Students building a better world

Happy class happy world

Many don’t realise every dollar spent is a vote for a particular economic system - fair
or unfair.
By David Clarke, Teacher, St Clare’s High School, Taree

Research points to incredible future challenges for the students we teach and for their children. They will have a right to ask of us: ‘How could you have known and done nothing, as you stole our future and passed costs onto the environment and those yet unborn’.

Students in my Year 10,11 and 12 Economics, Commerce and Japanese classes decided to deconstruct the energy, economic and political aspects of our cultural systems and build a possible world in our classroom. Following an anonymous survey to identify their hopes and dreams, they created a world to fulfill them.

It was similar to projects in Jeffrey Sachs book, Economics for a Crowded Planet: Common Wealth where the low cost of simultaneously solving poverty, disease, population and environmental problems in the developing nations was demonstrated.

We installed solar panels and a ‘pedal-a-watt’ pushbike power generation unit as well as electricity consumption meters in the classroom. Demand-reduction strategies included taking out every second light bulb and storing hot water in a thermos.

Pedaling produced another positive outcome. We were 1.5kg away from our ideal collective Body Mass Index after the first fortnightly data collection period.

The electricity expenditure saved was redirected via World Vision and Caritas into genuine development aid. We supplemented this amount and helped supply a developing country family with a goat. Using a scanning ‘app’, students were able to witness the difference the goat brought to the lives of a family in Zambia.

We also built in ‘demand side’ reallocation. Many don’t realise every dollar spent is a vote for a particular economic system – fair or unfair. Based on Jeffrey Sach’s calculations that global poverty, environmental problems and disease could be dealt with by a reallocation of income equal to 2.4% of Advanced Nations’ Gross National Income (GNI), we surveyed our collective class income and then our expenditure on fair trade and ethical products each fortnight.

This expenditure, combined with our reallocated electricity savings, was calculated as a proportion of our class income. In all survey periods this was above the 2.4% of GNI required. We saved as we spent – not going without, but reallocating in such a way as to solve issues holistically.

Using participatory democracy, our judicial and political and monitoring systems were instituted. Each fortnight we assessed the extent to which our actions embodied gender equity, were inclusive both culturally and linguistically, whether opinions were accepted, whether students felt they had the right to speak without fear, whether they felt a sense of belonging and whether learning was relevant.

We imbedded ‘functional citizenship’ nudges and indicators and considered our Economics and Commerce and Japanese results and assessment tasks to be our economic ‘output. It was classified as Gross Learning Outcomes.

Finally, measurement was critical. Each of the systems, nudges and actions was scored, producing a result out of 10. The 10 indicators were weighted by the students’ values and combined to form an index number between 0 and 1.

Our number includes environmental, social, economic and political indicators – a synthesis of elements of the UNDP’s Human Development Index, the Measure of Economic Welfare, the Human Suffering Index, the Genuine Progress Index and others. Inspired by Nic Marks’ Happy Planet Index, we called our indicator the Happy Classroom Index (HCI).

In class we display the running index numbers from zero to one with a statue of St Clare. Her statue slides along the numbers depending on the extent to which we embody our ideal world. She started at 0.645 and now sits at 0.836. (Coincidentally the exercise also satisfied the 10 Genuine Happiness criteria contained in the behavioural economics literature.)

As students leave the room, a poster on the back of the door reads: ‘Beware, you are now entering the past!!!’