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How can you support your students to take social action?
  • Environment
  • Schools
  • Student Engagement

This blog is from one of COBIS' Supporting Associates.

Written by Alice Curran, Digital Media and Communications Manager at Future Foundations.

Youth-led social action has the power to change our communities and the world. Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai are two of the most influential youth activists of this generation. The Swedish climate campaigner, and the Pakistani activist for female education, both became global figures for the action they took as teenagers. They are young people speaking out against injustice, uniting people across the globe to fight for a better future.

As educators we know that high quality youth-led social action also has the power to change the young people taking action. When young people are supported well then it can be an incredible vehicle for developing their confidence, leadership and a whole host of valuable skills such as research, planning and collaboration.

But if the young people are in the driving seat, where does that leave teachers? What role do they have in youth-led service learning, and how can they support their students to make a greater impact?

Five students from COBIS schools around the world came together during a COBIS webinar in May 2022 to share their experiences of social action. The students launched social action projects as part of a virtual youth leadership development programme, delivered by Global Social Leaders. It was on this course that they ignited their passions and planned how they would take action for the issue that they cared about most. The projects addressed a range of local, national, and global challenges related to the United Nations Global Goals.

They shared the positive impact this has had on them.  

Wictoria, from Jumeriah College UAE, shared that she learnt “how rewarding it is to give back to the community” and that she became “more active in [her] community as a result of the project.” Janani, an alumni student from Wellington College International Shanghai, “developed strong leadership skills” and learnt “how to work collaboratively with organisations and other people.”

They shared how their teachers and wider community supported them on their journey.

In order for a youth-led project to make the desired impact, young people often require support and engagement from their peers and members of their school community. The first follower concept is crucial when thinking about this. Belen, from the British International School of Bratislava, drew upon this concept by sharing that she clearly remembered the first person to support her initiative and was grateful to receive their backing so early on.

The specific types of support that the students received included:

  • Guidance from teachers and parents on logistical and technical matters
  • Their schools using established online networks to raise awareness for an event or fundraiser
  • Teachers, parents and peers providing valuable opinions and a different point of view
  • Their school sharing the Global Social Leaders opportunity

They also discussed what support they felt was missing and, in hindsight, would have helped them to achieve more.

Overwhelmingly they felt there could be better systems in place to help students with this kind of initiative. They shared that:

  • It took a long time to find a teacher who was willing to help and that having a coach or mentor to go to for advice, and to discuss ideas with, would have been instrumental in the planning stages
  • As more and more young people are taking up their own social initiatives, a specific service-learning committee or group that students can call upon for help would be beneficial
  • Their school runs a lot of extra-curricular clubs, but mainly existing within, or to do with, the school community, and so would like to see more opportunities offered that focus energies outside of this

You can hear more from these COBIS students in the webinar ‘How to Harness the Unique Contribution of Young People to Solve Social Problems’ which is available to watch here.

Listed below are Global Social Leaders upcoming opportunities for schools and students in 2022:

  • GSL Festival, 17 June | Students and teachers are invited to register for the free GSL Festival on Friday the 17th of June to create, collaborate, and connect through an exciting programme of online sessions! Click here to register.
  • GSL World Catalyst, 27 – 29 July | A summer programme and leadership experience, taking place from the 27th-29th July. Individual students (aged 11-17) and school groups (5 students minimum) from around the world are invited to register. Click here to register your school.
  • COBIS GSL World Catalyst, 11 – 13 November | A virtual leadership weekend designed exclusively for students (aged 11-18) at COBIS schools. Click here to register your school