Written by Hanna Lee
The non-profit organization, iEARN, empowers teachers and young people all over the world to work together online through the Internet and other innovative technologies. Successful businessman, Peter Copen, founded the nonprofit in 1988 when he linked 12 schools in Moscow with 12 schools in New York State. Through the New York/Moscow Schools Telecommunications Project, Copen demonstrated that education could be enhanced to improve global understanding if young people were able to use telecommunications technology to engage in collaborative projects.
Since 1988, iEARN has expanded their presence from two to 130 countries, creating a network of over 30,000 schools reaching 2 million students each day in collaborative projects worldwide. At any given time, iEARN offers around 200 ongoing projects available to teachers in their network. All of the projects‚Äô content are created by teachers to easily supplement their curriculums. Collectively, teachers come together to determine the age range, language, time frame and medium of the project.
Tina Habib started at iEARN in 2002 during the launch of a post-9/11 initiative called Building Respect through Internet Dialogue and Global Education (BRIDGE). This particular program sought to ease tensions and misconceptions after 9/11 between the Middle East and other countries throughout the world. Habib is of Egyptian descent and was drawn to the BRIDGE project‚Äôs message. She secured government funding for BRIDGE to facilitate mutual understanding between students and peers throughout the world. She started as an intern at iEARN and now holds the title of Director of Government Grant Programs. ‚ÄúOur model is respected because iEARN really is the pioneer of global education,‚ÄĚ explains Habib. ‚ÄúThe mainstreaming of technology and social media has only catapulted our cause.‚ÄĚ
Every year, iEARN hosts an annual international conference and youth summit to offer teachers and students the chance to connect participants face to face. ‚ÄúSometimes the culmination of a project takes place at the conference,‚ÄĚ says Habib. ‚ÄúThere are workshop sessions, presentations and a lot of informal collaboration among students. Some of them commit to working on a project together and meeting up next year. The whole conference is so powerful‚ÄĚ
Each project has a different language of conduct and based on the abilities and age levels of participants. One of Habib‚Äôs favorite ongoing projects is a photojournalism project called ‚ÄúA Day in the Life,‚ÄĚ where students take photos of something simple in their lives and share them with each other. ‚ÄúThe facilitating teacher will say ‚Äėon this day at this time we are all going to take a picture of our breakfast plate and share.‚Äô Then from all across the world you get to see the differences,‚ÄĚ explains Habib. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs really powerful because it‚Äôs not a photo of a monument in their city or a picture of the president, but basic life.‚ÄĚ
Recently, iEARN launched the World Youth News program where students become accredited World Youth News reporters through a self-guided course. When they graduate, the reporters explore and find stories to report on in their countries. ‚ÄúThe youth reporters upload their story in article format to the World Youth News website, where the articles are downloadable to anybody,‚ÄĚ clarifies Habib. ‚ÄúThe website will be like an Associated Press of youth from all over the globe, and you‚Äôll get to hear about these events from their perspective at the ground level.‚ÄĚ
Habib truly believes that iEARN is instrumental in changing people‚Äôs hearts and minds from all over the world by having them work closely and intimately, especially in countries that are not well represented in the media or U.S. culture. ‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôve worked on projects in collaboration with somebody, you can move beyond the prejudices you‚Äôve heard because it‚Äôs not reflected in your personal interactions,‚ÄĚ she says.
The most rewarding experience for Habib is realizing how ecstatic the iEARN youth are to recognize themselves as part of a global network. ‚ÄúI can only imagine if I‚Äôd had that kind of exposure growing up. My worldview would‚Äôve changed that much sooner,‚ÄĚ says Habib. ‚ÄúThese students have a fire in their eyes, and it‚Äôs so profound that they understand they‚Äôre apart of one sect in this huge thing called earth.‚ÄĚ
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