By Jacob Kersey and Myriam Dems
MONROVIA, Liberia, and New York, USA, 28 February 2012 – When Benkie and Moses, both 18, joined the Connecting Classrooms programme in Liberia, they had no idea that they would soon meet the President of their country.
Benkie and Moses are students at the Lango Lippaye High School in Kakata, in Liberia’s Margibi County. They are active members of Connecting Classrooms, a program that launched in Liberia in 2010 as part of UNICEF’s focus on innovations in education.
On Saturday, 4 February, the Government of Liberia, with the Liberia Children’s Parliament and the UN, celebrated the launch of the Children’s Law of Liberia – one of the most comprehensive pieces of children’s rights legislation on the continent – with the Liberia Children’s Festival in Monrovia.
At the festival, Connecting Classrooms representatives prepared an interactive booth to illustrate how Liberian students can use the Connecting Classrooms web platform to engage in cross-cultural discussions with students from around the world.
Meeting the President
Benkie and Moses were the two students selected to represent their peers at the festival. They welcomed visitors to the booth and demonstrated first-hand how participating Liberian students access the Internet to explore other countries and cultures, participate in topical discussions, and create original webpages about important issues in their schools and communities.
Among the first visitors to the booth was a delegation led by Liberian President and 2011 Noble Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The students greeted President Sirleaf and were eager to explain how innovations like Connecting Classrooms have enhanced their communications skills.
Benkie and Moses then guided the President to their school homepage and showed her how technology enables them to share local developments with the global community. The President took time to learn about the project’s scale-up plans within Liberia. She then agreed to a brief interview, during which the students asked questions about access to education – questions that were informed by their participation in Connecting Classrooms.
Empowering youth to speak out
UNICEF launched Connecting Classrooms in 2008 as a school- and youth centre-based civic media initiative that aims to empower young people through new and traditional media, including the Internet.
Connecting Classrooms has helped youth learn to work together, develop their communications and computer skills, define and express their positions on global issues, and become active and engaged global citizens, able to advocate to and on behalf of their communities. For youth and teachers alike, the skills gained by participating in Connecting Classrooms have been applicable in the classroom and the workplace, in advocacy and peer education, and other forms of community engagement.
In an effort to extend the benefits of the program to the out-of-school youth and local communities, the participants will use their newly acquired skills to educate and mobilize their communities.
“I had no experience using the computer before I started Connecting Classrooms, but now I am able to use the computer to some extent to prepare documents, send emails and communicate with others that are part of Connecting Classrooms,” said Moses. “I appreciate Connecting Classrooms a lot because the skills that I have to communicate effectively using the computer come from them.”
Benkie added, “I intend to share these skills with other new members of my team and other students in Liberia.”
The Liberian students also benefitted from a radio-production training offered by Connecting Classrooms in October 2011. Radio is central to encouraging community dialogue in many parts of the developing world.
The radio skills workshops taught participants to research, produce and broadcast radio programs about the issues and challenges faced by youth. The trainings also taught them how to use media to affect change on the local level.
“Connecting Classrooms prepared me to report on important issues in my community by training me during the radio workshop,” Moses said.
There are now plans to replicate the same training workshops in several other countries participating to Connecting Classrooms.