A celebration of the self-made women changing the world | Alex Nunez

Back-to-school season is another reminder that young people are increasingly global citizens. These days students are truly whizzes with mobile phones and laptops, even if they don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to keep up with all the trending cultural events and individuals.

The same has been true in schools across the world, and with that development means a tremendous need for educators to create a culturally diverse learning environment where students can demonstrate what it means to have the confidence and the ability to work with and around other people.

All too often, teachers learn a lot from the experiences of peers and individuals. Every year at the UK’s Digital World School: Cultivating the New 21st Century, we see examples of how mentors can provide guidance and inspiration in skills such as flexibility, ingenuity, empathy and collaboration. Students talk of students who inspire them in this area and the connections they forge in their field.

Teachers need to involve their students in field trips.

Teachers need to involve their students in field trips. Our location, in Kingston-upon-Thames in south-west London, is close to international flights and other opportunities to further their education. We host a lot of people, including some who are at the top of their game. Some who go on to create and write a book or film. Some who go on to break news or break a record. All have a great example of what it means to make something of themselves.

Some of the lessons have been even more profound than I would have been able to provide if I had been taken to the United States and taught some of the things I am doing now. One student shared to me the words of Maya Angelou when she wrote that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. To me, it sums up the spirit of the Year Zero Pioneers.

I have also been fortunate to work with and benefit from the amazing achievements of both female and male people who I now know are leaders in their fields and who have gone on to make a real difference to society.

It is interesting that in terms of women:

• They talk about the feeling of uncertainty and a sense of making mistakes, about feeling like they need to be perfect in a world where society has got so tuned in to perfection.

• They are constantly looking over their shoulders, they are very suspicious of younger generations because it can feel like society has made the difference between your success and failure all too easily.

• They talk about feeling like a burden to their family and a burden to their communities – yet they still reach for the stars.

• If they do not feel that they are being heard or seen, they create their own environment, networks and venues. Sometimes people can be critical of this. That can feel very personal, people see that as being a sort of vigilante thing.

Being a pioneer is not easy. You need to be brave, you need to have some risk in what you’re doing. You’re just trying to prove that I’m different, I’m better than everyone else, I’m better than the kids in the corridor – at school and at work. I’m better than everything else!

My own story, in some respects, is the same as many other young women at the top of their fields: I came from a fishing village in northern Ireland called Derry, and I didn’t quite have the confidence, drive or tenacity to stand on the edge of the queue to stand in the line and fight for my place at the top. I am so grateful for the support of everyone who has tried to help me to get there.

As part of this year’s legacy of the Year Zero Pioneers we are running two “get curious” programmes.

One, Out Summer, uses a quick phone survey to see how young people are doing with digital literacy.

The other is a project called “The YouTube Factory”, an interactive digital video lab. These pilot sessions are run in schools and take place online and involve fun projects where students learn from real people – the Harry Potter production team, for example. We’re trying to balance challenging and exciting experiences so students don’t find themselves overwhelmed and they come away feeling inspired to think more deeply about how the media affects them and how to integrate them into their school work.

Leave a Comment