When the Covid-19 pandemic forced schools to transition to online learning in early 2020, CHIREC International School in Hyderabad, India, had only been part of the Cognita family of schools for a matter of months.
What was anticipated to be a 21-day national lockdown ended up lasting an entire year.
By the six-month point in September, the long social isolation was taking a toll on our school community, with students and teachers missing connections with their classmates, peers and friends while maintaining our feeling of community.
Then came the Cognita Active World Challenge, a call to reconnect and rebuild bonds within the school community and with the outside world, while aligning to a common purpose that enhanced physical and mental wellbeing.
Covid: Physical activity to boost wellbeing in schools
The challenge was a four-week global wellbeing initiative that encouraged Cognita school communities to clock up as many kilometres as possible using any form of physical activity to "travel" virtually to one or more Cognita schools around the world.
Participation was huge with students, parents, teachers and staff walking, running and cycling to reach a combined distance travelled of 209,976 kilometres together – effectively reaching Cognita schools in South-East Asia, Europe and South America.
From this, we then set up virtual meetings with schools we "reached", including Australian International School Singapore, Downsend Pre-Prep School in the UK, Colegio Pumahue Temuco and Colegio Pumahue Puerto Montt in Chile and Instituto GayLussac in Brazil.
Though cultural exchanges were not new to the school, global, school-wide collaborations were a new and exciting prospect with teachers across all grades keen to get invovled.
Building connections around the world
Quickly we had all kinds of positive interactions taking place.
Kindergarten and primary students from CHIREC became "digital pen pals" with their peers at Colegio Pumahue Temuco, spending a month exchanging video letters about various topics – from their experiences in lockdown, to their traditions, culture, festivals and favourite recipes.
Our primary students also partnered with students in Colegio Pumahue Puerto Montt, Australian International School Singapore and Instituto GayLussac in Brazil, sharing videos about different dress styles in their regions, the animals found across their respective countries and the variety of dishes local to their regions.
Middle and secondary school students acted as "virtual tour guides" for their peers at Instituto GayLussac and Colegio Pumahue Puerto Montt.
They created video guides of different aspects of the city of Hyderabad, where our school is located, and shared videos about the different languages, festivals, dress styles and dishes of their home countries.
Our Spanish language students of Grades 9 and 10 also participated in a series of "virtual breakout groups" with their English language peers at Colegio Pumahue Puerto Montt, discussing a wide range of topics in both languages.
Senior students also participated in such groups to discuss socially relevant topics, such as women’s rights, politics and the environment, stereotypes, online gaming, popular culture, sports and the effect of the pandemic on today’s youth.
Students said they enjoyed connecting their experiences with those of their peers across the world.
Teachers sharing best practice
These collaborations have extended to our teachers as well, with CHIREC teachers participating in online calls with their peers at Colegio Pumahue Puerto Montt to share best practice and discuss the challenges of virtual teaching and learning in their unique contexts.
The projects acted as an extension of the project–based learning programme at CHIREC, enabling students to develop skills in research, reflection, collaboration and communication.
The opportunity to transcend traditional subject boundaries and develop transferable skills through collaborative teamwork, presentations and working with fellow Cognita learners around the world was incredibly beneficial in helping our young students to develop the ability to understand and take on different perspectives.
We plan to continue this global collaboration activity when the new academic year starts in June. Once we are able to travel the world again, who knows where it will lead?
Aneesha Reddy is head of strategic initiatives and Trishanya Raju is academic innovations coordinator at Cognita’s CHIREC International School.