• Biodiversity and ecosystem losses
• Fisheries depletion
• Deforestation
• Water deficits
• Maritime safety and pollution

Sharing our humanity: Issues requiring global commitment

• Massive step-up in the fight against poverty
• Peacekeeping, conflict prevention, combating terrorism
• Education for all
• Global infectious diseases
• Digital divide
• Natural disaster prevention and mitigation

Sharing our rule book: Issues needing a global regulatory approach

• Reinventing taxation for the 21st century
• Biotechnology rules
• Global financial architecture
• Illegal drugs
• Trade, investment and competition rules
• Intellectual property rights
• E-commerce rules
• International labor and migration rules

I see such relevance in having students examine issues that challenge the global community. We hope to graduate students who are active in solving problems that plague local, national and global communities. Think about the critical and reflective thinking that goes on as students fully engage in a prolonged inquiry into one of or several of the bullets listed by Rischard.

I wonder if we could create a course for students that acts as more of a think tank. Students could be provided with the space to convene and brainstorm possible solutions to current obstacles. To do so students would need to master content knowledge, develop a process and framework and present and defend a response. This would also be the epitome of a global classroom as students could reach out to experts in various fields.

I would recommend taking a few minutes to read an opinion piece written in today's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. The op-ed article introduces to the reader a young boy, Abel, who has to walk upwards of six hours to get to and from school. The history of the boy's family and his struggle to receive an education and take care of his younger siblings is both tragic and inspirational. However, the article also introduces the reader to Frederick K.W. Day, a Chicago businessman who has piloted a program to provide bikes for students such as Abel. By providing Abel a bike, his commute time to school is decreased and he has more time to study and care for his family.

Kristof ends the article with the following conclusion:

"One obstacle is donor fatigue and weariness with African corruption and repeated aid failures. Those are legitimate concerns. But this column isn’t just a story about a boy and a bike. Rather, it’s an example of an aid intervention that puts a system in place, one that is sustainable and has local buy-in, in hopes of promoting education, jobs and a virtuous cycle out of poverty. It’s a reminder that there are ways to help people help themselves, and that problems can have solutions — but we need to multiply them. Just ask Abel."

Something as simple as providing a bike has made such a difference. I wonder if provided the time, space and support, our students could not find some powerful solutions.