“Sky School helps young people who are displaced to become agents for positive change wherever and with whomever their sphere of influence can reach.” ~ Louie Barnett, Course Leader for Sky School’s Peace-Building Course
Sky School’s curriculum development work relies on dedicated Course Leaders - educational changemakers who lead the development and refining of Sky School courses, ensuring that all learning is aligned to and reflects the Sky School learning model. Louie Barnett has been working with us since May 2018, as Course Leader of our Peace-building Course. In this article, we talk to Louie about why he became involved in Sky School and what it’s led to!
Louie entered the teaching profession in the United Kingdom through the Teach First Leadership Development Programme. The organisation’s mission to address educational disadvantage in the UK helped him see how much impact education has on the life chances of young people. His original plan was to stay teaching in the UK in order to reach senior leadership as soon as possible, until one day he saw a job posting at the UWCSEA (United World College of South East Asia). The attraction of the school’s mission, the chance to see more of the world and obtain a more global perspective was an opportunity too good to miss, and it was this decision that catapulted his life in a drastically different direction than that he originally envisioned.
Louie was hired to teach chemistry at UWCSEA’s East campus, and here he became involved in their Initiative for Peace (IFP) course, which involves UWCSEA students planning and delivering a conference in areas of conflict. At one of the most recent conferences, the students worked with refugees and internally displaced people living in Myanmar, with the conference being facilitated at the Thai/Myanmar border. Once students complete the course, they can conduct conferences independent of the school itself, harnessing the approach and philosophy of the IFP course and continuing on as peace makers and international collaborators in their own right.
It is Louie’s Teach First background and peace building work through IFP that led him to get involved with Sky School as Course Leader of the Peace-Building Course. For him, the driving catalyst in his work and refugee advocacy is all about his passion for peace education, and the foundational belief that everyone deserves equal access to education itself. Sky School is a way of ensuring a specific group of learners receive exactly that. As he put it, “Peace-building is part of the solution. Refugees can and should be part of the solution, beginning a new cycle that begins with peace. [This course is about] helping refugees become those who can break that cycle of violence.”
In June 2018, Sky School, with the assistance of Louie and his colleague Ellie Alchin, hosted a “curriculum hackathon” to inspire and create the Peace-Building course curriculum. A diverse group of refugee and peace educators came together in Singapore for several days to lay the foundation for what would become the official course curriculum. Louie’s work as course leader has involved refining the course developed through the hackathon before Sky School launched it, as well as working with Sky School and its partner organisations who have been running the course to gain feedback on the course content and alter and refine it further as necessary. So far, Sky School and its partners have delivered the Peace-Building course in Lebanon, Greece, Hong Kong, and Kenya. A participant in the hackathon thought Sky School might also be an option in Cox’s Bazaar, a refugee camp in Bangladesh where many Rohingya people are living since fleeing Myanmar.
Louie traveled to the camp during school break in October and the stars aligned. This was his first time in a refugee camp, and he left after several days with many invaluable insights that will guide his future work as a peace educator and ultimately led him to strongly recommend Sky School to deliver its curriculum to the potential participants living there. Louie was moved by the remarkable people he met, and raved about the potential course teachers and students he befriended. There was a group of people already operating in the camp calling themselves “The Peace Builders” who made it their mission to connect people to the resources they needed, hence they are ready and waiting to take Sky School on and further the mission for which the groundwork has already been laid.
The tremendous positive impression that the experience left on Louie has increased his passion for the work he achieves as a peace educator and where he hopes to see Sky School go. “Refugees are amazing human beings. They are resilient and have a thirst for life. They want to live, to grow, to prosper, to live in harmony. [Working with them] has forced me to think more intentionally about what we offer in our courses. We don't do activities for the sake of it. We do them with intention.”
In terms of Sky School’s imaginable future, Louie sees an endless expanse of opportunity and purpose. “I see us constantly reflecting as a self-transforming organisation who continues to conduct action research, look for evidence of impact and search for evidence-based strategies that can make a positive impact in the education of refugees and internally displaced people. I would also see organisations (such as governments and schools) getting in touch with Sky School in order to see how they can implement the model and curriculum in their own contexts.”
To put it simply, for Sky School, the sky’s the limit.
You can see Louie talking about the Sky School Peace-building course here.