We live in an increasingly globalised world. Many of our children are growing up exposed to greater diversity than ever before - through direct contact with people around them and via the various media channels with which they interact daily.
While many inner-city schools across the UK boast more than 30 different languages spoken by their students, making daily life a rich tapestry of experience, culture, religion and language, our world, in general, seems to reflect an increasingly polarised society that's affected by ‘popularist’ messages of intolerance, suspicion and stereotyping.
As recent events worldwide have shown so clearly, it is not enough to live side by side. We need to engage compassionately with the lived experience of our fellow citizens. We need to build a future together that includes a commitment to listening to lived experiences so that we can find creative and humane solutions to the problems in the world.
Four years into its journey as a leading curriculum resource and using the simple power of human stories contained within its sophisticated and fascinating immersive storyworlds, Lyfta has been paving the way for schools to tackle complex, challenging concepts around culture and identity in a powerful and inspiring way.
Teachers can use the Lyfta platform to take children to real homes, workplaces and environments around the world that have been turned into 360-degree explorable spaces. Children can click on things they see and learn more about the places they visit. In each area, there is a person they can click on and ‘meet’, who comes to life in a short, three-to-five minute documentary.
Lyfta has worked with schools with great success to weave the immersive learning experience into their curriculum in many ways and to bring the human dimension to subject-specific learning. However, one powerful experience many are choosing is to use the platform to start the conversation with students around their attitudes and biases towards culture and identity - their own and that of others they may or may not know.
A few years ago, one teacher in a school in Essex was concerned with the rising levels of nationalism in the area and the attitudes of her students. The students at the school were all from white British heritage; they had little opportunity to experience living alongside people from diverse backgrounds or to explore the world beyond their local area.
We developed an attitudinal survey, which could be used with the students before and after their teacher used Lyfta with them to explore the world. As part of the survey, students were asked to consider six faces of people whom they would meet throughout their exploration of the platform. They were then asked the following question: “Which of these people do you feel you have the most common ground with?”
Six faces from the Lyfta platform
In the first survey, students said they felt they had most in common with persons one, four and six. These are the people that look most like them in their experience.
By the end of their time clicking around, exploring the different environments and watching a short documentary featuring each of the people in the pictures, they were asked the question about common ground again. Across the board, the students felt they had more in common with all of the people and, in particular, those that had scored lower in the first survey - persons two, three and five. Most remarkable was the shift in affinity with one particular person: person number five, a Palestinian taxi driver in his 50s, who lives in Helsinki. He became the favourite person they learned about. The children were keen to know if they might be able to meet him in real life one day.
Through this simple and powerful exercise, the teacher was able to start an important conversation with her students around difference, bias, diversity and more. She was able to provide them with an impactful and engaging experience, which will have a lasting effect. We know from research carried out by Immordino-Yang and Damasio in their 2007 study, We Feel Therefore We Learn, that when cognition and emotion come together, deep learning takes place.
If we are to change hearts and minds, we cannot simply ‘teach and tell’ students about the world or oblige them to understand the importance of human experience. Our commitment to bringing inspiring human stories to schools is intended to trigger a powerful and intrinsic motivational force in learners that will inspire them to take action to build a better world for us all. Our future is in their hands. Compassion could be the first item in their toolbox that they turn to.
First published 22 June 2020