How to imagine a better world: rich resources for teachers

How can teachers engage the next generation in big global issues they’ll all have to face in creative and inspiring ways?

This was the question that inspired Arts Beyond Borders, a set of comprehensive, free resources for secondary schools created by the University of Auckland.

Led by Dr Marta Estellés, a research fellow at the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work, the project drew together a group of scholars with a common commitment to social justice education from countries as diverse as Aotearoa New Zealand – with a particular focus on Māori and Pacific – the Philippines, Spain, Germany and Colombia.

“We were really interested in ways to engage young people that weren’t traditional and weren’t based on the idea of the rational citizen to whom you teach something and then they will immediately be good citizens and act responsibly,” says Dr Estellés.

“Instead we wanted to engage them using arts-based activites to spark ways of thinking about all these issues, beyond borders or combative divisions [of race, gender, class etc]. We tend to see the world as black and white, and that often prevents us from seeing ourselves as all just human beings.”

Colonisation, gender inequality, global citizenship from a Māori perspective, Indigenous rights and the refugee crisis are all covered as teaching units, as well as an advice section for teachers.


Dr Marta Estellés: drew a diverse range of educators together with a shared focus on social justice education.

The team is also hoping to add units on climate change and homelessness as time and resources become available.

“We're aware that all these issues generate a lot of fear,” says Dr Estellés. “They are quite scary and daunting for many teachers so we wanted to give them some strategies and arguments that make them feel a little bit more comfortable, and of course, some professional development resources as well.

Designed in a fresh and attractive way by Dr Estellés and her partner, the website also includes a selection of thought-provoking picture books that address a broad range of global issues.

Each unit comes with a clear learning focus and related activities designed to challenge assumptions and imagine what actions could lead to change for the better, says Dr Estellés.

“We need to learn we are all vulnerable so we thought that in that sense, the arts had a lot of potential to create more connections between people and to help them envisage other futures and imagine other possibilities.”

We tend to see the world as black and white, and that often prevents us from seeing ourselves as all just human beings.

Dr Marta Estellés Centre for Arts and Social Transformation, Faculty of Education and Social Work

Within any one lesson, students might expect to play interactive games, create and act in scenes, watch, discuss or create videos and images, read and discuss articles, interpret or draw artworks, dance or choreograph their own movements and read or create their own poetry.

She believes the global pandemic has highlighted both the good and bad aspects of humanity, and these resources were designed in this context.

“Covid has exposed not only the deep interconnectedness of our world, but also the pervasive global dynamics generated by social inequalities. These issues now constitute the day-to-day experiences of many young people and schools can’t ignore this reality.”

The project, which is based within the Centre for Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) within the Faculty, has already attracted overseas interest from the American Association of Teachers Colleges.

Dr Estellés' team consists of: Pasifika education expert Dr Jacoba Matapo; arts education expert Professor Peter O’Connor; PhD students Alejandra Jaramillo Aristizabal and Noah Romero; educational practitioners Holly Bodman and Alicia Poroa; and social studies education expert Dr Maria Perreau and research fellow Moema Gregorzewski.

Team members will be offering workshops through the Aotearoa Social Studies Educators' Network (ASSEN) to talk teachers through the material and answer questions.

The project was funded by the New Zealand National Commission of UNESCO and the Chartwell Trust, and is supported by Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland.


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Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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