By Dr Matt Edwards
During the summer, I had the pleasure of working with the King’s College London Summer School team on the IB World Student Conference, where 240 students from 23 different countries, all in their penultimate year of high school, explored the theme of ‘well-being in a healthy world: personal responsibility and global health’. The aim of the conference was for students to devise projects they could take back to their communities to help elicit positive change – no small task, but the IB asks students to be agents of positive change, and opportunities such as this conference are a great place to start.
The IB has been referred to as the ‘gold standard of education’; students not only have to study a Language, a Science, Maths, English and a Humanity, but also undertake Service in their community, write a 4,000 word Extended Essay on a novel piece of research and question how we know what we know in Theory of Knowledge. Anyone who has taught the IB knows just how powerful the programme is, and it is difficult not to sing its praises. The students at the IB conference were exercising many of the skills gained in their first year of the programme – one could see how they were questioning assumptions about Human Rights, the challenges of cultural relativism and how one can elicit genuine and sustainable change in one’s community. Their thoughtful and nuanced approach to the design of their projects reflected the skills they have already acquired from their IB Diploma. They were already aware of what makes projects successful having worked on a range of Service projects already back in their hometowns, and the insight shown by the students towards the shaping of meaningful projects was impressive. I know that their skills will only get stronger as all the students complete their programmes.
To paraphrase the famous quote, young people today live in exciting times – the increasingly globally-connected world gives us numerous possibilities, but at the same time, significant challenges. The conference explored some of those challenges with respect to well-being and asked the students to create tangible solutions. It asked a lot of these young people – to take responsibility, which can be difficult, even for an adult. King’s provided an excellent place to start their journey, with quality lectures on mental health in the young, the global refugee crisis and the social implications of an ageing population. Once the students had explored the problems, we moved on to solutions – further King’s lectures on social entrepreneurship and how students and staff at King’s were innovating solutions to these and other problems.
Students spent afternoons discussing various diverse topics including human rights, failure and project development, so they could move towards projects they could build themselves. The material provided by the lectures was invaluable in shaping these ideas. Over the course of the week, it was incredible to see young people from all parts of the world working together to tackle issues that were common to them all – parental pressure for success, the stigma of mental health around the world or tackling assumptions about race, gender and religion. Students made teaser videos of their projects to hone their message, and presented their project in a ‘dragon’s den’ style pitching session to members of the King’s team. It was a wonderfully fun week and there was a genuine buzz during the whole time.
Reflecting on the conference, I was thinking that these young people will soon be heading to university, voting for the first time and making decisions about their (and others) future; having a university-like experience at this age helps them to better understand what is available to them, and how they should value that opportunity and grab it with both hands. The time they spent at King’s has given them a set of skills to go and change the world for the better – and I was pleased to be a witness.