Many adults, especially parents, want to educate their children about politics, but most of them confuse learning politics with induction into a political agenda or belief. Yet there’s a difference between teaching them how politics work, defining diplomacy, etc. and making kids accept subjective statements (opinions) along the lines of “that (insert a name of a politician) is (insert an insult).”
It is normal for people to be biased, but how can children learn about politics while avoiding it?A good way would be to personally experience diplomacy at work but it is unwise to let children govern a country just for the sake of education, so the next logical idea would be to create a simulation of a governing body. One such simulation is Model United Nations, also referred to as Model UN or MUN. It is, obviously, a simulation of real-life UN (with slightly simplified rules) aimed at educating middle school, high school and university students about diplomacy, the United Nations, its structure and aims and international relations in general, as well as nurturing skills of public speaking and research through first-hand experience. Many educational facilities, including ones in Kazakhstan, have taken up the activity. Kazakh schools that attend MUN conferences include, but are not limited to, Miras International School (also a host of an annual MUN conference), Arystan Lyceum, Haileybury Almaty and Kazakh-Turkish Lyceum.
The idea of mimicking a worldwide organisation stems from the Model League of Nations imitations, a precursor to the UN Conferences of MLN first held during the 1920s before League of Nations’ disintegration in the next decade. As the UN was set up in 1945 the idea was reinitiated in the 1950s, though it is unclear which committee was the first one to do so, as the major claimants are Harvard MUN, Berkeley MUN and National MUN NY.
Recently MUN has spread to many parts of the world, Kazakhstan included, with some conferences being set up to take in delegates (participants) from countries other than its host’s homeland, such as Haileybury MUN and the aforementioned Harvard MUN, and some are often hosted in different countries each year. Participants come from very different countries and in a single conference delegates from nations such as the U.S., UK, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Turkey can be present. In Kazakhstan, the idea was first taken up some time in late 2000s but there is little documentation to suggest which conference it was, the most likely candidate is the Miras MUN as it was the largest one at that time in the country.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recalled his experience with MUN. “When I was an undergraduate at Stanford, I was twice a delegate to the Model United Nations and once a member of the Secretariat (when Stanford was the host). Students are enthusiastic role-players. We had to learn how nations and their representatives could work with others. We learned about how the United Nations (and international relations) worked in practice. The experience was valuable, the conferences were educational and it was great fun. I am delighted to learn more than half a century later the Model UN is still going strong. I should think that in today’s great global conversation it offers … students an even more valuable experience.”
Kazakh and worldwide conferences are often set up by MUN clubs in their schools or universities, often student-led (or with teacher advisory) and serve as preparation to host a conference, which are usually annual. Preparations include readying equipment (e.g. desks, projectors), spaces for committees, food and accommodations for those who have travelled abroad to attend the conference. Before delegates physically attend the conference, they are separated into committees and assigned to represent countries which are usually not the country from which the delegates hail so as to promote learning of different cultures. For example, Kazakh delegates to the Haileybury UK 2014 conference were representing the Dominican Republic, Canada and India. Once the delegations or groups of delegates from a single school or university receive their country lists, individual delegates are free to choose any country in any committee where the country is present, but there can only be one delegate of a country per committee. Then they are presented with the topics which will be discussed in their committee and are expected to conduct research on those topics.
Within Kazakhstan, students tend to discuss global topics, the same as in the real UN. Topics vary widely depending on the committee, from the rights of the indigenous people in the Human Rights Committee to the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan in the Security Council. Both, in fact, were the topics in the Miras MUN 2013 conference which was attended by students from across Kazakhstan.
After all preparations are done and it is time to go to the conference, delegates are first greeted with an opening ceremony which tends to promote local culture and national heritage. For example, at the start of Miras MUN 2014 delegates were greeted by a couple of dancers performing a modernised version of the traditional “Kara Zhorgha” dance as well a “shashu,” a process of greeting guests by throwing sweets in the air as a gesture of good will and hospitality. Inside the committees, delegates are expected to remain relatively serious and at all times be respectful of their fellow delegates and the moderators known as chairs (they are usually members of the club that set up the conference itself). If someone feels they were unjustly insulted (i.e. the criticism at hand has no factual basis) they can call for a Point of Order; if the chair recognises the point, the delegate who made the insult is asked to retract their statement.
To discuss a topic, delegates engage in formal debate and moderated and unmoderated caucuses. In a formal debate, delegates stand to speak by being appointed to the speakers list by either raising their placards or sending a note to the chair. They make speeches and answer questions to debate a topic or a resolution/amendment while facing the entire committee and there is a time limit for speaking. This is the default state of a committee, so if there are no further motions (propositions to do something as a committee that need a majority of votes to pass) the committee goes to this state. In a moderated caucus, most procedures are dropped and anyone can speak if recognised by the chair; here the time limit per speaker is shorter than in a formal debate. In an unmoderated caucus, delegates meet each other and discuss topics. It is important to note that there are a number of different variations of MUN rules varying from conference to conference since there are few unified guidelines as to how conferences should work; for example, in Miras MUN the “moderated caucus” is in fact a formal debate
MUN has been practiced for some time now in Kazakhstan, both on national and international levels. Although there are no international conferences hosted in Kazakhstan yet, there are some nationwide conferences, the most notable being Miras International School MUN conducted annually and receiving delegates from across the country from cities such as Shymkent, Astana and Almaty (where it is hosted). Some schools send delegations to foreign international MUN conferences. For example, Haileybury Almaty sent a delegation to its sister school, Haileybury UK, in March-April 2014 and two delegates received commendatory awards for exceptional performance in their committees.
The author, 17, is a student at the Haileybury Almaty School.