Photo: UNDP Georgia

COVID-19 has changed many plans, but not for a group of teachers from Rustavi city public schools #16 and #6. On 31 March they came together on a virtual conference to share the results of a collaborative way of learning for problem-solving together with the Future Laboratory and Rustavi City Hall Innovation Hub. Over dozen solutions addressing urban challenges designed by students aged 8 – 15 years were presented to the City Hall and the Mayor pledged to take their work forward.

Students work speak to today’s reality, even though the pilot run before the outbreak -December 2019 – February 2020.

The research on the use of technologies reveals that children in Rustavi prefer smartphones to computer or tablets – the finding instrumental in COVID-19 induced online schooling, when access to internet and technology is uneven, especially outside the capital city.

3rd grade students advise the local decision-makers to shift to solar energy to reduce household utility costs for residents and even designed a new city quarters fully powered by solar.

Students offered graffiti as a solution to vandalization of the buildings in the city.

72% of respondents interviewed by students noted air quality as the most pressing challenge along with water quality, transportation and stray dogs. 30% of respondents thought that improved air quality has to be tackled by operating factories and incentives introduced by local government, as well as creating more green spaces in the city together with the residents.

We have to mention professionalism and unconditional dedication of the teachers first to acquire new skills themselves (including Zoom conferencing) and then to follow their students though the lengthy exploration path despite today’s challenges like irregular connectivity and restricted movement between the cities.

Photo: UNDP Georgia

The pilot confirmed the assumption that project-based learning connects learning with life outside the classroom; equips children, irrespective of their age, with the skills for research, data processing, conceptualising, visualising and communicating solutions to real-life challenges. As one of the teachers put it, it turns the spotlight back on a student, and like all of us, when we feel valued, we make the best of our abilities. We also learned that the key motivator for both teachers and students to engage was the hope that their words would be heard, and they would co-author positive changes for the city together with the local decision-makers. In fact, during the pilot, many children thought becoming a city mayor would be a good idea when they grow up. Hence, teachers in Rustavi have taken one more step towards building trust between young citizens and decision-makers, which has been on UNDP Georgia list of priorities since 2013 global consultations for SDGs.

UNDP Georgia has been collaborating with the City of Rustavi as a testbed for novel solutions for local development since 2018. One of the goals pursued is retaining youth in the city by providing more opportunities for education and employment and boosting their skills for self-employment, among others. Piloting entrepreneurial thinking development at a school level coupled with the ongoing social entrepreneurship scheme with Impact Hub, and the developing model for a longer term support from the private companies can amplify these efforts, more so that the results of the first pilot are promising.

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