This past weekend, 18 pupils from ten secondary schools in four countries gathered online for the inaugural Online Model Arctic Council (OMAC). OMAC is the latest Polar Aspect educational initiative, designed to engage pupils anywhere in the world in a process of experiential learning about the Arctic through an online version of the Model Arctic Council (MAC) programmes that I run in person for schools and universities. As a complement to my in-person MACs, OMAC allows youth to take part in MAC even if they’re unable to travel, whether because of time pressures, expense or health measures such as we’ve seen during the Covid-19 pandemic.
OMAC 1 was a two-day conference, spanning about four hours each on the Saturday and Sunday. Pupils playing the roles of diplomats from Arctic states and Indigenous peoples’ organisations took up the challenge of negotiating a political declaration on the issue of Arctic permafrost thaw. As at the real Arctic Council, delegates had to make all their decisions by consensus, which stretched and challenged their interpersonal skills and their ability to forge agreement despite their differing views.
Delegates rose to the challenge wonderfully well, and indeed this particular group represented some of the best prepared and most serious group of delegates I’ve guided through a MAC simulation. They and their teachers should be proud. Delegates also benefitted from reflection sessions with me and with our OMAC Honorary Chair, Mr Tony Penikett OC, a former Premier of Yukon Territory in northern Canada, and an internationally respected Arctic expert, negotiator and author. I’m most grateful to Tony for volunteering his time and advice to the pupils taking part in OMAC.
OMAC 1 wasn’t all work and no play, though! Whilst it wasn’t possible to gather together for dinners as we do at my in-person MACs, delegates still enjoyed a social event after the first day of diplomatic meetings. In what is fast becoming a Polar Aspect MAC tradition, they pitted their wits against one another in an online ‘Arctic pub quiz’.
OMAC delegates seem to have found their experience enjoyable, stimulating and inspiring. Their feedback was extremely positive and encouraging, including comments such as:
- ‘I didn’t think a conference could be this good online’
- ‘It was a great experience! The Secretariat and Director were brilliant and kept the conference running smoothly’
- ‘I learned a great deal and I improved my oral speaking, negotiating and writing skills!’
- ‘I loved the opportunity to participate online because there is nowhere in a 400 km radius of my hometown that would allow me the chance to engage in a diplomacy conference of any manner‘
- ‘This initial experience has inspired me to consider diplomacy as a potential career path! Thank you so much!’
- ‘A special thanks to all who organised this conference, it was a pleasure :)’
OMAC is the only online MAC in the world for secondary schools. It follows the first-ever OMAC delegate training round, which took place in November 2020. Together, OMAC conferences and OMAC delegate training offer secondary-school pupils an innovative, fun and inspiring way to explore the Arctic, one of the most fascinating and fast-changing regions on the planet, and one that many of their peers have never discovered. If you or your school would be interested to take part in future OMAC conferences or delegate training, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Finally, I’d like to record my heartfelt thanks to my OMAC Secretariat and Polar Aspect associates Joshua Gray, Olivia Silk and Rosemary Tregenza, without whom OMAC would still be just an idea.