Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Students Relish the Chance to 'Solve World's Problems'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Students Relish the Chance to 'Solve World's Problems'

Article excerpt

Simulated United Nations event helps delegates to learn tolerance and enhance their debating skills

Joseph CHAMBERLAIN Sixth Form College in Birmingham will today welcome 400 students from across the country for the annual Model United Nations (MUN) conference.

Hosted by the college for the past seven years, the MUN conference aims to challenge 16- to 19-year-olds from sixth-form colleges across the country, and their peers from schools across Birmingham, to research, question and develop original solutions to real problems facing world leaders.

Often young people are tarred with the brush of apathy, or seen as a group disengaged with their role in the democratic process. But in previous years, the conference has challenged these ideas, often with spectacular results.

MUN presents young people with a variety of international problems for research and discussion. Topics debated in previous years range from violence in Latin America and euthanasia to piracy and the illegal wildlife trade (see box, opposite). Students have even had to respond to emergency scenarios.

It is the breadth and depth of the challenge that engages students.

Providing them with just enough scaffolding to understand the structure of key global debates, allowing them to develop the skills to research independently and, most importantly, putting faith in students' own ideas often leads to some quite astounding results.

Resolutions are usually original and well researched. But they are also, importantly, the outcome of a carefully debated and negotiated process involving their peers. Solutions are never provided by teachers but are, instead, a product of students' own carefully thought-through work.

So how can students be successful MUNers? The event has been designed to simulate United Nations meetings, and students also have to simulate the preparation work that goes into such an event. Before the weekend begins, students will have researched their allocated country's position on key issues, deciphered the relationships they have with other countries coming to the conference and written their resolution - the key document they hope their peers will approve at the conference.

Different backgrounds

Once the conference gets under way, the hard work really starts. Students will meet other young people from around the country for the first time. Often, they are from very different backgrounds, with different experiences and representing the views of countries that are quite different from their own. MUN therefore helps to develop the social soft skills that are so valuable to universities, employers and the young people that we all work with. …

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