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Project Development During a Global Pandemic

  • 2020
  • Community
  • High School
  • Teachers
Matt Schiavon, HS Global Project Development Teacher

The term “21st century skills'' is thrown around quite a bit by educators. While the concept can be defined and categorised in many different ways depending on whom you speak to, it essentially refers to the skills deemed necessary for individuals to be successful in today’s world. Some of these skills are teamwork, critical thinking, digital literacy, and global awareness, to name a few. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that adaptability should be towards the top of the list of 21st century skills. 

The Global Project Development course which I teach at the high school campus is unique in that it is built around a student-founded, non-profit organisation called Meraki Giving that works to establish and develop social impact initiatives and entrepreneurship. The authentic skills built and experiences provided through a course such as this are not something you will find at a typical high school and would absolutely be categorised as “21st century skills”. 

2020 presented a unique set of challenges for the course, and unexpectedly, also allowed for a new set of skills to be developed. Early in the school year, this year’s team of Project Development students determined that the current Caferuna initiative, which involved importing coffee beans from a remote coffee farming community in Peru, roasting, and then selling the coffee here in Hong Kong, would unfortunately need to be put on hold due to the pandemic. 

We would need to change course and you guessed it, adapt! Despite this challenge, students demonstrated tremendous resilience and also the ability to seamlessly transition between virtual and physical work environments, all while building crucial teamwork skills and diving into real-world issues they might otherwise not have exposure to. 

Once the situation with regard to our initiative was understood, we knew that it would be important to build awareness surrounding the current circumstances in Peru and the impact that this would have on our efforts moving forward. Students started by conducting research into the realities on the ground in Peru due to COVID-19. Using this information, they created shareable content explaining the situation and updated our digital media platforms to reflect our necessary change of course. To inform their decisions, the team researched best practices for nonprofit websites and social media accounts, as well as general website design and messaging. Once essential updates were completed and communicated, it was time to begin the transition to a new initiative. 

Students started by digging into the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which are a set of 17 interconnected goals focused on various aspects of what’s required for the world to achieve a sustainable future. Students spent a significant amount of time researching these different goals, identifying shared passions, and narrowing down their top choices for our new initiative to be built around. The end result was the establishment of our new “SOLE” (Sustainable Oceans, Liveable Earth) initiative based around climate action and ocean sustainability. 

Research into these topics continued and eventually culminated in a set of action plans for 2021 that the students presented and discussed with the team. Considering the dynamic nature of social distancing measures and restrictions on travel, the students eventually settled on three arms for the new initiative, which would first be rolled out locally with the hopes of expanding internationally when possible. One arm would be an education and awareness campaign through a robust digital publication, a social media push, and a bi-monthly newsletter. The second would be organising and executing competitive, educational beach cleanup events for younger students, and the final arm would focus on developing a coastal community climate resilience plan for local populations that are under threat due to climate change and extreme weather events. 

The value of the real-world skills built through our project development course, particularly sustained inquiry, teamwork, global citizenship, and adaptability, is tremendous since they can be applied not only to the careers of the 21st century, but also to building happy and healthy personal lives. Though much uncertainty remains on the long road ahead, one thing I can say for sure is that unique courses like Global Project Development, along with the many others that THS offers, provides young people with the skills necessary to navigate uncertain times with confidence and optimism. 

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