UWC Mahindra College monthly newsletter

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dummies' guide to becoming an agent of change

Mahindra College sets itself apart from the generic principles of UWCs with its own strongly worded Mission Statement: “Graduates are politically and environmentally aware agents of change, with a life-long commitment to seeking creative solutions to global, regional and local conflicts.”[1]

It is a reasonable expectation that the mission statement is reflected in the academic, social and extra-curricular activities of the school and that there is a clearly articulated process by which students are able to understand what an ‘agent of change’ is and how successful they might be in the wider community after completing their two years at UWCMC. While there is background noise that assumes this process takes place (particularly in a localized way through Triveni/CI and its links to the IB CAS program) it does not permeate the rest of the college structure.

It should be noted that neither the UWC Guiding Principles nor the Mahindra College Mission Statement highlight academic success. Despite the expectations of some parents, faculty, students and even the College Board, academic success is not the raison d'être of a UWC. Indeed, it could be suggested that academic goals compete and are even in conflict with the true aims of a UWC, and this UWC in particular.

This article is an attempt to promote discussion and reflection as to how UWCMC graduates might become life-long agents of change. The discussion is necessary because there is evidence that students and faculty are left unsure of the expectations the Mission Statement creates.

Students sometimes express frustration as to what is expected of them. Some think that their scholarship creates considerable pressure on them to restrict their individuality and to fit into a UWC profile and that this creates a heavy burden to ‘change the world’.[2]
Graduates also feel frustrated that the enthusiasm and idealism created during their UWC experience is more difficult to act on than they imagined.Read what UWCMC alumni Carol Lacey says:
“My disappointment at how little I have been able to do to improve the world since graduating from MUWCI is predictable in many ways. So much that I suspect many of my classmates may have encountered some of the same disappointment.”
“At times we may have been upset at the UWC experience itself for not preparing us to deal with challenges we would face when living by our ideals of a better world.” [3]

Traditionally UWCs have encouraged gap-year volunteer programmes for graduates.
UWCMC lists ‘the 3rd Year Option’,[4] and UWCSEA proclaims itself as a leader in this field, providing opportunities for both gap year students and alumni. The alumni opportunities are particularly interesting in that they can encourage tertiary graduates to work as volunteers in a field they have been trained in, rather than just providing for gap-year students who are more often enthusiastic, but also untrained volunteers.

This can be excellent both in terms of personal satisfaction and as a supplement to academic achievement and career. If you are between courses, making the transition from university to employment or in need of time out from a job, you might wish to consider working with some of these partner organisations.[5]

But do these opportunities provide substantially more than further personal development and short-term support to a range of programmes? What about the ‘life-long’ aspect of the UWCMC Mission?

Kurt Hahn, as UWC founder, forged his philosophy on the European notion that national rivalry was the major obstacle to a more peaceful and better world. Our 21st century experiences show us that globalization has broken down traditional borders, diminishing some traditional enmities, but at the same time creating multi-national companies that seem unaccountable and uncontrollable, with devastating effects on both the environment and the exploitation of the underprivileged.

An ‘agent for change’ can take many forms therefore. Business needs ethical economists and socially aware employees to avoid the excesses of greed demonstrated so dramatically by, for example, Enron. Many lawyers work for refugee groups or other social justice organisations. Doctors without Borders plays a significant and active role in hot spots around the world. Journalists bravely challenge government orthodoxy or highlight injustice and writers analyse the relationship between the individual and society. Environmentalists range from activists in Greenpeace to the more sedate role of enacting Green policies for high-profile companies. Scientists are our only hope in relation to finding ways for a cleaner greener world.

So UWCMC students and alumni with strong ethical values need to be encouraged to think beyond the gap-year and voluntarism traditionally presented as ways to fulfil the mission goals. The more highly trained you are in a field that you are passionate about, the more effective you can be. Students need to arm themselves not only with a developed sense of social justice, but also with real skills to make a difference. But it doesn’t end there. Raising a family of ethical offspring or being active in a school parent group may do more good for the world than your gap-year at an NGO.

This is not to devalue the effect of student voluntarism or a 3rd year option, but primarily these are learning experiences for personal growth rather than a sufficient contribution to really make a difference, as some will agree after their recent project week experiences.

There is an acknowledged variation between students in their motivation for seeking a place at a UWC. Some of this may be based on the particular vision of each national committee or on the role of full-fee paying students. Some students openly acknowledge their motivation is college entrance rather than any commitment to a UWC mission. Part of the UWCMC programme needs to acknowledge this variation and coax the less committed to join the visionary outlook that is at the core of the UWC. There needs to be a positive but purposeful process for this to occur rather than creating any sense of ostracism because our students do not all have a common commitment.

How do we do this? We need to turn to the vision of the UWC movement itself to create administrative guidelines for colleges and practical training for teachers in UWCs. Andrew Mahlstedt defines this need in his Global Citizenship Education in Practice: An Exploration of Teachers in the United World Colleges.[6] Mahlstedt argues that the teaching faculty need to be as diverse as the student body[7] and comments that ‘Despite UWC “pioneering work,” …no one has yet sought to define how teachers in the UWCs seek to educate students toward the values of global citizenship.’[8]

Students should be able to feel confident that as a result of their UWCMC experiences they can not only recognize our common humanity and explore social justice issues, but also that they have also been taught to value and develop their own skills and strengths.

This can only be done when they are supported by UWC trained educators who have the vision to develop individual talents and direct students to suitable tertiary studies and subsequently meaningful careers that will allow the development of ‘graduates who are politically and environmentally aware agents of change, with a life-long commitment to seeking creative solutions to global, regional and local conflicts.’

Jack Forbes
Faculty, Theory of Knowledge

[2] A random e.g. Eric and Rosie, Global Affairs meeting March 2010.
[3] The MUWCI Alumni Newsletter Vol 1 Issue 2 Spring 2010
[4] http://www.muwci.net/triveni/3yo/index.html
[5] http://alumni.uwcsea.edu.sg/?page=Alumni_gap_yr
[6] http://suse-ice.stanford.edu/monographs/Mahlstedt.pdf
[7] p.25
[8] P.9

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