During reading week, the Trent Model United Nations Society (TMUNS) organized a conference for high school students.
Throughout the two days, students were able to grasp on important tools and develop skills that will enable them to succeed in their respective future careers. Model UN allows you to better understand the UN system and at the same time improve your public speaking and debating abilities.
In a nutshell, Model UN recreates the workings of the UN system. There are different committees, such as the Security Council or the United Nations Development programme (UNDP). Students are given a random country and they have to prepare their position when participating on a committee. The committee chairs set the topics to be discussed in advance so that the students can prepare.
Model UN is, above all, a way to learn how to develop informed arguments and to push them forward. It is a way of learning how to read a room and become emotionally intelligent. These are extremely necessary skills in any career.
It also allows students to place themselves in the shoes of important public officials in order to better understand their positions, their merits, and their shortcomings. Taking the point of view of another person is a very valuable skill. It is also important because embodying certain perspectives can demonstrate how different interests and circumstances influence them.
In the process, students develop important research skills since they have to build a profile and then take a stance on a topic. However, this stance will be challenged and students will have to negotiate in order to reach a consensus.
Anna Nikolaeva, a fourth year Trent student who is part of the Trent Model United Nations Society and was a chair in the conference, spoke to Arthur. She expressed that“it was very rewarding to see kids striving to learn something new. Most of them really struggled in the beginning, mainly because of the way the debate is structured in MUN, but they got into it very quickly”.
As a chair, she helped the Secretary General in the elaboration of the handbook, did research on one of the topics to put it into the background guide, and helped direct the discussion during the sessions themselves.
Nikolaeva agrees that “MUN is a very idealistic model, and some might argue MUN is a controversial activity since kids might get an impression of the “easiness” of conducting a discussion of the MUN type.
In fact, it is there to help kids understand it is important because it helps young people to understand how imperfect international law can be, and how complicated and twisted some cases might be”.
The UN system has been a locus of much criticism in the last few decades. Some would argue that it is an outdated system that perpetuates global inequalities and maintains power inequities. Others have also argued that the demise of the nation state is also undermining the capability of the UN to respond.
In any case, Model UN provides a very important experience to understand some of the current challenges. Debate and negotiation skills are highly valuable in a context where there is a wide range of competing perspectives.
Some universities have model UN courses that count as a credit for a degree. At Trent, the TMUNS not only organized this conference for local high school students but also plans to attend conferences in Montreal and New York.
At the end of the day, Model UN is a great way to engage in meaningful debate while learning valuable skills and making connections with students from other parts of the world.