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In the latest edition


War and robots

A Royal Air Force Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan 2014© InfoExperts from around the world attended a meeting in Geneva last week to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). Autonomous means that some part of the weapon system operates without direct human control.

What moral and ethical concerns might be raised by this new kind of technology in warfare?

Invite young people to share their thoughts.

Some people refer to the systems as killer robots. Discuss how different terms can encourage particular reactions and ways of thinking.

Such autonomous weapons have not yet been deployed. Talk about why they might be considered for development. Might a machine be programmed to be more reliable in certain conditions of warfare than humans who have emotions? Might machines be more accurate and precise in hitting a target? They could also be quicker to respond to an attack than humans could be. 

Who thinks these arguments for having autonomous machines in warfare are persuasive? Who doesn’t? Encourage discussion and debate.

For a weapons system to be lawful under international humanitarian law it must be able to distinguish between combatants and civilians, amongst other requirements. How can civilians and combatants be distinguished from one another? Could autonomous weapons do that?

In 1995 it was agreed to ban laser weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness before they were developed because of "moral revulsion". Is there similar revulsion against autonomous weapons?

For more visit the ICRC site, our Robots in War teaching package and Rules of war resource.


Kanye tell how deep it is?

Kanye West performs during his concert in central Yerevan early on 13 April  2015© InfoRapper Kanye West delighted fans by performing an impromptu, free outdoor concert beside a lake in Yerevan, Armenia. He thrilled them even more when he suddenly jumped into the lake.

A YouTube video shows that the water level was much shallower than he expected.

Kanye stumbled but avoided serious injury. Talk about what might have happened. What kinds of injuries might he have sustained? What help might he have needed if he was injured?

Discuss what stimulates people to do potentially risky things on impulse.

Who thinks being spontaneous means taking risks? What safer options might Kanye have chosen instead?

Lots of the audience joined Kanye in the lake. Think about how people can be influenced by the actions of those around them. Discuss the pressure of crowd psychology or herd mentality.

Every summer in the UK people sustain injuries by jumping into rivers and lakes. How would you respond to friends who encouraged you to jump into water when you'd prefer not to?


Twitter help in a crisis

Woman types message on her mobile phone in Jakarta flood 18 January 2013© InfoThink of an emergency where strong winds and rain are causing extensive flooding. The emergency services are at full stretch.

They need to know where to deploy their limited resources - but the floods are creating chaos and confusion. Could Twitter help?

Invite young people to say whether they think messages through the social media channel might be useful. In what way? Could they be a distraction. How? Discuss possibilities and pitfalls.

Points to consider: Would everyone involved in an emergency have access to technology?  Does everyone know how to use social media?  If only certain groups or individuals were tweeting what might this mean for others in need or distress?

It is increasingly common for authorities to use social media for alerts. For instance, some fire and rescue services in the UK, along with the Met Office and Environment Agency, use Twitter to give updates on flooding and severe weather. Who sends them for your area? How would you find the hashtag in an emergency?

Researchers are also finding that information on water levels sent by individual users can be valuable for crisis managers. When floods hit the Indonesian capital Jakarta earlier this year, flood-related tweets were appearing at almost 900 a minute.

With the help of software to gather, filter and validate the tweets, planners created real-time flood extent maps for the city. Such data had never been gathered so quickly previously.

Discuss how this could improve decision making by the emergency services. How might it help individuals and families decide what to do next? What might the issues be?


Previous editions of newsthink


Cultural property and conflict

Detail of an Assyrian relief from Nimrud showing horses and horsemen of the royal chariot 725 BC© InfoIs it really a war crime to destroy historic monuments? The question arises after video footage was broadcast of armed groups apparently attacking centuries-old statues in Iraq. Invite views and explanations.

In fact, all civilian property, which includes monuments, art galleries, museums and their contents, is protected under internationally-agreed laws of war.

Only military objects can be legally targeted in armed conflict. Attacking a statue is not permitted, just as attacking a civilian's home isn't.

There is also special protection for artefacts which are so significant that their loss would damage the cultural heritage of all humankind.

Ask young people to identify monuments, artworks and cultural heritage sites that they think should have special protection in the event of armed conflict. Can they argue for their choices?

[During this exercise, encourage young people to think about what constitutes cultural property, including: monuments of architecture or history, archaeological sites, works of art, books, manuscripts, scientific collections, and buildings whose purpose is to preserve and exhibit cultural property e.g. museums, libraries and archives.]

