What is the definition of a border? It is a question that we have been asking our students at the Eastern Mediterranean International School since the start of the academic year. It is a question with so many answers from so many perspectives.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is:
‘A line separating two countries, administrative divisions, or other areas.’ (Border n1)
But surely it is more than that. Is a border just physical? Literal? Or can it be more than that? Metaphorical? Social? Is it a matter of identity?
Living and studying in a school in a country in the Middle East, surrounded by borders, many of which, we cannot legally cross brings up many issues and questions that we, as educators and our students want to address. It would be too easy just to go to the various borders and explore what is happening there on the surface, but when approaching the concept of ‘borders’ I wanted my students to have a deeper understanding of the issues that could lie beyond the physical borders that we are going to as part of the school’s ‘Crossing Border’s Week’. With our student body compromising of Israelis, Palestinians and a representation of forty-five other nationalities, how were we going to tackle and explore these issues without emotional ties or a one-lens perspective?
Using the tools of the Sustainability Compass, the Systems Iceberg and the notion of Mental Models, the Borders Week Committee started to explore the issues with a different perspective and engage with complex systems that exist at each of the locations we intend to visit, the borders with Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan.
During this three-hour workshop, student leaders were asked to bring one issue that their border faces. It would have been easy to discuss these issues on a surface level, the shared water issues faced by Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, the disappearance of the Dead Sea, the Druze community in the Golan Heights and their allegiance to the Syrian Government, the political complications on all sides, the fact that we cannot meet a Gazan to hear their side of the story, but education is more than scratching the surface.
Firstly, it was important to have a shared definition of what a border actually means, more than it’s physical entity before exploring why we were going to the borders physically and what we hoped to achieve educationally by going there to meet with people, see the lines and fences and understand what this actually meant. Upon asking their expectation of the course and of the project itself, many students expressed their desire to remain unbiased in their opinions despite their nationality, political inclination or their preconceptions. To prepare the students for the variety of perspectives they were going to hear, witness and experience, we explored the concept of mental models and why this was so imperative to understand when forming our own judgments on other people’s narratives. To take this further, we delved into the question ‘Why can’t we explore situations in isolation?’ Students used the points on the Compass to explore the drivers behind each situation they brought to the table at each of the borders and ask questions regarding the intended and unintended consequences of the actions of the drivers that caused these situations. Through this exercise, students started to understand the notion of thinking in systems and that nothing stands alone.
As an educator, It was inspiring to watch the students go through this process and see their minds open to this new way of thinking. Maybe they crossed their own borders!
“Border, n1.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, June 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/border. Accessed 13 February 2018.
In Mid-January, our 5th grade class taught Chinese students visiting from Harbin and Dalian, about the 17 Goals for sustainable development. The 17 Goals are 17 problems around the world that the United Nations decided that need to be solved by the year 2030. Our experience teaching the kids was extraordinary. It made us think about how important our community is and how pressing it is to tell everyone about the 17 goals for sustainable development. We were thrilled, and they were very interested in learning about how the goals connect to the Compass points, [S]ociety, [W]ellbeing, [N]ature and [E]conomy. We were excited to teach them activities that created community between us. We played the Hula Hoop game, the Compass points and the 17 Goals. We were halso impressed to learn that the visiting students shared their own ideas on how to work on the goals and how to connect to the Compass points. – by Ananya
After introducing the children to the 17 Goals, we were spilt into 4 groups, each with a big triangular piece of paper. The triangles represented the Compass points, [N]ature, [E]conomy, [S]ociety, and [W]ellbeing. Compass points, as I said are [N]ature, [E]conomy, [S]ociety, and [W]ellbeing. Nature is plants, organisms, geography and atmosphere around us. Economy is money. Societies are communities, and wellbeing is your health and moods. They have many connections between each other too. Each group had to put in topics for their point. For example, countries and cities fit into society. After the students got the main idea of what the Compass was, I was ready to explain to the kids the connections between the Compass points and air pollution as an example. First, I asked the students questions but I was just about to speak, a girl raised her hand. I didn’t expect this, but she had made all the connections herself, from having no wellbeing, effecting economy, and so on. I was shocked and impressed! I never knew any of the kids would understand this before I explained it. I think that the kids enjoyed learning about the Compass points, and I hope that they continue to think about them, and consider how their future actions affect the Compass. – by Christina
Next we played the Hula Hoop game. In the Hula Hoop game, the Harbin students and our 5th grade class had to work together to get the hula hoop to the ground. It is not that easy, just as it is not easy to create a sustainable world with balance. To play the game, you need one hula hoop per group and one strip of paper per person. You put the strip of paper on your finger and lift the hula hoop. You then bring the hula hoop down, but if a group member’s strip of paper falls off, or if the hula hoop drops, then you need to start all over again. The purpose of this game was to show that the ecosystem isn’t always balanced. It can sometimes be imbalanced. My connection to the Hula Hoop game and the Harbin students was surprisingly strong. It turns out that we are all similar in some way. We are all human, we are children, we are connected and we are the future heroes of Earth. – by Elizabeth
Over all the students seemed very curious and interested in our activities and that made us feel proud of ourselves. As a class we were reminded how the 17 Goals are problems that we can all solve if we work together. We had a fabulous experience teaching the kids from Harbin and Dalian. After they departed back to their school, as our fifth grade class reflected on our experience we felt proud of ourselves because as we taught our visitors we worked towards Goal # 4 “Education” and Goal # 17 “Global Partnerships”. We felt encouraged to continue to create change in our community through sharing and teaching others about sustainability. Stay tuned for our next project to make the world a better place. – by Ananya and Kanon.
[box]Submitted by Michelena McPherson, 2017, while serving as Grade 5 Teacher at Dalian American International School, China[/box]