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Training and Development

Can This Pope-Backed Learning Platform Bring World Peace?

A global education project supported by Pope Francis launched a social collaborative learning platform last week, as part of a series of initiatives to encourage social integration across cultural and religious boundaries.  

The launch of Scholas.social came just days after the Interreligious Match for Peace at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, where some of the world’s best football players past and present, including Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio and Ronaldhino, put in an appearance.

The game was organised by Scholas, an educational entity, launched by Pope Francis last year in Argentina, where, according to its website, “technology, arts and sports are used to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter.” Education is at the heart of this and the Pope marked the launch of Scholas.social by hosting a Google Hangout with schoolchildren from around the globe.

Pope Francis, who last month referred to the internet as “a gift from God”, is no stranger to talking about the positive and negative impacts of technology on society. His 10 tips for a happy life, given to an Argentinian newspaper in August, featured a “consumerism has brought us anxiety” quote which encouraged parents to turn off the TV. He has also spoken about how "chatting on the internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas, and using the products of technological progress” can  “distract attention away from what is really important".

Fair enough. Nothing new there for most parents who care about their kids, I guess, but the focus on the use of technology to engage school kids and provide a vehicle for cross-border (and cross-cultural) communication is an intriguing one.

The Google Hangout was, of course, live and featured children from Australia, South Africa, Israel, El Salvador and Turkey - not the most ambitious selection of locations but certainly ones with good internet connections.

So the first question from Cameron in Queensland, Australia – how will the Scholas programme help us bridge gaps between the youths of various countries today?

The Pope replied, after a bit of pontificating…

“How can Scholas advance communication and build bridges? Before responding to you, I take up this phrase that you used: ‘build bridges’. In life, you can do one of two things: either build bridges or build walls. Walls separate, divide. Bridges bring together.”

Yes… 

“Responding to your question: What can you do? Keep communicating, share your experiences, the experiences that you have. You have a lot in your hearts. You can do many things. All of this that you shared when you introduced yourself, share it so that others are inspired. And listen to what others tell you. And with this communication, no one is the superior, but everything works. This is the spontaneity of life, it is to say a 'yes' to life. To communicate is to give oneself, to communicate is generosity, to communicate is respect, to communicate is to avoid every type of discrimination. Keep going forward, kids. And I like what you told me you are doing. May God bless you.”

Nothing wrong with that. No one can argue with the sentiment but is this being a little oversold? Can a social platform aimed at school kids actually help to deliver on-going communication across borders, religions and cultures, let alone deliver world peace?

The site itself is smart. It has a good pedigree in that it’s been built by respected global software firm Globant, a company founded in Argentina and recently became the first Latin American software business to float on the New York Stock Exchange. It also has the support of Google and Argentina-based multilingual developer Line64.

There are currently 100 schools registered on the site although the Scholas organisation has over the past year amassed over 350,000 schools across the globe as part of its initial collaboration and integration network. The assumption is that many of these schools will register for the social site.

One of the biggest problems the site faces is translation. Understandably it is rooted in Spanish and while there are alternative languages (English, Italian and Portuguese) the translation is not complete as embedded documents remain in Spanish. Easily fixable of course but one of the fundamental issues facing communication is language.

Another problem is time and resource. This will vary from country to country of course but according to a UK-based teacher in charge of her school's International Primary Curriculum, the time and resources needed to engage with a site such as Sholas.social could be an issue.

"It looks like a great site and education has been crying out for something like this for quite a while but it has to be easy to use and fit within the curriculum otherwise teachers, in the UK at least, will struggle to find the time to share projects and communicate globally," said Michelle Pile, a senior teacher and head of the International Primary Curriculum at Churchfields The Village School in the county of Wiltshire in England.

"Trying to link with schools in other countries is not new but most teachers are limited as to what they can do due to the constraints of the new curriculum. Unfortunately that's the practical reality, although we would encourage, where possible, increased overseas communication if it fits within the remit of current school projects." 

Another problem is of course internet access. To connect with many remote locations would be difficult due to a lack of access and a lack of bandwidth for those that can get access. In Sierra Leone for example, the remote community of Kamakwie is crying out for international connections with schools but it struggles with poor internet connections, according to Richard Meads who works locally with the charity The Sella Community Project. Most adults use pay-as-you-go mobiles to access sites but this is not an option for local schools.

However, such an ambitious and noble plan was never going to be easy. Not every school will benefit but if the site can bring kids together to understand and tolerate often gaping religious and political differences then we can assume it is successful.

The Pope summed-up with an almost Shakespearian pep talk:

“Be not afraid. Go forward. Build bridges of peace. Play as a team and make the future better because remember that the future is in your hands. Dream of the future flying but don't forget the inheritance of culture, wisdom and religion that your elders left you. Go forward and with courage, make the future.”

That’s a powerful message but we need to sort out our global internet connections first.

 

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a freelance writer and communications consultant that has written about technology trends and issues for over 24 years for national newspapers, consumer and business magazines. He can be found on Twitter @mambjo

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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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