Modeling 21st Century Skills at Model U.N.

On April 29th, the Department of State hosted 21 middle and high schools from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for the Global Classrooms DC Model United Nations (MUN) conference.  Global Classrooms is an educational program that targets traditionally underserved public schools and aims to foster the skills required for global citizenship. On this day, approximately 700 students participated in debates as country delegates to various U.N. committees. These student delegates researched and developed positions for their assigned countries before coming to the event, where they demonstrated their critical thinking, public speaking, collaborative problem-solving, and leadership skills, and applied them to global issues in a realistic environment.


At this year’s conference, students tackled four major issues: access to primary education, human trafficking, access to clean water, and the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Department of Education staff members from the International Affairs Office and the Office of Postsecondary Education served as Policy Advisors to the roughly 150 students debating how best to tackle the issue of access to primary education.  The topic is particularly timely: despite concerted international efforts to achieve universal primary education by the end of 2015, 57 million children worldwide are still not in school.

When preparing for the conference, students were asked to consider why access to primary education is so important, what the main obstacles are, and what progress has been made thus far. In their research, students learned that some countries do not deem access to education a high priority and that sometimes the cost of simply travelling to and from school is prohibitive to families. Additionally, safe passage is not always guaranteed – especially for children in war-torn countries. They also considered gender discrimination and the needs of girls and young women, particularly with regard to safety and security, early marriage, and pregnancy.

These dedicated young people took their involvement in MUN extremely seriously. In playing the role of their assigned country with all its development challenges and opportunities, they broached issues that their professional counterparts also face. Topics included measures to combat child labor, use of cell phone technology in classroom instruction, building infrastructure and how to pay for it all. The young delegates worked diligently to bring other members to consensus on a range of working papers.  Their astute questions and on-the-spot responses were impressive.

In the end, though, youthful exuberance won out as participants rushed the stage to accept their awards and have their team’s picture taken in the State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium. Prizes were awarded for best position paper and best delegation, as well as the Secretary-General’s Award for best team overall. The young delegates tackled tough issues and displayed flexibility, creativity and open-mindedness along the way, all skills necessary for success in the 21st century. The long hours of preparation and hard work they put in have put them squarely on the path to becoming first-class global citizens.

Adriana de Kanter is a senior International Affairs specialist and Rebecca Miller is an International Affairs specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.