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A Student Driven Education That Truly Impacts

By Bernardo Rios
A Student Driven Education That Truly Impacts

Students and expert panelists at the SDG 6 Zoom conference where the students presented their solutions to wasting less water on a daily basis. (Photo source: Author with permission from students and parents)

In 2016, in the heart of South America, Bolivia faced the most severe event of water scarcity in the past 30 years. A national emergency was declared, and water was rationed for months, often being distributed solely by trucks. Families had to adapt to the new reality of there not being unlimited water. Shower times were curtailed. The traditional Carnival water balloon fights on the streets were cancelled. Water awareness was spread.

Time passed, and since the water shortage was no longer an issue, people returned to their old customs. It seems to be that when water is scarce, you treasure it, and when this natural resource is abundant, you take it for granted. And so we arrive at the issue of our project: water waste. But what does this really mean? Students at the American Cooperative School in La Paz, Bolivia went ahead to discover this, get their hands wet, and see for themselves.

It was the second semester of what ended up being a completely virtual year for the students, yet the discovery made with this project is that if the students take ownership, they are to be transformed.

“We identified the problem, we proposed a solution, we tested it out. We designed this thing, it was ours. This motivated us.” Adrian Luzio (class of 2021)

What is the point in recognizing a problem if there is no way out? We could have been content with simply calculating how much water we wasted in our daily lives like washing dishes, brushing our teeth, taking showers, and flushing toilets.

“We wondered, did we do the math right? We double checked it. We did not expect that we wasted so much water in just one week. It was mind-blowing." Adrian Luzio (class of 2021)

Instead, the students took it a step further. Inspired by an entrepreneurial mindset, the challenge then became for the students to develop a hypothesis about how to reduce water waste and to verify if this actually made a difference.

“What was cool was how our simple solutions can have such a big impact.” Elias Abraham (class of 2024)

There is no greater joy as an educator than to recognize thrill and enthusiasm in students, and this is what I sensed, even in our Zoom atmosphere. Their solutions had worked!!

But what is the point of coming up with a solution if these are not shared with a broader community? I went ahead and surprised them, for they had outdone themselves and now it was my chance to show them as well how invested I was in their projects. I came up with names and profiles of 10 professionals who ranged from being social entrepreneurs to Non-Government Organization directors to people who dedicate themselves to promoting Sustainable Development Goals. The students voted for their top choices. These were going to be our expert panelists who would judge the impact of their solutions.

But in student centered learning, would I be the one to draft and send a formal invitation letter to the experts? Definitely not! Lucky for me, each group wrote a personalized letter explaining what they had done and inviting the expert to participate at this event. All of the experts said yes! I don’t think they would have agreed to this if I had been the one signing the letters of invitation.

"At the beginning we were nervous since we were presenting in front of experts...they were really encouraging in the end. We thought they were going to judge us but instead they shared ideas, gave us feedback, and said good things about our presentation. We felt that we can start changing our community and it does not always have to be experts making the change." Jimin Hong (class of 2022)

The presentations were a celebration of the learning that had taken place. I was proud of all the students! Usually, presentations mark the end of a project, but could this instead be the start of a more sustainable lifestyle?

“The project impacted me greatly...because now I continue to shower with a bucket and use the saved water to flush my toilet." Rodrigo de Grandchant (class of 2024)

Six months have gone by since the end of this project, yet the fruits already exist. I wonder what may come in the future; hopefully it will be a beautiful surprise for us all.

*All names/images appearing in the article have given permission.
Bernardo is a Secondary Humanities teacher at the American Cooperative School in La Paz, Bolivia and an aspiring changemaker who is interested in topics related to the SDGs, social entrepreneurship, and bringing the Agile mindset into education. He is a mentor for uprising Latin American leaders at LALA (Latin American Leadership Academy) and has done consultation work regarding pedagogy for a new school.  

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