The EF Global Leadership Summit Mentorship Program gives high school students a chance to deepen their experience at EF Summits by gaining valuable life skills. This article was written by former Summit mentee, Annie V., when she was a rising junior.
“Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement, and it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.” – Sir Ken Robinson, EF’s 2015 Summit keynote speaker
Channeling Sir Ken Robinson, I believe that our schools today lack creative opportunities. When we are given a chance to use our creativity, it’s often forced into a time frame and evaluated by a grade. Because of this, we focus too much on finding the right answer, rather than letting our minds innovate and push academic boundaries.
On the first day of the Summit, EF facilitators gave us an introduction to design thinking using several different activities. We played a game that got us out of our comfort zones by meeting as many of the hundreds of people in attendance in the shortest amount of time possible. We also put our creativity to the test with a quick, friendly competition that required collaborating with other attendees. While I enjoyed these activities, I struggled to understand how they would help me generate new ideas.
The following day, we met with our groups and officially kicked off our design-thinking projects. The first stage revolved around talking with other students about a time in their lives when they had an “a-ha!” learning moment, and what they gained from these experiences. These conversations led to us discussing challenges we see in education today and how they could be solved. It wasn’t until we crossed this bridge that I began to see why design thinking worked so well: The process helped me to creatively and passionately generate new ideas without even realizing I was doing it.
The Summit’s design-thinking challenge did not force a right or wrong answer. Instead of adhering to a set list of instructions and trying to reach one correct answer, it gave us the opportunity to talk out a variety of ideas and thoroughly discuss why they may or may not work. It also allowed for us to feel comfortable with failure, while seeking the best possible solution.
In the end, my group’s final project stemmed from Victoria, a high school student at the Summit. She wanted to learn different languages on her own time—in addition to the one language she was already learning in the classroom—but her school did not provide any individual foreign language books or software. Even though our thoughts varied, we could all relate to one of our academic interests not being fully represented within our schools. In Europe we had come into contact with several different languages—Spanish, French, and German, for instance—so firsthand, we all saw the value in being able to learn not just one, but several foreign languages. We all connected with this, and started sharing and discussing new ways students could not only access foreign language learning materials, but be encouraged to use them on a daily basis as well.
I’ll be honest—I’m proud of the grades I receive on school projects, but rarely do I feel passionate about them.
The Summit was a completely different ball game. Rather than being given an abstract prompt such as “change the future of education,” the design-thinking process enabled us to talk about educational challenges from brand-new, personal perspectives. For once, our critical thinking was driven by our own interests and passions. We were empowered to act on our ideas, and success wasn’t about being right, but having the confidence to recognize a problem and creatively seek a solution.
About Global Leadership Summits
These extraordinary events combine educational tours with a three-day leadership conference—both centered around significant global issues. Past student attendees have learned from experts such as Jane Goodall and Sir Ken Robinson, and teamed up with other travelers to design and present their own solutions to the global challenge. Upcoming Summits will tackle the Impact of Sports & Wellness and the importance of Creating a Sustainable Future.
Editor’s note (2022): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.