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Children work together to design a better world
Anne Sallaerts, Managing Director
Worldwide there are 2 billion children of school-going age. How can we prepare them to prosper in a rapidly changing, increasingly technological and global world? How can all children learn to design a better world for themselves and the planet?
Surprisingly to many adults, when children are asked what change they would like to see in the world, they don’t ask for less homework and more sweets, in fact, they want to cure cancer or remove all plastic from the ocean. A few examples of what children have come up with during our workshops on the theme "water": children in the Netherlands came up with a new type of pavement which can filter rain, store it underground and then re-use it for domestic or industrial purpose, children in India came up with a cotton net to prevent dumping waste in rivers, and children in Florida came up with a home-elevation system that would provide a way to raise homes above flood-water levels.
Our organization has already reached 29,000 children, trained 360 teachers and inspired another 700 educators through introduction workshops. Our method is designed to work with children of all backgrounds and capacities and therefore is inclusive. It focuses on building the inner capacities of all children, regardless of their gender, race, class, skill or learning situation. It recognizes that all children can and want to contribute. In our annual worldwide event, we aim to have half of the participating children from disadvantaged situations. We are convinced that all children benefit from developing skills such as creative thinking, changemaker skills, digital literacy and intercultural awareness.
A few examples of the diversity of the children we work within our programs: we have done designathon programs with teachers and children growing up in the slum in Nairobi (Mukuru kwa Reuben) with the Gatoto Integrated organization Development; children with a physical disability in Kampala, Uganda through the Liliane Fund; refugee children in Amsterdam (BS de Samenspel, Amsterdam South-East) supported by Stichting Kinderpostzegels; gifted children of The Day a Week School in Amsterdam and children in Shanghai, China who have won the Shanghai Science fair by Shanghai Association for Science and Technology. .
The Designathon method combines aspects of Design Thinking and Maker Education, both of which are gaining ground in education systems around the world. A designathon is a structured workshop in which children (ages 4 - 12 years) invent, build and present their self-devised solutions to a social or environmental issue around the Sustainable Development Goals. A workshop lasts four to six hours and is facilitated by education professionals. The experience helps children become future ready through learning to design and use technology such as mini-motors and sensors.
While most of our work is thourgh training teachers to run the program in their own classroom, our flagship event is the annual Global Children’s Designathon. During this one day event, children in 30+ cities around the world come together to work in parallel, design innovative concepts and build prototypes for one of the Sustainable Development Goals. During the day children have contact with each other through a live connection. They present their ideas to each other, and at the end of the day to a panel of experts, and a public audience. With this event, we are highlighting the ability of the children to imagine and design a better future and simultaneously we are calling for changemaker education, globally.
Research during the Global Children Designathon in November 2018 looked into the children’s attitudes to the SDG theme (deforestation and it’s causes) and also their perceived ability to become agents of change. Based on surveys conducted amongst 555 children across 10 cities, supplemented by an ethnographer observation in each city, 91% of the children felt more able to make the world a better place after taking part in the GCD. An additional 80% stated that they felt empowered to take specific actions to tackle deforestation as a result of the programThe city council of Amsterdam commissioned Design-athon to develop a program to engage children in primary schools across the city as changemakers on the topic of waste and recycling. In the cities’ evaluation of the project teachers reported that the children were very engaged in the lessons, that the children became active to solve the waste problem in the city and that they saw concrete changes in behaviour in 60% of the children.
By 2023 we aim to have empowered 1 million children, 50% of whom come from disadvantaged circumstances, as changemakers.