Terry Godwaldt was once a high school teacher who wanted to use technology to connect his students to issues and people around the world. Trouble was, nobody in the field would answer his emails. So he did what anyone would do: Make up an organization (complete with website and letterhead) and declare himself executive director. “All of a sudden, people responded,” Terry says with a laugh. Since then, he’s turned the Edmonton-based Centre for Global Education (TCGE) into one of the world’s largest providers of real-time learning opportunities.
Formed in 2006, TCGE has connected more than 150,000 students from over 400 schools in 30 different countries, using the internet to bring them face-to-face with the people and places they’re learning about. “So if we’re going to learn about child soldiers, we’re going to go to Africa and actually talk to child soldiers,” Terry says. “We believe that we don’t have to learn about someone when we can learn with someone.”
Everything the organization does runs through schools, and much is tied to existing curriculum. While learning about climate change, for instance, TCGE actually sent a group of 20 kids to one of the United Nations conferences on the subject. They also sent 12 kids, from 8 different countries, to a UNESCO world forum. Everyone else, meanwhile, follows along back at their local school, using social media and other online tools.
Terry believes strongly that public engagement needs to extend to children — because if it doesn’t, how can we expect them to become engaged adults later on? “Kids don’t all of a sudden become citizens when they turn 18 and vote,” he says. “We wonder why we don’t have that youth engagement. Well, it’s because we haven’t been actively engaged in citizenship formation from a young age.” He’s doing his part to get the next generation ready to go.