How I found a way to teach life skills in lockdown

A teacher explains how his students found new skills amid Covid restrictions thanks to an innovative online competition

Darren Lim Jen Zen

Coronavirus: How students learned new life skills in lockdown through an innovative global competition

The preparation for the second round was intense.

In the space of a week, students read the brief, sifted through the information, brainstormed online over video calls, helped each other with their presentation skills, brushed up on their knowledge of Nepalese mountain village communities and came up with an answer: Honey.

More specifically, they reasoned that by using naturally produced honey from bees in the area, and offshoot products like beeswax, a cooperative of villagers in the Gupha Pokhari region of Nepal could generate more income that would help them improve their lives.

The idea was assessed and debated by a panel of business leaders, humanitarians and village leaders – and approved.

Schools solving real-world problems

The students were delighted – but they could not rest on their laurels. They were now into the final of the 2020 FOBISIA Race4Good competition and had to now come up with an idea that could help the entire village to grow and flourish.

And I am very proud to say, as the teacher who entered the team and worked with them through the project, their idea for the grand final – a community cooperative unifying various existing businesses such as weaving, craft-making and goat-rearing to generate sustainable income for their various social enhancements – would go on to win the competition.

This success had almost passed us by though. When I first heard about the FOBISIA Race4Good project, I had assumed it was a sport-related event.

But as I delved into its aims, I understood its focus on helping to bring together international pupils to solve real-world problems, and with the skills this would require, it seemed the perfect project for our students – and so it proved.

We had 18 students registered to take part and the impact was enormous, teaching them a variety of skills such as time-management and collaboration, research and analysis of data, business acumen and presenting.

Indeed, one of the most gratifying things about the project was seeing some of the students who had been less confident or outgoing at the start transforming into eloquent communicators, putting their ideas forward, working with their peers and talking with an air of assurance about their involvement in the project.

All these skills are vital to their future success alongside academic achievement.

As such, finding ways for them to develop these skills in such a meaningful way is vitally important – especially as the chance to do this in school or the local community has been taken away by the pandemic.

Boosting students' life skills

Furthermore, not only did the project clearly help them to develop new skills but it also offered a chance for them to socialise and take part in something – even remotely – that wasn’t directly about school but about doing good while having fun, too.

That’s why we are gearing up to take part once again – with a new cohort of students – for the 2021 competition that begins on Monday 1 March and runs until Friday 2 April for both international and UK schools.

You may be thinking, "This sounds great, but we don’t have time for anything else right now." And yes, I appreciate that teachers everywhere have enough on the go at the moment teaching through a pandemic.

And, of course, the same is true of students – grappling with remote learning, unsure over their future assessments and wondering what to do next.

But the benefits I saw from taking part are something that cannot be overlooked.

Worth the effort

Indeed, I would say that right now it is perhaps even more important that we find ways to help balance academic achievement with other life skills and give students reasons to feel optimistic about their capabilities.

As the organiser of the competition, humanitarian Linda Cruse, has said: “Powerful transformation happens when brilliant young minds and highly successful business leaders come together in a team and compete to solve real, life-critical issues.

“This is no paper exercise – all of the Race4Good winning solutions are implemented within days. To see the joy on the faces of the students when, with their own eyes, they see the immediate transformation that they have affected, it is unforgettable.”

I could not agree more. As such I would urge teachers everywhere to consider taking part in the competition. The benefits to students are manifold and the sense of purpose and making a difference it provides cannot be overstated. 

Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Darren Lim Jen Zen is a geography teacher at Prince of Wales Island International School in Malaysia

For more information on the FOBISIA Race4Good competition visit the website.

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