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Let’s talk about the world

7.30am: Work begins

1pm: Quick bite for lunch

1.15pm: Rush for Skype conference

4pm: Research work at the library

9.30pm: Home at last (but it’s going to be an early day tomorrow)

Student delegates during the MUN proceedings at Calcutta International School on Saturday. Pictures by Sayantan Ghosh

This is not a page from a corporate high-flier’s personal organiser, but the daily routine of a bunch of Calcutta International School (CIS) students for the past few days.

It all started six months ago when the school decided to host a Model United Nations (MUN) meet, being held this weekend in association with The Telegraph. Preparations gathered steam in September this year and what followed was two-and-a-half months of hectic planning and in-depth research.

Besides preparing themselves for the sessions, which included putting together a 30-page Study Guide, the students had to do everything from approaching sponsors to coordinating with caterers for food and from inviting guests to testing mics.

“Partnering with Indian International Model United Nations will enable us to learn how to organise such conferences,” said Satyajit Banerjee, the director of CIS.

Model UN conferences — a simulation of the proceedings at the UN — have become an annual event in several city schools. St. Xavier’s Collegiate School hosted its first model UN session this year while Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan had it second year in a row. Calcutta Boys’ School had its first Assembly of Nations in 2011 and another one this August. St. Thomas’ Boys’ School too hosted a MUN this year.

“It has gone viral and has become more of a trend in public speaking. Honestly I had dismissed it when the boys approached me and was sceptical even when we decided to go ahead with it. But the students excelled in a venture which was of the students, by the students and for the students,” said Andrew Singh, the teacher in charge of the MUN at St. Xavier’s.

The trend, said Modern High School for Girls director Devi Kar, has to do with “the world becoming a global village”.

The La Martiniere Schools were the first in the city to have a MUN. The La Martiniere boys had their first taste of “MUNing” at The Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai, which has been hosting MUNs for 17 years.

“Our boys were the first ones from eastern India to participate (in the Mumbai MUN) in 2008 and also the first to organise a Model United Nations in Calcutta,” said Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys.

The La Martiniere boys and girls have been taking turns at the management of the annual affair since 2009.

Modern High School for Girls joined the club a year later with an intra-school event, followed by an inter-school one the next year and a model Parliament in 2012.

We are the world

Amita Prasad, the senior school coordinator at Modern High School for Girls, has her inbox flooded with invitations from across the country. “A conservative figure would be one or two invitations a month. But it’s not possible to send our girls for each one… we send them to two every year. ”

City students have also travelled abroad to attend MUNs. Six girls from CIS were part of a UN conference presided over by UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon in New York earlier this year. They joined around 600 students from around the world — Argentina, Bermuda, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Japan, Mexico, Spain, the UK and more than 30 other countries.

La Martiniere boys and girls attended the Harvard Model United Nations 2013 in China while a team from LMG visited the UN office in Geneva. “Inspired by our trip we have decided to have the Human Rights Council committee at our next MUN,” said Sneha Ganguly, Class IX. “Our guide in Geneva told us that there are two kinds of seating arrangements depending on the working language. If English is the working language then it’s in the English alphabetical order and if French then it’s in that order.”

“It’s exciting to be called to various countries,” said MHS director Kar, adding that it gave students a lot of exposure.

Lessons for all

In a Class XI history class at Modern High School for Girls, the teacher asked the girls to take over as peer educators to discuss the problems of Partition. Only a few months earlier, the girls had had to research on the topic for an MUN.

Teachers feel preparing for and participating in MUN encourages students to go beyond the textbook and gives them an edge in class.

“For the Model United Nations the students have to submit position papers that involve extensive research. In one class, the girls spoke about the Kashmir issue where their contribution was way beyond the text,” said Prasad, history teacher at MHS.

The ability to sieve relevant details from a huge pool of data is also intrinsic to MUN preparations. “A lot of information is available online but the girls learn to analyse and verify that data,” said Lorraine Mirza, the principal of La Martiniere for Girls, adding that it also fosters public-speaking skills as students learn to use their persuasive and argumentative powers”.

The LMB principal agrees. “The students transform their research into presentable passages. Not just that, they know how to hold their own and how not to give in,” Chakravarthi said.

Mohona Chaudhuri, a Class XI student at La Martiniere for Girls, says it’s all about “lobbying right”. “Everything depends on how well you can garner support and how to sustain through the three days.”

