The United Nations Global Engagement Summit took place in New York City on February 17 and promised “to engage national influencers who care deeply about making the world a better place,” including hundreds of youth members. Lowell’s 8th graders modeled that same dedication to international cooperation as they considered global population growth through “mini” Model UN sessions this winter.
Students in Katie’s social studies class discovered that experts believe the world has already reached “peak child” status, with the number of humans on earth predicted to fall going forward. In teams of two, representing Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mozambique, Pakistan, and Russia, students were asked to vote on a resolution: “Governments should recommend that families should have no more than two children in order to slow the rapidly increasing world population.”
Lowell’s delegates combined what they learned in a world population unit with their own research to create a profile of their assigned country. All participants were able to view these profiles before the caucus. Students compiled up-to-date figures on current population trends, dug back into relevant history, and sought to understand the challenges and resources particular to their nation.
Team Australia, for example, came prepared to speak about how a future health crisis could devastate their dwindling population, which is largely based in coastal cities, comprised of immigrants, and hindered by the lack of funds to terraform its desert climates. Impressed? Not their fellow delegates from Mozambique! These students were quick to counter with figures reframing Australia’s concerns in a global context. Eighth graders aren’t just recording facts on a page; they’re processing the information to form coherent arguments, weigh priorities, offset future problems, and advocate for collective action.
Students tested out the procedures and practices of Model UN by managing a zombie pandemic earlier this year. Though that particular “global crisis” was more lighthearted than January’s topic, it allowed students to practice diplomacy, note-taking, and compromise, and challenged them to consider a problem from someone else's viewpoint.
“That has maybe been the biggest challenge for the students,” says Katie. “They want to approach solutions as their empathetic selves, so I have to remind them that leaders of a nation with a certain history might have different priorities to consider. It has been a really interesting thought experiment for them.”
Some students have since taken their international roles in stride, exerting authority as a “Permanent Five” security council member (though Lowell rules don’t allow for MUN’s traditional veto) or hamming it up with public pleas that spoke only to their country’s interests. “Please, I’m begging you—come to Germany,” one delegate asked whenever he had the floor, laying it on thick to encourage the immigration that is a major driver in the country’s overall population. Katie was also amused by the (*ahem*) informal caucuses outside of class time. “There has definitely been some backdoor diplomacy in the hallways,” she laughs. “But I’m glad they’re so engaged with the topic.”
As the session progressed, students paid close attention to the exact phrasing in the proposal and offered amendments, such as only implementing the policy in countries above a particular population growth rate. “Eliminating something that isn’t the problem won’t fix it,” stated one delegation as they went around the room to vote and present counterproposals.
Katie will assess their participation based on the thoroughness of their research, the accuracy of their position as it represents their country, their engagement as active listeners, and their practice of diplomacy. Students will also write a summary paper following the caucus. And on the horizon is an opportunity to apply their global population knowledge to the pressing issues of climate change, gender equality, and waste through an international video contest
. These project-based explorations of the same matters addressed by UN officials will help Lowell students carry their cooperative problem-solving and research-based action forward into high school and beyond.