THE FINAL CONFERENCE “START THE CHANGE”
We often hear that our world and our societies are becoming increasingly divided, that economic and social inequality is on the rise and that technological advancements, along with their many positive aspects, also have many drawbacks. As a result of that, we are faced with some new challenges that we sometimes fail to respond to as adults. In all this, the role of the educational system is also not entirely clear, leaving the teachers and other educators unprepared to respond to these challenges and keep up with a changing society and environment.
Having in mind the above, the idea of the conference “Start the Change” was to bring together experts and educators from UK, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, to explore and discuss issues educators face in work with young people in today’s world and to share results of the 2-year long projects in which students and their teachers from 40 schools implemented school project promoting critical thinking, social justice and diversity. Around 120 participants joined the conference event held on 23rd November in Zagreb and actively participated in different lectures, panels, networking opportunities and workshops.
The conference was officially opened by Branko Ančić, the President of Forum’s Governing Board, who is also a researcher with a keen interest in social inequalities and sustainability. In his opening speech, Branko reminded us on challenges of contemporary society but also pointed out the importance of changing the understanding of the role of education in order to respond to different dramatic social and environmental problems. He outlined the position of Nussbaum (2010) who advocates that the role of education needs to be cultivating the student´s three abilities: critical thinking, imagination and sympathy ability.
The key note lecture “Education for democracy: The development of affective commitment to rational dialogue” was delivered by Michalis Kakos from Leeds Beckett University, United Kingdom. In his lecture, Michalis provided important perspective on teaching civic education, which is that teachers often disregard the affective component of rational dialogue in classrooms. How often teachers identify and talk about emotions when discussing for example different controversial issues? Michalis gives interesting perspective by quoting Zembyles (2018):
‘ The issue […] is not whether or not political emotions should be given a legitimate place in a democratic citizenship education. […] One way or another, political emotions enter the classroom from the moment that emotions are bound up with power relations in a society and with a vision of a just and democratic society. The question we ought to be asking is […] whether or not democratic education can exist without any emotional or political indoctrination.’ (M. Zembylas, 2018: 10)
He further identified the need to support democracy against demagogy, populism and even cynicism by acknowledging the emotional attachment to democracy and the view of democratic political education as indoctrination to democracy.
In the following segment, within the panel with students, the students were asked how they would describe their experience of participation in the project “Start the Change” and we received different answers, which included solidarity, being humble, growth and learning. Students from Slovenia, Croatia and UK shared stories of their projects and what they took with themselves out of this experience.
Another panel with teachers and project coordinators was held and this time teachers shared their perspective on how was it to participate in activities of Start the Change project, what was the support they received and how did they get ideas for projects with their students. Teachers and coordinators talked about their projects and this was good introduction to the following segment of the conference, the Project Market, during which all participants walked around the conference venue and looked at the project posters prepared by the teachers and students who participated in Start the Change project. In this way the participants from different countries had opportunity to exchange experiences and share the stories of their project.
The afternoon part of the conference program continued with the lectures and workshops. The next two lecturers provided their perspectives on what is needed to better teach students’ abilities for critical thinking, social justice and diversity. Manju Patel-Nair, the expert from United Kingdom, in her lecture “Developing Critical Thinking and a Social Justice Outlook” further explored what competences are needed for the 21-century citizenship and provided the definition of global competence that was recognized as being important within the activities of the start the Change project.
“Global Competence includes the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of global and intercultural issues; the ability to learn from and live with people from diverse backgrounds; and the attitudes and values necessary to interact respectfully with others.”
(OECD’s proposal for the PISA 2018 Global Competence Assessment)
Bojana Ćulum Ilić, the lecturer from Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rijeka, Croatia, in her lecture “The most important thing we can teach our kids is for them to believe they can truly be the agents of change” presented the narratives of teachers engaged in civic education in Rijeka. She firstly presented the context of teaching civic education in Croatia as identified by European Union’s Education and Monitoring 2018, which basically says that the level of time devoted to citizenship education in Croatia is low and teacher preparation is weak. Despite this dire situation, the city of Rijeka introduced the local community model of civic education in which the civic education classed were thought in local schools after teachers underwent intensive training. Their narratives provided perspective on how teachers with authentic motivation in wanting to teach civic education can go beyond institutional limitations and although at times challenging can enjoy the process of both personal and teaching journey one takes when teaching civic education.
Workshops implemented in the late afternoon was another chance for the participants to exchange ideas and knowledge on different topics.
Faaria Ahmad in her workshop “Re-writing our Narrative: Social Media, Identity and Critical Thinking” presented the migration and diaspora communities in the UK and how young people are using social media to create positive platforms to speak for themselves. One of the conclusions of her workshop was “If you don’t define yourself, someone else will”, which provided nice scope for how social media can be positively used for representing narratives sometimes easily assigned to minorities.
Karmen Kukovič in her workshop “Hours of Intercultural Dialogue” introduced practical methods on how to raise young people’s awareness about different minorities and cultures such as Roma, Muslim, migrant, LGBT+, refugees. The methods were developed within the project Young ambassadors of intercultural dialogue (www.mamd.si).
Vidjaya Thelen held the workshop “How to foster equality and change in the classroom? Inspiration from the life and work of Danilo Dolci” and presented the exceptional educational and social work of Danilo Dolci and introduced to the participants “A Circle Time”; the method used in classrooms to provide space for students to express their voice on issues affecting their lives.
Mario Bajkuša in his workshop “Why and how we need to teach about populism in schools” presented to participants with importance of teaching and exploring with young people about what populism is and how it can affect their local and global communities.
The conference ended with participants providing feedback on their experience during workshops but more detailed feedback was given within written evaluations. The overall grade for the quality of conference is 4,8 (on the scale from 1 to 5) and what the participants appreciated the most was indicated in their comments (selection of excerpts):
“Amazing organisation! Much appreciation for everyone engaged! Well done!”
“Great atmosphere, friendliness and valuable content…”
“I learned more about this project in different countries, more about global citizenship. I meet new people from different countries. Publications that I received will be helpful form me and my work in the future.”