By: Desmond Mitchell
As much as the emphasis on high school was learning from my teachers, what I remember most is the lessons that I learned from my peers. Whether it be in the United States, New Zealand, or Kenya, teachers serve an important purpose in strengthening foundations of knowledge off of which learning experiences can be built. However it is becoming more apparent that the influence of peers and peer learning holds some unique advantages to the growing and malleable minds of teenagers.
The importance of “Near Peers” has become increasingly important in creating efficient educational structures over the past few years. Near Peer Role Modeling, or commonly called Near Peers, relate to people within one’s community who are of similar ethnicity, age, proximity, interest, gender, or ability. These are members of the community that people can see on a more regular basis in order to model them. By involving students that have grown as innovators or ideators within their communities, we are beginning to see that younger students benefit by emulating those who, in their minds, have achieved some level of “success.” Our observations coincide with studies that have proven that students that benefitted from near peers displayed higher levels of involvement in programs, increase motivation, and efficiency in learning.
Well known innovators consistently play a large role in creating the image of success that so many people aspire to. In the US, stories such as Mark Zuckerberg’s rise is frequently spotlighted and do serve a purpose. But the influence of those around us tend to paint a picture that can be much more closely related to one’s own life. They paint a picture in which one can relate their own struggles. They can relate to their own journey and development given a similar set of circumstances.
As GMin focuses on promoting innovation particularly among youth, the idea that one group of InChallenge or InLabs graduates can serve as role models in their communities is incredibly important to us in changing a culture. While we have encouraged the finalists to share their stories, their growth, and their ideas,we have also encouraged them to proactively share their stories with their communities – particularly with young people. We understand that the finalists serve as great role models for their younger peers, yet we also see that former finalists also learn as teachers through their newfound responsibility as mentors. And more importantly, they enjoy it. In that sense, each and every one of the peers is benefitting, one way or another, from this near peer experience.
In the same vein, looking back at my high school experience, I did gain a significant amount of practical knowledge from my teachers, but the largest influencers were those peers around me. I hope that we can continue to build learning environments where students can look back and reflect, observing that they have positively benefited from their peers and their learning environment.
Lockspeiser, Tai M., Patricia O’Sullivan, Arianne Teherani, and Jessica Muller. “Understanding the Experience of Being Taught by Peers: The Value of Social and Cognitive Congruence.” Advances in Health Sciences Education 13.3 (2008): 361-72. Print.