Model United Nations: 'A World-Focused Pedagogy'

By Rodriguez, Lucia | UN Chronicle, September-November 2004 | Go to article overview

Model United Nations: 'A World-Focused Pedagogy'

Rodriguez, Lucia, UN Chronicle

In classrooms across the globe, young people's eyes must be open to the world and its people. Without appreciating diverse cultures locally and globally, knowing more than one language or understanding multilateral institutions and their work, young people cannot develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to function as citizens of a global community. As national events more often become international concerns, students are inheriting a very different world from what was the case only a decade ago.

Yet, in the United States diverse pressures often obstruct global learning in classrooms. Time constraints, due in part to the rigors of teaching content for standardized tests, prevent educators from covering new or dynamic subject matter. In turn, these subjects come to be viewed as strictly "extra-curricular" or worthy only of time after school. Financial constraints also mean that the educational resources available to a classroom on, say, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan or the impact of deforestation on indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin are outdated.

Meanwhile, creativity constraints by which educators find it difficult to teach outside of prescribed methods often result in regimented learning. In many cases, students are encouraged to simply recall facts and figures instead of thinking independently and interpreting information. In turn, international education becomes focused not on global dynamics but on narrow aspects of a nation and its people. If American students learn only to dance Flamenco or cook tapas, would they have acquired the insight needed to understand Spain's role in global politics? Teaching about the world and its challenges must go beyond giving simple, superficial and isolated bits of information.

Today, educators and students are already engaging in such an innovative content-based, world-focused pedagogy. Through a programme known as Model United Nations, students step into the shoes of ambassadors from UN Member States, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, to debate current issues on the world Organization's vast agenda.

The students in Model U.N., better known as "delegates", prepare draft resolutions, plot strategy, negotiate with supporters and adversaries, resolve conflicts and navigate the UN rules of procedure-all in the interest of mobilizing cooperation to combat global problems. Students learn the arts of negotiating, consensus-building and public speaking, and are empowered to compare their rights to those of citizens from other nations. While learning about the world, they are also learning about civics, democracy, citizenship and government, which can result in a lifelong practical understanding of an individual's place in a country and the global society.

Model U.N. begins with research both on the United Nations and an individual nation. Then after weeks or sometimes months of study, students represent their assigned nation in simulations of UN bodies, discussing problems drawn from news headlines and the UN agenda. These simulations take place during classroom hours in after-school clubs and increasingly in Model U.N. conferences around the world. Each year, schools and other programmes organize over 400 conferences in over 36 countries, with approximately 400,000 students participating.

Almost sixty years ago, during the inception of the United Nations itself, a select group of schools paved the way for organizing Model U.N. activities. With monetary resources and curricular flexibility, these institutions could incorporate the Model U.N. dynamic approach to learning into daily classroom exercises. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the Model U.N. influence grew, reaching almost every continent on the globe. Yet still, the programme's reach was limited. If it was implemented in public schools, it was often as a component of "talented and gifted" advanced placement or international baccalaureate programmes. …

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