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Raising Awareness of Global Inequalities: A Civic Challenge

Three middle school students cheer in class at desks with their arms raised high
Middle school students line up excitedly behind a desk covered in bills from around the world.

Growing up in relatively privileged places in the United States, France, or elsewhere, it is sometimes difficult to truly grasp the inequality of resources and wealth between countries and regions. To better understand these vast differences, our three 7th grade classes carried out an interesting geography project entitled "Un repas insolent" (An Inequitable Meal), an exercise used in the not-for-profit world to illustrate the unbalanced availability of resources around the globe.

Through a multistep group activity carried out over several class sessions, students move from personal perception to scientific knowledge.

  • STEP 1: Students divided themselves into five teams representing different regions of the world: Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and advanced economies. The size of each team was determined by the geographic area and population of each region. For example, the Asia team included more than half of the students in the class, while the Middle East team was represented by only one student.
  • STEP 2: Each team was then asked to divide up scarce resources, starting with oil, represented in the exercise by 50 candles. Students grabbed the number of candles corresponding to what they thought was accessible in their region. Then, they consulted primary sources to verify their initial choices. The Middle East team ended up with more than half of the candles, while the team representing Asia, which is by far the most populous, had only four candles out of the 50 available.
  • STEPS 3, 4 & 5: The game was repeated with three other key resources: electricity, food and drinking water, represented respectively by batteries, dried pasta and cups. The students measured the inherent inequalities of each resource, their waste, their overconsumption in certain regions and the lack of availability in others.
Candles, Batteries, Water, and Pasta
  • STEP 6: After learning about the glaring inequalities between the different regions of the world in terms of natural resources, the students sought and proposed solutions. They tried bartering, which quickly revealed its limitations insofar as some people have a lot to exchange and others very little; trading requires adequate financial means. Their teacher showed them banknotes from twenty different countries, ranging from the Argentine peso to the Hong Kong dollar and the Iranian rial. The students realize that the diversity of currencies and the complexity of exchange rules make trade a complicated game where the winners are those who have the right information and favorable conversion rates. 
Resources divided unequally to different world areas

The final diagnosis of the project was clear: students noted the unequal geographical distribution of population, the unequal access to essential resources and the complexity of the global economic game. These findings will serve as a foundation for many of the 7th grade’s geography lessons this year and give students greater awareness of the importance of sustainable and equitable development.