From November 6th to December 22nd, 2017, the practical phase of PolECule was launched with the beginning of a field project by our Research Associate Subin Nijhawan in his 10th grade at Heinrich-von-Gagern-Gymnasium Frankfurt. The research was mainly directed towards defining innovative pathways and teaching & learning methods to engender global discourse competence among young learners. The classroom topic gravitated around the relationship between the environment with economics. Some overarching questions included: are market-based mechanisms sufficient to protect the world from an environmental cataclysm? Do we need stricter regulation or higher environmental taxes, or even severe penalties? What can individuals themselves contribute towards environmental protection in accordance with Mahatma Gandhi’s famous appeal: “Be the change you wish to see in the world“?
The theoretical underpinning of the research
The conceptual framework was closely juxtaposed to the most up-to-date findings from learning and behavioral science. Some evidence from experimental research in psychology, with close reference to game theory, suggests that decisions taken in the mother tongue are rather emotional, while in a foreign language people are inclined towards rational choice. Now we know that, on the one side, rational decision-making is a precondition for a clear-cut analysis and an appropriate economic-political judgment. On the flipside, humans are emotional beings. Thus, any negation of the existence of emotions, more or less synonymous with the prevalence of homo economicus in economic theory, does not seem to cater any sustainable model of public choice when it comes to problem-solving and sustainable solutions for the world. In other words, decisions without emotions, in turn a precondition for the development of empathy, seem to be an obstacle for the development solidarity and global justice among learners. Emotions however need to be controlled for the purpose to render any debates intellectual and academic.
The practical implementation
For these reasons, PolECule believes that a bilingual approach can serve as paramount for a perfect equilibrium of emotional and rational decision making, and thus preparing young people with knowledge and competences towards tackling global challenges and opportunities. One cornerstone of the research was to democratically include main stakeholders – i.e. students and the teacher – into the overall process with the ultimate goal to design best-practice examples and material for all learner types.
During these six weeks that were intense and involving, we talked about the nature of decision-making, about the need for empathy, solidarity and seeing the world as a whole system. The material was designed bilingually and allowed all learner types to be involved in vivid debates about, inter alia, the Club of Rome and degrowth, human values and prosperity, the role of clean technology for the sustainable development of the world, about transition towards a carbon-free society, and so on. The students were given the opportunity to provide feedback on every single session we had, in order to come close to an optimum how bilingual lessons in Politics, Economics & Culture should be, so in the end large student populations benefit. Project work (f.i. on model towns, eco-friendly lifestyles etc.) to foster agency amongst learners was an integral part, while the results as such were at times quite stunning.
The surveyed data, at present being analyzed and theorized, includes learner products, student feedback as well as classroom observations that all will be triangulated with single and group interviews in the coming months. The study will thereafter be completed with a guideline how bilingual lessons in Politics, Economics & Culture for all, as well as material directed towards engendering global discourse competence for all learner types should be designed.