Prasad, however, warned against too much aggression. “In the real United Nations, there is a lot of diplomacy. The students should participate in parliamentary debate without getting aggressive. This is something we have to guard against.”

Some teachers point out that MUNs can be a “debater’s graveyard”! “Debaters usually speak for three or four minutes and a minute of rebuttal. But in MUN, one will be constantly interrupted and shouted down. One has to know to be calm and hold one’s own,” said Singh of St. Xavier’s.

If MUN regulars are “empowered”, learn to “think on their feet” and “develop reading and comprehension skills”, the lessons don’t end there.

Rohini Roy of La Martiniere for Girls, remembers going out for dinner after her first MUN experience and “scanning the prices on the menu to calculate how many people it could feed in Somalia”.

Management pros

Multi-tasking is the name of the game, as Sidhartha Dey, a student of A level at CIS, learnt. “Though it’s hardly 500 people I am beginning to understand what it means to run a school,” he exclaimed.

“On Thursday I went to school at 7.30am and came back at 9.30 at night. We had to even skip lunch,” said Shagun Khandelwal, an A-level student and a member of the organising committee for the MUN at CIS. “Everything seemed to be happening at the last minute but we managed it,” chipped in Srija Bhaduri, an IB student.

Diversity the mantra

Drugs to space power, environment to cyber terrorism, human trafficking and the use of children in armed conflict — the topics are diverse and the discussions lively at model UN sessions.

Part of the agenda at CIS is “health and food security in Africa”. The students have been poring over reams of UN and WHO reports and reading up encyclopaedias. “We discussed about the various facets of the problems such as HIV or lack of hospitals,” said Arani Acharya of CIS.

But teachers are also wary of some of the issues being discussed. “There are some issues that add to the fun quotient but are not relevant to UN at all. If that continues, it will lose legitimacy,” said Chakravarthi. “The outdoing should be in terms of quality of debate, not socials or extravagant dinners that could send budgets soaring.”

Raja McGee, the principal of Calcutta Boys’, discouraged the spurt in “negativity”. “The trend is walking towards negativity… issues such as al Qaida, which is not a very positive thing.”

Teachers at MHS are particular about calling the events Model, and not mock, UN or Parliament. “The word ‘mock’ carries a sense of mockery or a spoof. But we are talking about a model situation and it should be as close to the model UN sessions,” said Prasad.

The argumentative young indian

When heads get together there are bound to be a few sparks. Indian International Model United Nations (IIMUN) presented by Calcutta International School, in association with The Telegraph, saw more than 300 students from around 20 schools and colleges from
across the country debate and discuss topics as diverse as death penalty to European football

Model lesson

A brainchild of Rishabh Shah from Mumbai, who recently completed a course in chartered accountancy, IIMUN has been conducting sessions with students across the country. Shah was inspired to start IIMUN after attending similar sessions at Harvard and Yale. “So we went to the UN headquarters and collected the entire procedure for ourselves,” he said

Talking heads

The participants were split into 12 committees. Unlike some MUNs where the groups represent actual General Assembly committees, the CIS meet includes several innovative ones
• Paradise Lost deals with the fate of humanity. Members debate over the ideal punishment for Lucifer
• UEFA committee ponders over the necessity of financial fair play in cash-strapped Europe
• Hindustan 1947 has students role-playing as Indian National Congress and Indian Muslim League leaders who analyse the future of India post-Independence
• SOCHUM argues for and against death penalty and honour killings

I am not very good at public speaking but MUNs have helped me open up. And everyone here is very friendly, smart and intelligent.
That helps!

Pooja Roy, A level, CIS

I am the president of the Mock UN Society in school and it is needless to say that I love everything about MUNs. The level of debate here is super high and I am having an awesome time in Calcutta. I’m a part of the Security Council committee and we are discussing an Indo-Pak war and the South China crisis.

Sayuj Dhandhania, Class XII, The Doon School

This is my first MUN outside school and I am super excited. MUNs are a great learning experience as we go online and research rather than just Facebooking.

I personally got to know a lot about the UN and how it works. And since I am a part of the Hindustan 1947 committee, I learnt a lot about the Partition.

Sneha Ganguly, Class IX, La Martiniere for Girls

Text by Trina Chaudhuri & Samabrita Sen