My Town, Our World: A New Virtual Exchange Initiative for Secondary Schools

How do you engage secondary school students in a dialogue around the world?

We asked ourselves this question a year ago, and our search for the answer has led to an exciting new virtual exchange initiative called My Town. The initiative engages thousands students from around the world in interactive, competitive projects, that encourage students to explore aspects of their own towns and cities while learning about towns and cities of their peers.

The pilot program, launched this week, includes student teams from eight schools. For the next eight weeks, each student group will develop a project on any subject that revolves around this simple statement: “An interesting or significant feature of my town.” The students will share their findings through the online platform, which is managed by Singapore-based organization Knowledge Platform, in the form of photos, write-ups, video recordings, and other digital media. Throughout the process, students, teachers, and mentors from around the world will collaborate with each other to help sharpen each team’s project.” All participants who successfully complete the competition, as determined by an Academic Review Committee, will receive a certification from IIE. And of course there will be a number of Team Awards. (If you are interested in participating in Phase 2, let us know.)

 The initiative was conceived by a diverse and global group of partners, including the American Community School (Athens, Greece); Bestway Education (China); Chittagong Grammar School (Chittagong, Bangladesh); Creativity, Culture, Education (UK); Institute of International Education (USA); Jerry Hultin (Chairman, Global Advisory Board at Smart City Expo World Congress); Knowledge Platform (Singapore), Quanta Culture & Education Foundation (Taiwan); and WISE/Qatar Foundation (Qatar).

The schools participating in the My Town pilot are: American Community School (Athens, Greece); The Spinney School (Cambridge, England); Chittagong Grammar School (Chittagong, Bangladesh); Junior Middle School 2 (Shanghai, China); Nancy Campbell Collegiate Institute (Stratford, Canada); Barbara Priestman Academy (Sunderland, England); BeiDa Senior High School (Taipei, Taiwan); and Nanshan High School (Taipei, Taiwan).

Student projects are already in progress and include:

  • A video journey on the positive and exciting aspects of Athens amidst the negative portrayal of Greece in media (Athens American Community School, Greece)
  • A depiction of Shanghai’s history, culture, and historical background through the city’s architecture (Junior Middle School of No. 2 High School, Shanghai, China)
  • A spotlight on and tribute to people who are repeatedly helping the community without the appreciation they deserve, such as drivers, housemaids, and construction workers. (Chittagong Grammar School, Bangladesh) 

This innovative program represents a promising new development in international exchange; its unique format can be implemented with relatively consistent outcomes regardless of a school’s curricula, level of commitment, or other diverse characteristics. The flexible design not only lends itself to scale, but also to a dialogue that is truly global. Indeed, these types of virtual exchanges may significantly expand the reach of global youth engagement, generating measurable improvements in mutual understanding, cultural sensitivity, and future cooperation.