How Students' Empathy for Others Motivates Them to Solve Challenges – Digital Promise

How Students’ Empathy for Others Motivates Them to Solve Challenges

Students sit outside in a circle. There is one student in the middle of the circle who is taking notes on a piece of paper.

September 5, 2023 | By

The Ciena Solutions Challenge is a global design challenge by Digital Promise and Ciena that invites middle and high school students to design solutions that address Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is part of a series featuring educators whose students’ projects exemplify core elements of the Challenge: creative use of technology, social purpose, student agency and leadership, and sustainability and scaling. Below are lessons on social purpose from educator Susmita Roychowdhury who facilitated the Fostering Nutrition, Good Health, and Well-Being project team at Santamayee Girls High School in Puralia, India.

Where I Teach

The Fostering Nutrition, Good Health, and Well-Being project originates from one of the most remote parts of India, where various tribal communities like the Santhal, Sabar, Munda, Kurmi, and many more, reside. Even today, many people in the community spend their lives below the poverty line, and this economic crisis affects the children of these communities in the worst way. Parents lack access to decent livelihoods, which causes the children to suffer from malnourishment from an early age. Many children often starve due to a lack of nutritious food, and this causes them to be physically fragile and mentally exhausted.

When children from communities experiencing poverty attend school, they may find themselves unable to pursue education. Even after attending school for a couple of years, most of them tend to drop out in search of livelihoods to support their families.

As an English teacher at a senior secondary institution for over 29 years, I can share a glimpse of how a group of my students worked to find viable solutions to alleviate the distress created by this dire situation and gained recognition for their efforts through the Ciena Solutions Challenge.

Creating a Project with a Social Purpose

My students’ main focus was to address the problem of widespread malnutrition and hunger among children of our community by finding easily accessible, affordable and efficient solutions.

A group of students are sitting in a circle outside. There is one student in the middle writing notes on a piece of paper.

Students at the Santamayee Girls High School in Puralia, India, plan new project activities.

The path to designing a feasible solution to this mass scale, real-life problem was not devoid of challenges. However, my students’ main motivation came from a strong sense of empathy for the children who were suffering and a passionate urge to do something to alleviate their distress. There was also a thrill of working on something new that is potent enough to create far-reaching impacts. All of those reasons helped the girls to successfully navigate their way past various setbacks and apparent dead ends to find a solution.

Two students at a busy fish market interview a merchant who stands behind his counter of fish.

Students survey merchants at the fish market.

Throughout the project, the students worked diligently to keep things moving forward. They visited nearby villages to conduct surveys, interacted with the villagers, and got to witness a life which lies in stark contrast to the city life they are so used to. It was eye-opening for them. Through their later interactions with me, I could see that the trips had left a deep imprint on their minds, furthering their desire to do something to alter the adverse situations prevailing there. They also interacted with nutritionists, professors, and others who have been working to find sustainable solutions to this issue. These experiences helped them to discover possible solutions, which culminated in advocating for ring pisciculture, or fish farming, to address the problem of malnutrition.

A Santamayee High School student sits at a desk and works with laboratory equipment at idho-Kanho-Birsha University.

With the help of professors and scholars at Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, the student team conducted experiments to learn more about the nutrients in fish and test water samples for their fish farm.

The image shows a view downward into the fish farm. The water is bordered by concrete walls and a nets above the water.

The Puralia community’s fish farm

Fostering Student Creativity and Innovation through Challenge Based Learning

As a teacher, I found this experience to be a golden opportunity to create a channel for the inner genius of my students. Every child has immense potential to create, imagine and analyze.

Unfortunately, the ability to think and reflect on a profound level necessarily doesn’t happen often in school, as many students typically participate in only routine, curriculum-based learning. Engaging my students in a Challenge Based Learning approach helped me to motivate them and nurture those aspects of their creativity that remain largely neglected otherwise.

This project helped them work on their critical thinking abilities, collaboration and organization skills, and above all, motivated them to keep going as they could witness their efforts create direct impacts on the lives of so many people. Watching them blossom as the change-makers of today and the leaders of tomorrow has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me.

Today, the world is faced with a mire of challenges, each more distressing than the other. However, as humans who have the ingenious gift of imagination and creativity, we can make a significant change for a better tomorrow. My message to all students is to look beyond your textbooks at the large world with an eye of empathy and think about how you can contribute to making the world a better place. Even little efforts made consciously can usher in a new age of development and prosperity.

Learn more on the Ciena Solutions Challenge Website

Sign Up For Updates! Email icon

Sign up for updates!