Students can make a real difference in society

A scheme to turn children into ‘champion changemakers’ will be empowering for both students and teachers, says eduction commentator JENNIFER HORGAN, who has details of the plan
Students can make a real difference in society

Some of the people behind the ARISE (Awareness Raising Initiatives for Social Enterprise) scheme

I CAN’T tell you how many times I’ve had to scoop my jaw up from the classroom floor on hearing a student’s idea, presentation, or performance. That adage “youth is wasted on the young” holds no water with me. It’s just that not everybody gets the opportunity to see their brilliance.

Luckily for me, I do. I get front row seats when young, passionate people share their thoughts and ideas. The minute I start to take that for granted, I’ll leave the profession.

C.S Lewis wrote that education without values makes a student a “more clever devil.” Increasingly, I’m happy to report, direct from the chalkface, that the potential for values-based learning is vast in Irish schools.

Our students learn concrete skills and knowledge to create social change - through various subjects like geography, politics and society, CSPE, ethics, sustainability and science. But it eases their concerns and anxieties if they can put this knowledge into action. Of course, it does.

In recent years, I’ve worried about all the bad news coming into the classroom. The climate. The housing crisis. The pandemic. It has certainly taken its toll on our students, as it has on us all. 

So, I’m genuinely delighted when I see an external initiative that invites young people to contribute their ideas on positive social change. I’m even more excited when these initiatives help turn their ideas into a reality.

This week, one such initiative came to my attention that combines the need for positive social change and the innovation of young people. The event, Champion Changemakers encourages people to reflect on their own lives and communities in order to problem solve. Champion Changemakers, hosted by Community Enterprise Association Ireland’s network of 270+ enterprise centres and hubs is offering students and indeed everyone, a unique opportunity to make a real difference.

A person of any age or belonging to any group can participate, but as a teacher I think the event is particularly perfect for any Cork classroom. It’s ideal for Transition Year for instance, where students get enough time out to truly step up in their local communities. Transition Year already involves a social/community module, so this opportunity provides a wonderful pathway for an already established focus in schools.

All students and their schools need to do is visit Community Enterprise Association Ireland’s website to find out where your local event is happening and details on how to sign-up. RDI Hub and Dingle Creativity Hub are partnering to host applicants from the Mid and South-West Regions. Submissions are being sought from community groups and individuals of any age in three categories: Environment and Climate Action, Economic Inequality, and Human Wellbeing.

Those interested will be given the opportunity to work with local mentors to develop their idea and prepare them to present and pitch it to a panel of experts in a local hub across the weekend of September 23, 2022.

It will look and feel much like a Dragon’s Den type event with selected teams going forward to a national Pitch-Fest in Dublin on October 20. The overall winning team will benefit from a bursary of key supports and services that any start-up would welcome.

Funding for the ‘Champion Changemakers’ initiative was secured from the Department of Rural and Community Development under the ARISE (Awareness Raising Initiatives for Social Enterprise) Scheme 2021. The purpose of these events is to promote the role of social enterprise in local communities. Individuals will not need to have any experience of business or social enterprise, but will be driven by a passion to make a real difference in their own communities and beyond.

Liam Cronin, Chief Executive Officer, RDI Hub, often works with young people in his role. He believes in “providing early-stage support in the area of social innovation will unlock significant economic value long-term. RDI Hub is passionate about talent development in the region.

“The Champion Changemakers Programme will enable us to grow and expand our vision for Ireland, ensuring we create a sustainable future for our children and future generations. RDI Hub and the Dingle Hub are delighted to support this initiative in the Kerry region.”

Cork-based Siobhan Finn, Hub Network Manager at Community Enterprise Association Ireland, believes exposing students to entrepreneurial experiences is very important. “It empowers them to address problems they might face in their own lives and shows them how to build a business model around this.”

She believes the sky’s the limit, especially when you look at the success of social enterprises like Thriftify, the online charity shop, or Food Cloud, the social enterprise that connects businesses that have surplus food with charities and community groups that need it to combat food waste in Ireland. “We provide young people with a pathway that will equip them with a mindset to solve their own problems.”

This intention is truly empowering for young people, and for all of us. It turns everything we know and fear into action, alleviating anxieties and providing people with a sense of agency.

As a teacher, I’m in.


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