Helping young people gain enough knowledge and skills to take forward in life

Posted on: 29 Aug 2018
Posted by: Abi Wharton

Following findings that a basic lifestyle is inaccessible for many low-income families, a group of Bedales pupils sought to tackle the issue as part of their Bedales Assessed Course (BAC) in Global Awareness. Leader Abi Wharton explains...

Any movement with widespread mobilisation throughout history has had young people at the forefront says Sasha Costanza-Chock, MIT professor and author of Youth and Social Movements: Key Lessons for Allies. Given the rate of social change in the 21st century, educators surely have a responsibility to equip young people with the skills to ensure that they are able to lead movements of any kind and be able to become social innovators – not just when they become adults, but at any moment in their lives.

The latest addition to Bedales’ highly regarded alternative qualifications to GCSEs, the ambitious Global Awareness BAC is devoted to social entrepreneurship and innovation, involving the use of 21st century skills to understand and address global issues. In the last academic year, our students communicated with a variety of organisations and governments across the globe, devised solutions for issues ranging from landmines in Angola, harvesting the mist in East Timor, educating children as young as six about human rights, and more.

Particularly apposite was the detailed response one student received from US Senator Richard Blumenthal about the issue of gun control and the reaction of young people following the horrific events in Parkland Florida. Survivors of the shooting kept this issue at the top of the news for a considerable time, demanding a greater role in decisions concerning gun control as well as the ability to participate more in political life; from being able to vote, to becoming advisors on issues that will affect their generation and beyond.

Inspiring and feeding such an appetite for change is key to the global awareness programme. In the first year of the course, we place an emphasis on students acquiring research skills and analysing different points of view. In the second year, they undertake both collaborative and individual projects selected from four areas – human rights, global health, peace and conflict, and the arms trade. The students all begin with a very loose idea of a topic which they would like to cover, and they refine this through concentrated research and the setting of specific goals.

Last year, one collaborative project was the Food Fund. Four students were given the topic of hunger in the 21st century as their starting point. As their research revealed the enormous scope of the problem, I worked with them to identify issues closer to home. The Cost of A Child, published recently by the Child Poverty Action Group, draws attention to a shortfall in income for the families of the lowest paid. Portsmouth is home to some of the most deprived areas in the UK. Acting upon findings of a growing reliance on food banks by people in the UK, the students communicated with the Trussell Trust, and made contact with a food bank in the Petersfield area to discuss how Bedales might become involved in regular food donations. They placed donation boxes and notices around the school, and developed a website encouraging contributions from people beyond the school gates. As with all BAC projects, and unlike the GCSE format, the emphasis here was on a practical solution, and there is no doubt that those involved have succeeded in making a difference. Students are planning to volunteer at the Portsmouth food bank in the coming academic year, and food poverty will remain a key topic for us.

If, as appears to be the case, we are on the cusp of the voting age being lowered universally then we need to ensure that our young people have enough knowledge about the world to use this vote appropriately. The biggest argument I encounter when having this discussion with Sixth Form students is that young people do not have enough knowledge or skill to be able to use this vote well. I am confident that the Global Awareness BAC has begun the task of helping our students towards a meaningful and practical education in citizenship and, crucially, the sense that they can change the world in which they live.

About Abi Wharton

Abi Wharton is head of global awareness at Bedales School in Hampshire.