In January of this year, we were fortunate enough to receive a visit from Ciarán Bauer, Program Manager at Bridge 21 in Dublin. Ciaran is also the Chair of our ETNS partner school committee, so we had double the reason to welcome him for his time here. The trip was primarily a learning experience, for both Ciarán (on behalf of Bridge 21) and the PEPY Empowering Youth staff and students, but of course we were keen to show him some of other fantastic sights Cambodia has to offer.
So what exactly is Bridge 21? Based at Trinity College Dublin, Bridge 21 is an education program that offers a new model of learning, which can then be adapted for use in Irish secondary schools. While society and the world around us may be developing at an incredible speed, Bridge 21 believes that the education system in Ireland is struggling to keep up – this is precisely what they hope to change. Bridge 21 works to adjust the way young people are educated so that learning becomes more learner-based, thereby fueling innovation and independence, and motivating students to take responsibility for their own learning experience.
The Bridge 21 learning model has been developed to be team-based, technology mediated – using technology as a learning tool, rather than simply a subject to be learned out of context – project-based and cross-curricular. These are aspects which are also reflected in PEPY Empowering Youth’s approach to learning in the Learning Center. Both PEPY and Bridge 21 feel that team work is an essential skill in the modern world of work, and by promoting team-based activities students learn vital skills such as communication, problem solving and project planning. Project-based work forms an important part of the Youth Empowerment classes at the Learning Center, and it is this concept of learning by doing that both organizations see as a key element of understanding and retaining new knowledge. Although the curriculum in Ireland is clearly very different to the one followed in Cambodia, Bridge 21’s idea that skills and knowledge should be adaptable across subjects is something which we advocate at PEPY Empowering Youth, too. For example, English lessons are used not only to gain a deeper understanding of the language, but also to prepare students for job interviews, to practice presentation skills, and to learn about global issues. When it comes to technology, the Bridge 21 students and PEPY Scholarship students may have had varying levels of exposure to and experience with modern technology, but in both environments, students are encouraged to apply their technical knowledge to tasks which may not typically fall under the heading of IT and Technology. The overlap of Bridge 21 and PEPY Empowering Youth’s approaches to education made this visit incredibly enriching.
During his time here, Ciarán led classes with the students as well as workshops with the PEPY staff. He also visited the Dream Class at Kralanh High School, where he helped lead a session on mental health with the students there. In his classes with the Scholarship students in Siem Reap, Ciarán implemented the Bridge 21 principles and got the students taking a very active role in their own learning. For example, in preparation for a Skype call with Bridge 21 students, the Scholarship students worked in groups to create videos introducing themselves to their Irish peers. They took responsibility for every part of the process, from devising a plan for the short video, filming it and then using the computers to edit them. The Skype call itself was a huge highlight for all of the students – it was a very exciting opportunity to meet their peers halfway across the world, to practice their English skills in a very real context, and to learn a little about life in Ireland.
The staff workshops introduced the PEPY Empowering Youth team to the Bridge 21 approach to education and gave staff members to opportunity to try it out for themselves, tying in perfectly with the ‘learning by doing’ concept encouraged at both organizations. During these sessions, Ciarán highlighted the value of placing the focus of the lesson on the learner, rather than the teacher; in fact, he explained that the word ‘facilitator’ was much more apt than teacher, as those in charge of the lesson (i.e. the teacher) are really there to create an environment which allows the students to explore and be innovative, not to simply stand and lecture a class for 45 minutes. These workshops were extremely interesting for the PEPY staff, as they introduced some new methods for lesson planning, using technology as a tool for learning, and also showed how taking a step back to create a very free environment can be of great benefit to the students.
PEPY Empowering Youth is incredibly grateful to Ciarán for visiting us, and sharing his knowledge and experience. We hope that we can continue this great exchange of skills and know-how with Bridge 21 for many years in the future.