Tags: Developing Citizenship Project

An Earth Summit Day in a school provides excellent cross-curricular links and an opportunity for young people to engage with global issues in a stimulating way. Laura Gilchrist, Manchester Development Education Project, explains the idea and reports on how it is implemented at Whalley Range High School.

What is an ‘Earth Summit Day’?

An Earth Summit Day is an opportunity for a whole year group, usually in Key Stage 3, to come off normal timetable and take part in a mock world summit on sustainable development.

Pupils stay in form groups and ‘play’ the roles of countries, multinational companies, campaigning groups and indigenous peoples. There is also a specially selected group that plays the role of the United Nations. (These pupils tend to be middle-higher ability as their role is key to the running of the actual summit).

Although it is not an easy option, it is worth every bit of work when you witness how much the students get out of it.

Programme for the day

Pupils discuss one particular global issue throughout the day, deciding what their group’s position is and negotiating with other groups to get their concerns taken seriously. When the United Nations group announces the draft motion for the summit, this is when the negotiations really begin!

At the end of the day the final summit takes place, when the whole year group comes together in the hall. This is the chance for two representatives from each group to put across their group’s view on the topic by giving a speech in front of everyone. For older year groups, it also gives the opportunity to generate some debate. Two pupils from the United Nations group ‘chair’ the final summit and at the end lead people into a vote on the issue.

Long-lasting value

The main thing I have learnt from running the Earth Summit Days is that one-off days like this only have long-lasting educational value if they are part of a wider scheme of learning. Although students always enjoy Earth Summit Days, unless they are given a deeper understanding of the issues, the learning is either shallow or, worse, can serve to reinforce stereotypes.

Integrating an Earth Summit Day into a longer-term curriculum plan requires more forethought and more genuine commitment to Citizenship as a subject rather than an one-off event. It needs lateral thinking, looking at how it can fit into other curriculum subjects like Geography. 

Through running Earth Summit Days over the past three years, I have realised that they have more cross-curricular links than I originally thought – such as Geography (country information, human development issues) and English (speaking and listening skills). In fact, a core value of the Earth Summit Days is in their promotion of skills of listening, speaking, critical thinking, teamwork and cooperation.

Ideally, the Earth Summit Day should be built into lesson time well in advance, so that staff have enough time to plan. Topics that can be covered as part of these lessons include:

  • background jnformation about the countries
  • what the UN is and does, and how it works
  • information about the specific topic to be covered, e.g. trade, oil, global warming, etc
  • information about the work of multinational companies and non-governmental organisations.

How does an Earth Summit Day fit into the Key Stage 3 Citizenship curriculum?

Knowledge and understanding about becoming informed citizens
1. i)  Pupils should be taught about the world as a global community and the political, economic, environmental and social implications of this, and the role of the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

Earth Summit Day input: Pupils start to understand some of the political, economic, environmental and social implications of the world as a ‘global community’. Pupils gain a basic understanding of what the United Nations does.

Developing skills of enquiry and communication 2. Pupils should be taught to: a) think about topical political… social and cultural issues, problems and events by analysing information and its sources, including ICT-based sources b) justify orally … a personal opinion about such issues, problems or events

c) contribute to group and exploratory class discussions, and take part in debates.

Earth Summit Day input: Pupils use a range of information sources, including ICT, to research the issue for the summit and information about their country or organisation. Pupils have the chance to discuss their personal opinions about the issue and to explore the issue through class discussion. Pupils can contribute to the debate in the final summit.

Developing skills of participation and responsible action 3. Pupils should be taught to: a) use their imagination to consider other people’s experiences and be able to think about, express and explain views that are not their own b) negotiate, decide and take part responsibly in both school-based activities

c) reflect on the process of participating. Pupils take on a specific role throughout the day and are required to think about other people’s experiences as part of this role, as well as expressing views that may not be what they really think.

Earth Summit Day input: The development of negotiation skills and taking a responsible role are key to the whole Earth Summit Day experience. Pupils reflect on their role through a short de-brief on the day and through a follow-up evaluation session.

The Benefits

An Earth Summit Day:

  • addresses key elements of the Citizenship curriculum
  • develops skills of teamwork, discussion and debate, public speaking and research and data handling
  • gives pupils a basic understanding of the United Nations and of international negotiations
  • engages pupils very well – they always get stuck into it
  • involves everyone, not only those who are most able. In fact, it is good for pupils who like to be physically active and often disengage with speaking and writing activities
  • enables a focus on one particular issue, giving students an opportunity to develop a good understanding.  It also makes the issue more ‘real’ because they are actively engaged with it
  • is remembered by pupils, because of the high level of participation and enjoyment
  • gives an opportunity for creativity, with students creating banners and chants
  • provides a good opportunity for linking with another school locally that has also done an Earth Summit, or wants to do one
  • provides a good opportunity for publicity for the school through the local press
  • can work with pupils aged 11-18, adapting the framework to account for age and ability ranges
  • provides a peer education opportunity, where the previous year group can help train the next one
  • is great fun!

