Revolutions In Education

Ebola in Bumpe: Connect Your School to Real Grassroots Action


Hindo and team educate a community about Ebola prevention


“Great social forces are the accumulation of individual actions.  Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth mighty currents of hope, and that we worked together to heal the world.”  —Jeffrey D. Sachs

Whatever your views on the Ebola scare as it’s manifesting itself inside of North America, there’s no question that this is a real, deadly epidemic in West Africa.  Real people are dying at alarming rates.  People I know and care about in Sierra Leone are in real trouble; the schools are closed, the quarantined are starving, the people are afraid to shake hands with their neighbors, and misinformation reigns.

I’ve written about Hindogbae Kposowa before, a young leader in Bumpe, Sierra Leone, who is leading incredible efforts to improve life in his community in partnership with TakingITGlobal and the World Leadership School.  I’ve also written about teachers in Bumpe, and the experiences I’ve had working with them on project-based learning and global partnerships.  Through Hindo, several schools in North America have been able to partner with schools in the Bumpe community, including The Berkeley Carroll School (Brooklyn, NY) and Town School for Boys (San Francisco, CA).  To learn more about one school’s work with Sierra Leone, explore this recent blog from Kristen Goggin at Town School for Boys.

Today, Hindo and his community are all-consumed by efforts to keep the Bumpe Ngao Chiefdom safe from the Ebola virus.  Please don’t wait to get your students and community involved.

Build a Project around the Ebola Crisis in West Africa.  There is nothing more authentic for inquiry and action than a real crisis in progress, and your students can be more than mere spectators, empowered to understand and support grassroots efforts instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines.  Young leaders in Bumpe want to communicate with your kids, and all schools will receive regular updates from local volunteers on the ground.  Consider the following driving questions and project ideas, which could easily be adapted for different grade levels:

1.     How can we understand the causes of Ebola?  Have your kids explore the root causes of Ebola and how it is spread.  They could investigate how different countries are trying to manage the spread, looking at why Ebola was well controlled in places like Nigeria, while it has not been well controlled in Liberia or Sierra Leone.  For younger kids, this could be woven into lessons about personal health and hygiene.  For older students, this could become a powerful project on anything from public health policy to health care systems, and comparisons could include case studies in North America and Europe.

2.     How can we determine which solutions to the Ebola spread are most effective?  Have your kids explore how different health organizations are trying to stop the epidemic, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Center for Disease Control.  Compare their impact with the strategies and grassroots efforts being used in Bumpe Ngao Chiefdom.  This is also an interesting opportunity to explore the best ways to educate communities–through community meetings, theatre, posters, billboards–and have kids create their own educational campaigns.

3.     How can we use math to understand the Ebola epidemic?  Have your kids do some real world math–on the exponential spread of the disease and the funding needed to stop it, on comparisons to other global epidemics, on the costs involved in the grassroots work being done in Bumpe, and/or the relative successes of bigger and smaller organizations, including their overhead expenses and how much is actually being spent to end the outbreak.

4.     How can we help end the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone?  Whatever the academic focus of your broader engagement, encourage your kids to plan and run a fundraiser or educational campaign about Ebola and how to get involved in stopping its spread.  Student presentations could include skits like those being used to educate communities in Bumpe, as well as artistic expression, writing, film, or other creative products designed to educate and inspire others to get involved.  Once a classroom or individual has gotten involved in Bumpe’s grassroots prevention work, you will receive regular updates from young leaders in Bumpe, which can be shared with your students and broader community.

5.     What can we learn by connecting with young people in Sierra Leone that we can’t learn from the news?  The Centre for Global Education plans to run a multi-point videoconference with young leaders in Bumpe soon; please contact me for more information (  Young leaders are also willing to Skype into classrooms on an individual basis, to answer students’ questions and talk about their efforts.  Please note that there are significant costs involved in having the electricity and internet necessary for such a connection on Bumpe’s end, so we do ask that your classroom make a donation to the project if you want a private Skype call.

Please reach out to me if I can help support your involvement in this important work (  Your kids don’t want to be spectators to global disasters–they are emerging change makers who want to be part of the solution.  Please don’t wait to get them involved.

