Dina Buchbinder Auron has introduced an innovative, action-oriented education model called Deport-es para Compartir to a Mexican education system that has long struggled with passivity and rigidity. Deport-es para Compartir empowers teachers from a variety of school settings to foster social and environmental awareness while also teaching values, such as teamwork and fair play.
The New Idea
The Deport-es para Compartir (DpC) model’s emphasis on active education deems it inherently different from most forms of formal education in Mexico. On the most basic level, DpC is built upon learning through physical activity, particularly interactive games and simulations rather than traditional sports (i.e. which often bare negative associations of competition and athletic ability). The use of play and physical movement not only encourages a more active lifestyle for Mexican children, but it also makes learning more fun and increases student retention. Moreover, using games as an educational tool enables the students themselves to discover the value of intangible principles like teamwork, fair play, gender equality, tolerance, and respect. DpC is designed to promote collective action as a means to solving local problems. Rather than merely reading about social and environmental problems in their textbooks, students are encouraged to create pragmatic solutions and implement them in their schools and homes.
The content covered by DpC revolves around three main topics: The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), healthy lifestyles, and diversity. By structuring lessons around the MDGs, DpC allows children to discover how the problems that they see in their own communities, such as poverty, disease, and discrimination, are related to global problems that are similar in nature—a comparison that undoubtedly heightens their awareness of social and environmental actions. This interconnectivity applies equally to solutions as it does to problems; through DpC, students realize that the sum of local actions can have an impact that extends far beyond any individual community. Besides broadening student’s horizons through the MDGs, DpC also exposes students to external contexts through games, activities, and an exchange of homemade “treasure boxes” between different Mexican communities. This exposure allows Mexican children to experience and appreciate diversity without ever leaving their local communities.
While elite private schools often possess the sole access to Mexico’s innovative educational curricula, Dina is determined to cast a wider net and include all types of rural and urban school settings in DpC’s network, including public and private schools, as well as indigenous shelters in the most marginalized communities. DpC has a particular focus on these indigenous communities in Mexico’s poorest states, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas; Dina understands that if DpC achieves success there, it can achieve success anywhere. Not only is this the population most in need of educational resources, but it is also the most isolated from the outside world, and therefore, the most disenfranchised. By bringing DpC to these communities and linking them to other types of school settings where DpC operates, Dina and her team are empowering children, their families, and their teachers to understand that they are part of a larger ecosystem and to participate actively in solving local and global problems.
Passivity and boredom have long plagued formal schooling in Mexico. Very few teachers actively encourage student participation, while even fewer focus on creative problem solving and teamwork. The poorest, most isolated communities—which generally are predominantly indigenous—often suffer the worst problems with educational quality. A high student-to-teacher ratio, multi-grade classrooms, and the use of Spanish rather than indigenous native languages all contribute to lower scholastic achievement levels among indigenous students. According to Mexican government statistics on basic education, school absentee rates, failure rates, and desertion rates are all twice as high for indigenous versus non-indigenous student populations. Nevertheless, the problem of rigid, passive education is endemic to many Mexican schools, not just indigenous communities. Government agencies and citizen organizations (COs) have unsuccessfully attempted to implement a variety of educational programs in public schools. Students often do not find the programs, which lack mechanisms to measure impact, engaging. To some extent, the rigid structure of the Mexican education system influences broader societal attitudes, with widespread paternalism and apathy in place of active civic participation.
Many of Mexico’s marginalized communities remain disconnected from the outside world, because of their physical isolation and dwindling populations. Without reliable phone and Internet connectivity, residents of rural communities are often unaware of the connections between problems, actions, and consequences on a local, national, and global level. Having seen little beyond the village or town where they have always lived, many Mexicans have a natural distrust of unfamiliar ideas and people—including Mexicans from other parts of the diverse country. As a result, Mexico has long struggled with the question of how best to handle diversity-related issues.
In addition to being an entrenched problem in Mexican education, inactivity is now rapidly becoming a problem in Mexican’s daily lives. As in the U.S., lifestyles in Mexico have become increasingly sedentary as the economy has evolved. Combined with unhealthy diets, inactive lifestyles are contributing to a growing obesity epidemic in Mexico, where 52.2 million people—over half the population—are now overweight or obese. Since the topic of nutrition is generally not covered in schools, weight-control problems are becoming ever more noticeable in children. If children are not exposed to healthy eating habits and regular physical activity from an early age—either through their families or their schools—they risk forming life-long habits that increase their chances of obesity later in life.
Dina’s inspiration for Deport-es para Compartir comes from the United Nations Association in Canada’s program, Sport-in-a-Box. Dina, however, has taken the basic concept of using active games to teach children about the MDGs to a heightened level in Mexico. Not only has she and her team worked unceasingly to adapt the concept to Mexico’s social and cultural realities, which are very different from Canada’s, but they have also integrated new elements like including parents participation, impact measurement and diversity-based pedagogy through the DpC lessons and the inter-school exchange of “treasure boxes.” By dedicating much more time and energy to training teachers as multiplicative change agents, DpC—in its first two years in operation—also managed to scale over 10 times as quickly as the Canadian program.
