By Shirin Johari and Aarti Chhabria
In our fast-paced and dynamic world, which is more interconnected than ever, we need a certain set of skills, whether personal, social or economic to thrive. For instance, in the job market, there is a huge demand of individuals who are in tune with global trends, sensitised to global issues and capable of analysing multiple perspectives. The opportunity to instil these skills into a child’s formative learning years and help them develop a strong global identity from an early age is a great opportunity that parents should not miss.
First-hand experiences of the world’s diversity support a child’s ability to think beyond the confines of his or her own limited experiences. It is often said that travel is the best teacher as it allows individuals to experience the world themselves. However, the opportunity of international travel is not so readily available to everyone. In that case, is there a substitute? Can all children, regardless of their socio- economic background receive the benefits that come from travelling and studying abroad? The answer is yes and it involves first-hand and regular exposure and interaction with the world’s people in the classroom.
Travellers in Classrooms
Travellers in Classrooms is a human-centred educational tool which puts international travellers into local classrooms for a unique cultural exchange via a semi-automated platform. Through this experience, children get to learn about different cultures through real stories and real people, and gradually develop an understanding of the world beyond popular stereotypes offered to them by second-hand sources. These exchanges prompts children to reflect on what they already know about countries and think critically about previously taught issues.
A student in Mumbai as a part of the program, wrote to a traveller from the Democratic Republic of Congo after their exchange stating, “I had heard much about African history but when you spoke about it I was stunned to hear that all I heard was wrong. Thank you.” This goes to show the impact these exchanges have on children, including sparking their ability to think about a topic, beyond what is taught to them.
Why is the exposure to global cultures at a young age so important?
There are several advantages of exposing children to such experiences from an early age. Firstly, it helps foster a sense of compassion and understanding amongst children by enabling them to process first-hand experiences and reflect upon the same. This helps children set out on the path of independent thought and critical thinking and they can form their opinions about cultures and countries away from bias and outsider agenda. It also enables them to have an internal dialogue whereby they can learn to challenge their own prejudices.
Additionally, such experiences help bring people together towards a shared, global culture where diversity is the power source of existence. Understanding languages and cultures through experiences as opposed to on paper builds bridges across cultures and is the fastest way to bring the world together.
These experiences also encourage sustainable holistic development. Japanese educational reformer Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who developed the educational theory of ‘Value Creating Education’, asserted that education must serve children and not the other way around. The purpose of education must always be to prepare children for the world in a way that encourages their wholesome development. Excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to translate theory into practice in various situations are incredibly desirable skills and will help to transform the educational journey of children.
According to a 2008 UNESCO report, the kind of education that fosters a generation of responsible and caring citizens must begin in early childhood as the values, attitudes, behaviours and skills acquired in this period are likely to extend into adult life. Empathy and social-emotional skills are best developed through face-to-face interaction with humans from all walks of life. Critical and respectful dialogue about ethical issues and universal morality from an
early age may not be the fastest way to solve global issues, but it is the most assured way.
Clearly, there is a real and urgent need to shift the focus of a child’s education from one that prepares them for academic success, to one that prepares them for life and their role in the wider world. It is our responsibility, as facilitators of education, to equip each child with the skills needed to lead a fulfilling and value-creating life. Facilitating first-hand experiences with global cultures in classrooms the advantages gained from studying abroad can be made virtually available to children everywhere.
It is true indeed that to change the world, we need to first experience it. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the way in which world travels can be made accessible to all.
Shirin Johari and Aarti Chhabria are co-founders of Clap Global.
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