PBL’s Eight Elements through a Global Lens


Buck Institute for Education @

When we talk about 21st Century Skills in the context of global education, we are still talking about the 3 Cs of Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration. Critical thinking in a global context means being able to understand why cultures have the habits or needs they do, and learning to ask the kinds of questions that allow us to understand and connect to a more diverse range of global perspectives and experiences, rather than judging or rejecting them. Communication in the global context is about learning foreign languages—not teaching kids toward test proficiency but toward spoken skills. It is also about learning to navigate language differences and still be able to connect, as no one can learn every language they will potentially confront in the world. Collaboration in global education focuses largely on developing collaborative projects with young people in other parts of the world, or sharing projects across physical and cultural borders in classroom-to-classroom global partnerships.

We do need to add a fourth and fifth C when we consider 21st Century Skills in the global context, and those are Cross-Cultural Competency and Creativity (though I’m quickly becoming a fan of Inter-Cultural over Cross-Cultural, given that people cross multiple boundaries simultaneously in most career fields today). Defining and teaching toward inter-cultural competencies is the heart of global educational work. Creativity helps us foster the young innovators the world so desperately needs, young people who will find new solutions to the world’s oldest problems if we use PBL in our classrooms now to inspire and empower them as divergent thinkers.

Significant Content in Global PBL means ensuring that global experiences are authentic and transformative, not superficial or judgmental—which suggests as well that students should be exploring real-world issues and problems more than simulating them. There is a lot of controversy around creating simulations in global education, and many educators feel that simulations are never as valuable as real-life global experiences. However, depending on your age group, simulations may be a necessary first step toward real-world experiences—and as long as the simulation deals with real world issues in authentic ways, it will still be authentic global learning.

In-Depth Inquiry can include gathering global perspectives through personal learning networks (PLNs) and online global resources, as well as through internationals in the local community. In global education, it is important to stress primary source research, legitimizing it alongside scholarly research as a tool which more deeply humanizes how students see and understand the world. High school teachers, especially at the higher grade levels, may find it challenging to weave primary source experiences into academic courses such as AP, where the focus is consistently on scholarly resources, but both PBL and global education suggest that primary sources have an effect on students which far surpasses the academic (just as a student will remember his/her home-stay family better than anything s/he studied about the region s/he traveled to).

In global learning, a strong Driving Question needs, whenever possible, to focus on a problem and to invite multiple solutions. More than that, a good driving question should require an answer for the wellbeing of humanity and the planet (a natural way of developing that Need to Know which will drive the inquiry). Mind you, not all projects can be driven by a question with profound depth and purpose, but even small tweaks toward a solutions orientation (aka Problems- or Challenge-Based Learning) can make the experience more transformative and empowering for students. Just like a good thesis bites into something important, a good DQ has an edge and purpose which motivate kids to care and make a difference. Remember, too, that the real world role you give students will help define what real people do with these kinds of skills and knowledge, helping students hook into their passions, interests, and potential career fields.

  • Flat Global DQ: What is human trafficking, and where is it happening in the world?
  • Global DQ with Teeth: How can we, as representatives of the various nations involved in and/or impacted by human trafficking, collaborate to end the practice?

Public Audience offers the opportunity to draw in local immigrants throughout a project, people working at global NGOs in the local community, and even local policy makers, not to mention the international individuals and organizations which can be brought into the classroom quite easily through even the simplest video conferencing technologies. A public audience can also be found through online platforms which have an embedded community, where students can post work, give and receive commentary, blog and publish, and participate in discussions with students around the world. Most people doing important, constructive work in the world are frankly desperate to see more young people dedicate their lives to these fields—you’ll be amazed how willing most are to get on Skype and talk to your students for an hour.

Global PBL fosters Student Voice and Choice by empowering students to explore the global issues they are most passionate about and to take action to solve those challenges. By providing significant opportunities for choice in the classroom and voice in the broader community or world, we allow students to grow as empowered young innovators who hold the solutions to our most pressing global problems. We aren’t just fostering future leaders–students are ready to be leaders now, and a transformative global classroom will facilitate and support multiple opportunities for students to step up and take constructive action.

We also need to be willing to be surprised when students come up with something different than we expected, as the divergent, innovative thinkers often will when given the room to grow—and we need to get comfortable seeing this as a good thing, not a bad thing. After a long history filled with condemning the different thinker and often disenfranchising—or even institutionalizing—our most divergent thinkers, it is time to nurture their gifts and foster them toward lives of constructive purpose. Much of this can be done, very simply, by more profoundly honoring their voices and outside-the-box perspectives.

In my personal opinion, the world can only become a better place for our nurturing the most bizarre ideas our students offer, particularly if they have the potential to offer us a whole new set of solution to the world’s oldest, most pressing problems.