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Vilnius, A City Becomes An Open-Air Classroom

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is taking school outdoors and making the whole city a learning place. Along the way, students' motivation increases and their relationship with the city becomes more participatory.

​Image of students participating in an outdoor class in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.

Students participating in an outdoor class in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.

EDU Vilnius/Facebook
Catarina Pires

VILNIUSShakespeare's Hamlet is playing out in a real court, with a real judge.

The characters and witnesses are literature students in a secondary school class in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania. "And the students are ecstatic," says Unė Kaunaitė, director of EDU Vilnius, the municipal body whose mission is to improve the quality of education in the city and which is responsible for the “Vilnius is a school” project.

"They were really committed and involved and understood the play in a much deeper way because they performed it in a real court,” says Kaunaitė. The aim is to motivate students by making the learning process more interesting and participatory.

The city of Vilnius used this project to apply for the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge a year ago, winning funding of one million euros.

Classes in the streets and museums

The first months of the year are cold in Lithuania – between -5 and -10 degrees – but that didn't stop this educational project that converts Vilnius into a giant school from having a good start. Three weeks after the launch of the project's electronic platform, 30% of the city's teachers, around 1,500, had already joined the initiative, which has the support of 90% of schools in Vilnius.

Within three years, 10% of classes will be in the streets, parks, monuments, museums, libraries, companies, courts, hospitals, state agencies… Everywhere. The idea is not to bring all classes to the city, but to develop a mixed model that combines the school and the city as places of learning.

“This idea of learning outside the school is not new. Educators from all over the world are discussing learning in different places and the importance of an outdoor school, because in reality, the teaching methods have been the same for centuries, despite its ineffectiveness is becoming more and more evident,” says Unė Kaunaitė, noting that research shows that students all over the world are not very motivated to study.

Changing that is the main reason for the project she created.

Bringing math to the streets 

“Motivation is decisive for school results: how to motivate students, how to make learning more interesting? Vilnius is a very beautiful city, which can offer a series of learning resources, and, therefore, the creation of this project was very much the combination of several thoughts and elements, like pieces of a puzzle that, when completed, clicks,” says Kaunaitė.

Classes in literature, mathematics, history, languages and so on have already taken place on the streets. Mathematics? “We thought that mathematics would be one of the most difficult subjects to bring to the streets, but it is one of the most classes that have been done outside. With the little ones it's simpler, and, for example, there was a company that offered a 12th-grade class on how functions can be used for artificial intelligence. It fully meets another of our objectives, which is to answer the eternal question from students, 'why are we learning this?'”

The company that offered the class was Ovoko, an e-commerce based in Vilnius, where students learned how various mathematical rules – functions, vectors, matrices – are applied to modern science and the creation of artificial intelligence and how it works in real life and in the field of work.

The motivation and involvement of students, as well as the impact on grades and school results, will be evaluated, but not only that: “We also want to assess how the project influences students' career choices, social participation and civic involvement, because we feel that by learning about the city's organizations and institutions, they will have a clearer idea of what their career options are, and will want to participate more in the city’s life.”

Image of \u200bstudents participating in an outdoor class in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.

Students participating in an outdoor class in the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.

EDU Vilnius/Facebook

Encouraging participation, beating loneliness

In addition to more committed students, “Vilnius is a school” wants to create more active and participative citizens. When asked how this project can influence young people's relationship with the city, Unė smiles and looks further afield.

The project is easily replicable in any city.

“Historically, the discussion of sociologists and other specialists about cities has always been about loneliness. When we started moving to cities, despite having more people around us, we became more alone, because we didn't know anyone. I honestly feel that we have to raise children in cities differently, so that they feel at home in the city and feel responsible for it."

"That's why making the city a school, making them know the places, institutions, organizations, parks, streets, neighborhoods will make them feel the city more as their own. When you know the place where you live and like it, you start to take care of that place, and therefore, we hope that this project also encourages citizenship, participation and the notion of responsibility towards the city.”

The project is easily replicable in any city.

“We already have other Lithuanian cities interested. Now we are focused on developing the project in our city, but the tool is straightforward and easily exportable to other cities. Of course, an important part is funding, the availability of means, for which investment and political will are needed, and finding people to get involved and join the platform, and motivate teachers to use it.”

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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