Dina identifies the communities where DpC will be implemented by collaborating with two large federal agencies: The Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (SEDESOL—Ministry of Social Development) and the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de Pueblos Indígenas (CDI—National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Communities). Both SEDESOL and CDI were so impressed with early pilot results from DpC that they have partnered with Dina over the last couple of years. By leveraging SEDESOL’s and CDI’s existing networks of program offices, the DpC team is able to penetrate isolated communities quickly and efficiently. Some of the regions where DpC works are so sparsely populated that indigenous children actually live and attend school in centralized shelters during the week, then return to their parents’ villages on the weekends. These indigenous shelters are critical to DpC’s strategy of reaching the poorest students and their families.
By the end of 2010, DpC’s successful train-the-trainer model impacted 28,000 children in 16 Mexican states in just two years. Rather than deliver the DpC lessons themselves, Dina and her team gather schoolteachers and indigenous shelter directors for intensive three-day trainings during which the adults experience the same games, activities, and group reflections that they will later lead in their classrooms. The teachers have learned a strikingly similar lesson about the effectiveness of experiential learning: By participating in the DpC sessions themselves, the teachers grew sincerely invested in the program’s value and have since become her champions and change agents, with a current ratio of 400 trained teachers to just 25 DpC staff. Each teacher or shelter director is assigned a DpC liaison to offer support throughout the semester-long program as they implement it in their respective schools and shelters. The liaisons are responsible for supporting the teachers and shelter directors via phone and e-mail communication, and every semester the DpC team physically visits about half of the participating schools and shelters throughout the country. The liaison system not only supports teacher’s needs, it enables DpC to monitor program implementation and maintain quality control.
Each of the 8 DpC sessions focuses on one of the 8 MDGs: eradicating hunger and extreme poverty; achieving gender equality; reducing infant mortality; improving maternal health; fighting HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases; achieving environmental sustainability; promoting economic development; and forming an international alliance to tackle global problems. Every session consists of a physical game or activity designed to teach students about that week’s topic while bolstering values like fair play and respect, in addition to a closing group reflection asking students to synthesize what they have learned.
One of Dina’s first priorities has been impact measurement, so she has collaborated with a statistician at the prestigious Colegio de Mexico institute to design evaluations for participating students, parents, and teachers immediately before and after the program as well as six months later. The evaluations assess the children’s understanding of global social and environmental problems; their perspectives on topics like teamwork, gender equality, and their ability to impact their communities; and, their level of physical activity. Since 2008, the evaluations have consistently revealed a significant impact in all these regards on the children who have participated in DpC, particularly immediately after the program, but also six months later.
While Dina and her team will continue to grow DpC’s impact organically by training more teachers and involving children’s parents, Dina’s strategy for firmly establishing DpC nationwide in Mexico involves introducing the program into public school curricula through the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP—Department of Public Education). Having already formed alliances with SEDESOL and the CDI, Dina has a strong probability of securing the government support necessary to integrate DpC into the standard national curriculum. In terms of international expansion, Dina plans to leverage her affiliation with the Mexican branch of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, a network of COs in different countries dedicated to promoting United Nations programs, to lay the foundations for DpC chapters in other countries, beginning with Central and South America and the U.S. In addition, Dina is frequently speaking at international youth leadership conferences, where she has sparked much interest among other young leaders to replicate DpC in their home countries. While international chapters of DpC will be expected to raise their own local funds in the medium- to long-term, Dina knows that DpC’s achievements align closely with the objectives of major international and multilateral organizations like USAID, the Global Children’s Fund, the European Union, UNICEF, Ford Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, all of which she views as potential providers of seed funding for international replication.
Growing up in a Jewish family in Mexico, Dina was often labeled as “different” during childhood. It was only when she enrolled in the Colegio de la Ciudad de México, a high school with a large international student population, that she finally interacted with a diverse group of young people from different backgrounds. Her high school years represent one of the happiest periods of her life, providing her with a window into the value of diversity. Another element that greatly shaped Dina’s childhood and adolescence was sports. As a child, Dina often invented active games with her brother, and when she grew older she learned and played a wide variety of competitive sports. She continues to believe wholeheartedly in the positive influence that an active lifestyle has on the psychological and physical development of children, with whom she has always had a natural connection with, as a nanny, tutor, and camp counselor.
Despite being young, Dina has already had significant experience in developing civic participation and awareness. At university in Mexico City, she organized a highly successful electoral simulation to combat the apathy of her classmates and motivate them to participate in the electoral process. She also organized a forum to expose her classmates to various issues regarding immigration and human rights, particularly with respect to Mexico’s most disadvantaged ethnic groups. In addition to being active on political and social issues, Dina contributed to the cultural life of her university through the coordination of artistic events and the creation of an indoor soccer team.
Upon graduating from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM—Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico) with a degree in International Relations, Dina participated in a global youth leadership conference in Japan. There she met Dara Parker, a young Canadian who worked for Sport-in-a-Box under the aegis of Canada’s United Nations Association. Dina was fascinated by Dara’s descriptions of Sport-in-a-Box and decided to bring the concept of active education built on the MDGs to Mexico. She adapted the model to the Mexican context and added innovative new elements like impact evaluation and a focus on involving diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Dina identifies deeply with DpC because the program’s principles and values—physical activity, civic participation, diversity, imagination, and the importance of childhood—are also her own. Her dream is for all children to learn how to carve out their own roles to create impact in the communities where they live and, by extension, within the larger global context.