Think more broadly about how art and culture matter in conflict. When the basics of life, even survival, are under threat does music, art and literature become irrelevant, or more vital? Discuss the cellist who played music during the conflict in Sarajevo, or World War II concentration camp inmates who would listen to music, even if it meant they didn't get fed.

Understanding the laws of war. There can be exceptions to protecting cultural property during armed conflict. Cultural property may be used when there is no other way of obtaining the same military advantage. And an attack on cultural property may be lawful when the property has been turned into a military object and there is no other way of gaining the same military advantage. Access our Rules of War lesson plan to take your learning further. 

Escape the classroom. Explore Middle Eastern art and culture with a visit to the British Museum.


Coping with anger

A bully intimidates another person© InfoThree episodes of a popular TV programme, Top Gear, have been postponed after a reported fracas involving presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

Use the incident to help young people explore anger and ways to defuse potential conflicts.

Telling a person who is shouting and swearing that they are over-reacting and need to calm down is rarely a good idea. Why? What do young people think is likely to be the response? Discuss better options.

The first words you speak to an angry person are likely to be critical in either escalating or defusing a situation.

What might be the best approach to help calm someone who is angry? In small groups role-play potential approaches and discuss which might be most effective and why.

Expressions of anger and high emotion can increase stress levels all round. What are the main symptoms of such stress? Identifying them is important, as it is hard to be helpful in a tense situation unless you are calm yourself.

What strategies do young people have for reducing fast heartbeat, sweaty palms and rapid breathing? How can they reduce the chance of further inflaming a tense situation?

See our teacher briefing on defusing conflict.


Amphibious houses

Huts on the River Kwai Thailand © InfoCan houses float? Would it make sense to build them so they rise along with water levels in areas prone to flooding?

Ask young people if this is a serious way of preparing for, and reducing the negative impacts of a natural disaster, or just a fantasy.

Architects and developers in Thailand are currently experimenting with various designs. One $86,000 amphibious house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, sits on the ground on steel pontoons filled with tough polystyrene foam. It will rise up to three metres off the ground if the area floods, then return to its base.

Discuss the benefits. Is it more effective than other flood defences, such as using sandbags or evacuating homes? What practical problems would need to be solved? Think about securing objects and maintaining services such as gas, water and broadband.

If you were designing a ‘flood-proof’ home, what would it look like? As a group, share thoughts and agree on the best ideas.

Many people live in areas which are at risk of flooding in homes which haven’t been designed to withstand flood water. What could people whose homes are at risk of flooding do to prepare for a flood? Think about actions they might take both before and during a flood.

How might they keep themselves safe during a flood? How could they look out for other people living nearby?


Snow jumping challenged

A street covered in snow© InfoStop this nonsense. Act responsibly. Stop jumping out of windows. Why did the mayor of Boston, USA, issue this advice to local residents?

The answer lies in record amounts of snow that have fallen on the city since January. Some people have been jumping out of upper storey windows into piles of banked-up snow and sharing videos of their jumps on social media.

Do young people think the mayor, Martin J. Walsh, is acting as a killjoy? Or does he have a serious point?

He told a press conference, "the last thing we want to do is respond to an emergency call where somebody jumped out of the window because they thought it was a funny thing to do.” How would emergency workers feel if they were distracted from helping vulnerable people affected by the blizzards? How might the injured person feel?

Explore perceptions of risk in unusual situations. What hidden hazards might lie beneath the snow? What injuries might occur from jumping from height?

Talk about peer pressure exerted through social media challenges. What advice would you give someone who doesn't want to jump but feels under pressure?


Racism in football

A man approaches the carriage door on the Paris Metro© InfoA man who was pushed and prevented from getting into a Paris metro carriage by football supporters didn't want to tell anyone about the incident. Invite young people to think about why this might be.

Encourage them to think about the feelings and emotions he might have experienced during and after the event? Then look at what he told the press (translation follows):

"Je suis rentré chez moi sans parler de cette histoire à personne, ni à ma femme ni à mes enfants... Et puis, que dire à mes enfants ? Que papa s'est fait bousculer dans le métro parce qu'il est noir ? Cela ne sert à rien."

[Translation]: I went home without telling my story to anyone, neither my wife nor my children... What could I tell my children? That dad was shoved around on the metro because he is black? That would be pointless.

Talk about dignity. What does ‘respect for human dignity’ mean to young people? What situations could compromise someone’s dignity? What actions could help restore someone’s dignity?

