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Introduction

...But What’s the Answer?

A member of the DEP team tells a story of how she was class-testing some chapters of the Russian version of Beyond Economic Growth with secondary school students in Moscow when one of the young men from the class raised his hand in frustration and said, “Ok, we’ve been reading and discussing about poverty in our country for the last hour. Now what is the answer?”

For us, this story acts as a reminder that many teachers and students believe that the answer to anything you would learn in school exists either in the book or in the teacher’s head, and the purpose of the teacher-student relationship is to ensure that answers are transferred from one to the other with as little alteration as possible.

But the question still lingers: What is the answer to poverty in our country? The answer isn’t in the book. One could argue that the answer is not yet in any book or in anyone’s mind. But how are we to come up with the answer--how are we to discover the answer to poverty in our country, in the world--if the answer isn’t in the book nor in the teacher’s mind? As educators we take pride in the idea that we are preparing new generations for the world. But if the solutions of today’s and tomorrow’s challenges are not in our heads and not in the book, how can our students learn them?

Do we just ignore the difficult questions? Do we make up answers and hope that our students do not dare question us further or compare our answers with the reality they see around them? Or do we alter the teacher-student relationship, admitting that we do not have all the answers, but establish that we are willing to work together with the students to try and find solutions? As teachers, we have some information, we have some experience, but we do not have all the answers...especially when it comes to tackling some of the more pressing issues of the present and the future. More particularly when we are tackling issues of sustainable development.

Active Learning as a Tool

These concerns have led us to use an “active” learning pedagogy when shaping the learning materials and courses that make up the DEP program. As international educators we often encounter teachers and students who are resistant to the idea of active learning*. To educators and learners who have participated all their lives in traditional education relationships, active learning can seem suspect or even threatening. Is the teacher really doing her job if she doesn’t spoon-feed all of the information to her students? Are the students really learning if they have solved the problem of where to find information and have drawn conclusions from it, but they can’t recite a list of data and dates?

Resources for Active Learning

If these questions are burning in your mind, or if you would just like to find out more about active learning, please consult some of the articles in our annotated resource list. We have tried to choose articles that are accessible, practical, and—perhaps most important--cognizant of the real-life challenges that teachers face on a daily basis. And we hope they will also illustrate why we feel that active learning is a most promising approach for creating a generation that will have many good answers for the question: How do we get rid of poverty in my country?


*Other terms associated with "active" learning include constructivist, experiential, hands-on, interactive, participatory, project-based, or engaged learning. Although these terms vary from each other in subtle ways, they are often used interchangeably.



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