Here at LEAF Academy, we have designed a ‘Central European Studies’ (CES) programme that synthesises the objective of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS). It is a product of multiple brainstorming sessions, discussions and iteration of the past years where we outlined what we hope our graduates, as potential future leaders of Central Europe, should be able to accomplish in their time at and after the academy.
For simplicity, let’s focus on just one aspect of our curriculum: understanding human experience and behaviour, and look at an example of how students might experience it at LEAF Academy.
We believe that in order to become good leaders in central Europe, our graduates need to be able to make sound judgments and decisions. In order to make them, our student leaders should have access to the right information, and should be able to process it analytically. That is where understanding of humans – both individuals and societies— becomes key.
Connections across Central Europe
The modules in our CES programme will look at particular themes such as ‘How does revolutionary change happen’, ‘What responsibility do I have as a citizen’ or ‘How does the environment affect our lives’ and use various traditional academic disciplines to study their connections. An example of this module focuses on studying the 1989 revolutions.
There are some standard historical questions that students will be asked to contemplate. For example, “did the regime change because of popular protests or because the regime was breaking from within in 1989?” Our advantage as a Central European school will be our opportunity to draw upon a wide variety from examples that transcend national boundaries.
Afterwards, we will turn to other questions which are partially historical, but that also teach us something about us as humans and human societies.
Researching communities at home
We will try to understand why various people protested, and what they expected from the regime change; what they dreamt of and what they feared. To get an answer, students will get an assignment to talk with their parents, neighbours, former teachers, or with any willing citizen in the community that they come from.
After they have finished the assignment, we will explore the range of motivations and expectations people had in 1989. We will try to understand how the answer may differ based on different life situations.
For example, university-educated people will probably answer differently than those with vocational degree, while people who lived in large cities will probably answer differently than people who lived in the countryside.
Drawing ideas from multiple disciplines and applying to current affairs
Sociology and political sciences will provide us some theoretical frameworks, and we will discuss how those frameworks could help our students better understand 1989. If we find some concepts particularly useful, we have a flexible curriculum and will digress to use those concepts to discuss what has been happening in recent elections.
At the same time, students might receive an assignment in literature to read a Central European book from the 1970s or 1980s in order to see how the politics and social changes were reflected in literature of the particular period.
As a result of such learning, we believe that students will understand people better, and therefore, become better leaders in the future.
Making student work public
At the end of a particular module, the students should make the majority of work public.
In some cases, that may mean that students might organize a travelling exhibition of their work. In other cases, they will design and launch a simple online website where they exhibit results of their research and its analysis. The capability to use digital technology and to make solid design choices is as important to our CES course as its academic content.
The presentation of students work will go beyond the passive presentation on the internet. Students should be able to reach out to media in their countries to share interesting conclusions of their work.
Leading students to maturity and independence
At the beginning of students’ time at LEAF Academy, assignments will be primarily driven by our teachers.
As their time at LEAF Academy progresses, students should be able to come up with specific ideas for inquiry, analysis, and presentation. The independence and responsibility that students get is a key to their growth to potential leaders in our region. Not only is the CES programme fun, but it also motivates students to become self-driven learners.
History and Central European seminar teacher, responsible for the curriculum of humanities, arts and social sciences