Recommendations for running an Earth Summit Day

Leave plenty of time for preparation!

Support and teamwork: Get the support of someone from your local Development Education Centre or another individual with a specialism in global issues. This person can help you with introducing the day, running the UN group and facilitating the actual summit.

Adopt a team approach for planning the day -– get another teacher or teaching assistant on board to help you. Decide in advance what the main topic for the summit will be, so that staff can prepare, e.g. trade, global warming, oil, etc.  If possible, involve students in making this decision through the school council.

Teaching and learning: In the weeks leading up to the summit, deliver Citizenship lessons on the theme, the countires and the role of the UN. Also, plan in a lesson for each class to debrief from the day afterwards. Teachers need training beforehand in what is going to happen on the day. Again, your local Development Education Centre should be able to help with this.

Running the day: Do you have a reasonable discipline structure in your school? An Earth Summit Day needs this, as pupils will be moving between classrooms a lot. Establish your own clear ground rules at the start of the day about how many pupils are allowed out of each classroom at any one time during the negotiations phase.

The broad framework needs to be adapted according to the age group and ability level you are working with. Lower ability pupils can be the ‘conference organisers on the day, running the shop and setting up the hall for the final summit.

Be aware that although the Earth Summit Day aims to promote cooperation, competition is often the natural response to this kind of setting – don’t be put off, just remind people that they are trying to come to an agreement.

Things to think about

  • What global issue will we focus on? Where can I get information on this?
  • When can I book in some staff training time?
  • Who can I persuade to help me plan this day?
  • Would the Geography teachers be willing to deliver some lessons on the countries that will be part of the Earth Summit Day?
  • I need to prepare a timetable and staff briefing sheet for the actual day.
  • Who should I put in the United Nations group? And who will be the ‘conference organisers’?
  • I need to get the resources together for the shop and decide how much currency each group will get.
  • When is the hall free? I need to book the P.A. equipment as well.

Case Study: Whalley Range High School

Whalley Range High School is a Business Enterprise College for girls aged 11-18, situated in an ethnically diverse part of the city of Manchester. The Earth Summit Day has become an annual part of the Year 7 Citizenship curriculum, with the topic of ‘trade’ being chosen for two consecutive years as the theme for the summit.

Here is their programme for the day.

8.30-8.40 –  In form groups. Registration and reminder of expected behaviour.

8.40-9.00 – Everyone in hall for launch of Earth Summit Day with the Development Education Project – globingo powerpoint presentation on trade, groups announced.

9.00-10.10 – In groups. Getting into country / group role. Ground rules, overview of the topic, how the summit will work, UN group work on draft motion.

10.10-10.30 – Break.  

10.30-11.30 – In groups. UN announces motion and invites comment. Pupils are allocated roles (see below). Groups have to decide what they think and which other groups they might want to negotiate with.

11.00-12.30 – Shop opens. Negotiating & bargaining. Reps from each group go and negotiate with other groups and report back what they’ve found. Pupils go and buy things from the shop to make banners with. Summit reps start to work on their speech. Everyone starts making stickers and banners.
Poorer countries work on a chant.

12.30-1.20 – Lunch.  

1.20-2.00 – In groups. Final preparations. Summit reps put finishing touches to speeches. Chants and banners are finished.

2.00-3.00 – The Summit. In the hall. Summit reps give speeches from the front (only 2 mins each). Discussion from the floor. Final vote.

Quotes from pupils who took part in the day

‘I learned how to work as a team, give ideas and listen to opinions. My communication skills with people I do not know has massively improved.’

‘Probably the most important thing I learned about was fair trade. The day really changed my perspective on what I eat and where it comes from.’

‘I thought the big summit was good because it was even set out like a real summit and the atmosphere was brilliant.’

‘I learnt how to reason with people and to compromise with other people and how difficult it was to do it.’

‘I thought that the final part of the day was brilliant because all the hard work that we had put into the day had paid off… I liked seeing everything come to life in the world summit.’

‘I have learnt how politicians think and how they work.’

‘“I have learnt how to negotiate with other countries and other people.’

‘I never knew Ghana was really poor and what people in the world go through every day.’

‘“A very well organised day that helped me understand the importance of fair trade.’

‘I liked going around all of the different companies and countries and trying to negotiate with them.’

‘The thing I enjoyed most was when we had to negotiate…. I liked this because the negotiation was all about cooperation.’

Examples of motions debated at world summit days from 2003-2004:

‘By the year 2020, 70%of all trade will be fair trade.’

‘By the year 2030, all trade will follow the fair trade triangle principle, where the producers will get 33%, the wholesalers will get 33% and the shop will get 33% of all profit.’

‘By 2020, 35% of energy should be supplied by renewable energy. By 2010 oil ration cards will be introduced for individuals and companies everywhere.’

This work © Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK and UNICEF (UK), 2007. Part of the Developing Citizenship project.

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