Model United Nations
Rigorous debate, in-depth research, decorum, and a willingness to listen, all characterise students’ experiences when they take part in Model United Nations events. Winter’s finds out more…
Among the enormous array of extra-curricular activities on offer at international schools, you’ll often see Model United Nations, but what exactly is it? Model United Nations, or MUN, was started nearly 100 years ago. In its earliest form it was a series of student-led Model League of Nations simulations. When the League was succeeded by the United Nations in 1945, the Model versions changed as well. The first MUN conference was held in the 1950s, and since then the activity has been used by more and more schools around the world as a way of opening students’ eyes to global issues.
"...delegates develop a sense of true international cooperation..."
The object of MUN simulations within schools, or competitions involving several schools, is to seek resolutions to global problems, through discussion, negotiation and debate. Questions about human rights, the environment, economic development, disarmament, refugees, and war and peace are all addressed. In seeking solutions to these problems, the young delegates can learn to break away from narrow, national self-interest, and develop a sense of true international cooperation.
Students represent different countries and try to inhabit that nation’s point of view and priorities. They are expected to dress appropriately for high-level talks, and the debates are run with strict procedures. It could be said that MUN builds on the tradition of straightforward debating competitions, and then incorporates greater elements of teamwork, compromise and cooperation.
Leadership and compromise
At the International School of Tanganyika, MUN has been overseen by teacher Anja Maro for nearly ten years. She says, “MUN at IST is a fully student-led activity, which includes about 50 high school students and 20-30 middle school ones. Our high school student leaders work on promoting MUN in other schools around Dar es Salaam, providing workshops and guidance for setting up and successfully managing the MUN program, and in 2010 we started our own local inter-school MUN conference, Dar Model United Nations conference (DARMUN) which runs every year.”
"…International schools lend themselves well to MUN…"
The research and preparation required, and the adoption of views and attitudes other than their own, combine to give young people involved in MUN a deep insight into the world's problems. Naturally, international schools, with their diverse populations, lend themselves very well to the idea of MUN. “The very nature of international schools promotes open-mindedness and constant awareness of national and cultural differences,” says Anja. “Students have often had first-hand experience of various regions of the world, and are quite used to differences and debating those different points of view.”
Saúl Castro, who works with students at Stockholm International School’s MUN, agrees: “There’s a great advantage in having students and staff from different parts of the world in our MUN. It creates a truly realistic international scenario and everybody has a great deal to offer culturally. It can feel just like a mini United Nations,” he says.
The programme also supports the International Baccalaureate approach, as Saúl explains: “The IB mission is designed as an education which develops the intellectual and emotional skills of students who will be living and working in a globalised world, a world that we firmly believe should be one of ‘peace and progress’. In this sense, the MUN is a perfect complement to our central school philosophy, too.”
Developing new skills
What is most satisfying, says Saúl, is seeing the students at Stockholm International School expressing ideas in the arena of international relations and politics with so much fluency and confidence. A whole range of skills is sharpened, from research to public speaking. Anja agrees: “MUN helps students develop their research skills and awareness of current affairs; they become more efficient and wiser internet users, and it encourages them to develop their writing and speaking skills, particularly self-expression and higher-order critical thinking during debating. It can help students who are shy to find their voice and gain confidence in public speaking; and it helps them to develop a professional demeanour in a debating environment with strict rules.”
"…students develop self-expression and higher-order critical thinking…"
The MUN conferences which take place all over the world every year, provide opportunities for students to travel and to meet young people from other schools in other countries. Some of these international connections made during conferences can last for many years, says Anja.
MUN may only be a model of the work done between nations to overcome the world’s problems, but the skills and relationships it develops could play an important part in preparing today’s students for the real challenges of the future.
Case Study 1
Aahil, a member of the International School of Tanganyika MUN for five years
Model United Nations at the International School of Tanganyika is an exciting opportunity to develop many skills. Through attending various international conferences, such as The Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) and Amman Model United Nations (AMMUN), our students not only gain experience of how the United Nations operates, but also have the opportunity to interact with students from across the globe, making connections and friends that will last a lifetime. We also host our own DARMUN conference every April, involving both local and international schools from across Dar es Salaam, and are looking at expanding into the East Africa region with the aim of extending the reach of MUN.
Personally, I believe that being a part of IST MUN has changed me for the better. I have been able to debate as a delegate and climb all the way to being the Deputy President of a commission, and each experience is better than the previous one, giving me something new to learn every time. I was a relatively shy person, however after joining MUN, I feel that I could improvise a speech in front of 150-200 people and still be happy about what I said, and I am sure most of the students who participate in our program feel the same way.
Case Study 2
Isabella, student at Stockholm International School
As the president of the International Court of Justice, I’ve found SISMUN 2016 to be one of the most rewarding conferences I have been a part of so far. Model United Nations promotes future peacekeeping and encourages students to come up with solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues. Participants develop essential skills including cooperation, organisation, public speaking and critical thinking. The heated debates involving contradictory perspectives are what I personally find the most rewarding aspect of the conferences. Education, entertainment and enlightenment were the essence of this year’s SISMUN conference.