Excellence by collaboration: the wonderful world of Model United Nations
Collaborative learning is an aim for every teacher at the start of a new academic year. We know that students can and should learn from each other. By this I mean that they can acquire good habits and attitudes quite apart from any knowledge they gain, such as taking turns and listening, really listening to each other. Such learning habits can be unfamiliar and benefit from practice, as I argue in my new book From Able to Remarkable: Help Your Students Become Expert Learners (Crown House, 2019).
As an example of my faith in collaborative learning, I write in my book about the benefits of Model United Nations (MUN), an activity in which I’ve been involved for over twenty years. I’ve posted before about its virtues but it may be helpful to offer a quick recap of why it can help.
· It costs nothing to set up
· It needs little time: MUN can happen at lunchtime or after school – you need about 30 mins
· It helps build pupil empathy, resilience, listening habits, recall, problem solving and many more desirable attributes
· It builds fluency in outlining a point and building an argument with transferable benefits to written work
· It offers insight into global issues and problems beyond most students’ experiences and encourages a focus on practical solutions
A group of students chooses their own current world issue: this might be environmental eg burning rainforest in Brazil, economic eg tariff wars between the USA and China or human rights eg gender equality. Each student chooses a country to represent and researches and faithfully represents that country’s position in the role play that is MUN. They offer a simple clause or resolution, chosen by a chair, which is then discussed and amended and either passed or failed.
Success in MUN is about cooperation and passing a clause or a resolution. In that respect it is not as competitive as traditional debating. Lobbying for your proposed solution needs persuasion and bargaining. What eventually goes through may well be a compromise which has been subject to amendments, but that is no bad lesson in itself.
The other key point about MUN is that the better informed a delegate or a delegation is, the more chances of success they have. To take an example from my newspaper at the time of writing, it might seem straightforward at first for MUN students considering current protests by citizens of Hong Kong against the possible introduction of laws extraditing convicted criminals to China to sympathise with the protesters and to stand up for their rights to make their case peacefully, as the 1945 Declaration of Human Rights allows. But China’s view needs to be expressed and understood, too. And what of Britain, which owned Hong Kong until 1997, or the USA under President Trump?
The United Nations may be a flawed organisation in many ways, so how might it be reformed? Meanwhile, students can research its role and its powers, what it can and cannot do in situations such as Hong Kong, complicated as that is by China’s role as one of the 5 Permanent Members of the Security Council.
MUN is one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with. More importantly, it is memorable for many students. It can start from a scribbled one-sentence clause or hesitant speech and become a career with an NGO. There will be an MUN conference near your school and the movement is worldwide.
MUN has its rules and procedures just like debating and games. In its full format it can seem daunting, but students in practice get the idea very quickly. I’ve posted on my website an introduction to the full form MUN we use at my school for our conference. I’ve also just added what I’m terming Short-Form MUN. This is a stripped-down version able to be played in 30 mins or so.
There is a free Model UN app available to download from the Apple App Store with many useful UN documents such as the Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights. It also contains a Factbook of basic information about countries.
The United Nations website is huge and contains resources for students amid much else
UNA-UK The United Nations Association-United Kingdom is a charity devoted to building support for the UN
1/5 Excellence by design
2/5 Excellence by communication
3/5 Excellence by definition
5/5 Excellence by aspiration