Fever, chills, headache, sweats, fatigue, nausea, vomiting. To most people, this collection of symptoms sounds like the flu. And yet for the 3.2 billion people at risk, this could also mean a much deadlier diagnosis: malaria. For this reason, among many others, malaria is one of the most difficult subjects to address in terms of public health crises. Most people in malaria affected areas expect to wind up with the disease at some point in their lives. Additionally, many of the solutions posed to rural communities for fighting the disease have been short-sighted, unsustainable, and ridden with financial challenges. As we educate the next generation of new global citizens, how do we guide our students to seek out and support sustainable, innovative solutions malaria and other public health crises?
A Brief History of Malaria Solutions
Many are not aware that malaria was once a major threat in the swamp-ridden, southeast United States. In a land that is humid and warm for over half of the year, mosquitoes carrying malaria posed a major threat to the average American. The United States was able to eradicate malaria through a comprehensive pesticide program centered around now-infamous DDT. Talk about an unsustainable solution!
Now, Malaria is found in far fewer places in the world, with its primary area of impact on the African continent. Solutions offered thus far focus on three primary methods of prevention: systematic indoor pesticide treatments, anti-malarial medications and insecticide-treated bed nets. Unfortunately, none of these solutions are without their challenges. Pesticide treatments (like DDT) often have unwanted environmental or health challenges. Anti-malarial medications can be poor in quality in unregulated countries, and in many cases, counterfeit medications are passed off as the real thing. Finally, bed nets have become more widely used as fishing nets to alleviate the more pressing challenge of hunger rather than used as intended to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Clearly, the lack of economic development in many countries can be one of the greatest factors affecting malaria eradication. Solutions must be cost-effective, require a low level of education for the average participant, last long-term, and include an innovative public health campaign element to educate through print and non-print media. Solutions developed so far have reduced the rate of infection and death, but have not eradicated malaria. This is where our students come in.
Teaching Innovation and Sustainability
In an education system that focuses more and more on standardized testing and student compliance, we have a commitment as educators and as citizens of the world to prepare our future leaders to tackle this kind of challenge. With that being said, teaching innovation and sustainability requires a very different pedagogical style than the drill and kill approach of multiple choice testing. In order to defeat global challenges like malaria, we must invest in the future of our students’ educational experience. So, how do we teach innovation and sustainability? We recommend these 5 tips for teachers to focus on:
- Encourage students to question the process. In order for students to question the existing solutions to complex problems (and therefore develop better ones), they must first feel comfortable questioning processes in the classroom. Questions in the classroom should not be seen as a lack of compliance, but as a quest for understanding–encourage them!
- Teach and brainstorm with the end in mind. Encourage students to use systems-thinking practices such as effects chains, mind maps, and flowcharts. By mapping out all possible outcomes of a potential solution, students are more likely to find the flaws in their thinking.
- Think like a collaborator, not like a problem-solver. This may seem counter-intuitive, but no one should walk into a community with solutions in hand. Sustainable problem-solving requires collaboration across areas of expertise, cultural affiliations, political stances, and much more. Students must learn to think like collaborators in order to create the best possible solutions to global challenges.
- Always ask a local. Connected to tip #3, solutions are most often unsustainable when they don’t take into account the daily experience of those living with the challenge. Students should get in the habit of collaborating with those closest to the issues and taking their ideas, solutions, and lives into account.
- Research the Solutions You Support! It’s possible that you will at some point stumble upon a really great solution being carried out by an existing organization. If this is the case, you should support their work–after asking a few questions. When they support a global solution, students should always ask about the sustainability of the organization’s financial model, implementation model, and more.
For more thoughts on how to teach innovation and sustainability, join us this Thursday, April 23 at 5PST for #globaledchat. For more information on malaria, join the conversation on Twitter by following @WorldMalariaDay2015.