Teaching the UN through Experiential Education: Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, 30 January 2009 (1)

By Datta, Rekha | UN Chronicle, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Teaching the UN through Experiential Education: Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, 30 January 2009 (1)


Datta, Rekha, UN Chronicle


The news that Syria had met its 1 November, 2013 deadline to destroy its chemical mixing and production facilities for weapons, albeit with some remaining challenges about disarmament on a larger scale, demonstrated the triumph, as well as the continued need, to seek diplomatic solutions to resolve and avert conflicts on the global stage. More than 60 years ago, when the United Nations was created to prevent the scourge of another world war, the goal was that it would serve as the premier partnership of nation states that would provide collective security and offer conflict resolution through diplomatic means. Since the days of the cold war and continuing into the twenty-first century, the role of the United Nations in preventing conflicts has been a subject of study, analysis and debate in the practical world of international politics as well as in academic circles.

Regardless of how educators view the role of the United Nations, for decades educators at the secondary and post-secondary levels across the world have underscored the importance of teaching and learning about the organization. Starting with 51 nations in 1945, and with South Sudan's newest membership in 2011, a total of 193 countries are now United Nations members. As the United Nations membership grew and the organization adapted to changing global dynamics, it spread its functions to cover areas of peace and security, human rights, humanitarian assistance, social and economic development, and much more. Interest in its history, structure and functions also grew among educators and students. The genesis of its formation, structure and functions of the different organs of the United Nations bureaucracy, and relevance of the organization as a whole, remain fundamental aspects of study in political science courses, international relations and related disciplines. Traditionally, students learned about the history and analysis of the United Nations and its inner workings from books and articles, including UN publications. For students in the New York City vicinity, a day trip to UN Headquarters offers a firsthand introduction to the General Assembly building and the main chambers, along with the Security Council, Economic and Social Council, and Trusteeship Council. With the advent of technology, virtual tours provide an insight into the workings of the United Nations. (2)

While traditional courses of study and Internet based information continue to serve as useful instruments for analyzing and learning about the UN System, they offer only partial fulfillment to the yearning fascination and excitement that can capture the imagination of the students eager to learn about how global policymaking works through a diverse tapestry of participants representing the different cultures and nation states around the world. How can students find opportunities to engage with the policymaking process within the UN System?

This question is rooted in a deeper need that educators have been seeking answers to for some time now. Academic disciplines are seeking ways to make their teaching and learning relevant to the real world in which students will graduate, seek employment, and build careers and personal lives. Increasingly, high school and especially colleges and universities are incorporating experiential learning, which gives students hands-on experience in applying theoretical knowledge in actual work settings and organizations. It is done through internships, which offer students the opportunity to spend time assisting in the work of the organization and learning through apprenticeship. The literature on the pedagogical benefits of experiential learning underscores its manifold benefits. Even though the most direct benefit that students and others see are enhancement of chances of employment, the impact is deeper. "The strongest case to be made for internships is that they significantly enhance students' capacity to analyze and understand political phenomena. …

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