What message would you want to send to the Parisian man, Souleymane S? If you had been there, what might you have said to him after the train left? What do you think he would want to hear? How might that help?

Rio Ferdinand, former England defender, said: “I think a lot of people became a bit complacent with racism". What could you personally do to help dispel that complacency?


Where now with Ebola?

Children tell their village 'Ebola must go' in their own language using the microphone and speakers brought by the Red Cross for its sound-truck community engagement campaign 24 January 2015 Liberia© InfoThe Ebola epidemic dominated news headlines at the end of last year. What is happening now? Is the epidemic over? Invite young people to say what they know of the current state of the epidemic. What countries are affected? Are people still being quarantined? Are UK nurses still volunteering to travel to countries in West Africa to work in treatment centres?

List what young people would like to know more about, and identify good sources of possible answers. In small groups, young people should research the aspects of the epidemic that they are interested in, before coming back together to share their new knowledge with the group.

Can normal life begin again in communities where quarantines have been lifted? Ask young people to think about what the long term impact of this crisis might be. Many children have been orphaned, and villages may now face food shortages if the quarantine meant they were unable to attend to crops at the critical time of the year.

Discuss what individuals and communities affected by the virus might need right now? What long-term support might they need as they recover and start to rebuild their lives?

Can young people identify similarities and differences between an immediate emergency response and a long-term recovery plan?


Robots in disasters

An updated version of Boston Dynamics robot© InfoCan robots help in disasters? A prize of $2 million will be awarded this year to the team of developers demonstrating the best human-supervised robot technology for disaster response.

Start a conversation: who thinks robots will be effective in disaster relief operations that are too dangerous for humans? List scenarios in which robots might perform better than aid workers.

The competition, set up by the US defense department responsible for new technology in the military, was triggered by the meltdown of nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 following a tsunami and earthquake.

Can the group correctly identify the key hazard to humans that the developers wanted to avoid? (Radiation exposure.)

How close do young people think developers are to creating a robot that can do human-like things? In reality, tasks such as climbing a ladder, running, or any fast reactions or tricky jobs such as opening a stuck window, are as yet difficult for machines.

Does that give young people greater respect for human skills? Talk about human-robot interaction. How would an injured person feel about being rescued by a robot?


Art and genocide

Memory Makers Project from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust© InfoDiscuss the thinking behind Holocaust Memorial Day, held on 27 January each year. ‘By remembering the holocaust, we reduce the chance of it happening again. By listening to the stories of survivors, we can gain in humanity and understanding’.

This year's Holocaust Memorial Day Trust project, the Memory Makers, uses creative art as a way of remembering. Why might art be a good way of keeping memories alive?

Can the group give examples of events they have learned more about through art? (An example might be the 2014 poppy installation at the Tower of London.)

Under the Memory Makers project, creative artists met and interviewed survivors of the genocide from across Europe.

The stories, of childhood and teenage fear and loss, have been portrayed through film, drawing, animation, collage or poetry. Which artistic form does the group think best captures childhood memories of the holocaust?

One interviewee survived nearly a year in Auschwitz because she played the cello in the camp orchestra. What questions would the group like to ask her? List them, then see if they are answered in the interview or in Stephen Fry's essay.


A&E emergencies

Emergency ambulance parked outside hospital Accident and Emergency department© InfoThis winter some hospitals have declared a major incident, indicating that they are unable to cope as normal. Talk about what happens when an Accident & Emergencies department experiences its own emergency. Who can it turn to?

They may call in additional staff and get support from other organisations. They also cut back on non-essential work, discharging patients and cancelling operations. List events that can create an emergency, such as a rail crash or an outbreak of illness.

Volunteers are sometimes called on, but usually need to be trained and linked to an accredited organisation. Why is this important? What problems can young people foresee in being helped in a hospital by well-meaning people with no experience or screening?

A&E doesn't mean "anything and everything", say the experts. What point are they making?  Some estimates suggest that up to 50 per cent of patients could be treated elsewhere. Can young people identify other options, including GPs, walk-in and out-of-hours services, first aid, and pharmacists?

When is it right to call 999 and when to call NHS 111? Test some scenarios and try to get agreement - perhaps using the choose better game.

After an earthquake

A sign reading 'Please help us!' is displayed while children play outside their makeshift tents in rice fields in the Philippines

Children play, hours after a destructive earthquake. What do students want to know?

Read the activities >

Build resilience

School students taking part in a workshop

Students and teachers together reflect, explore and experiment with responses to some form of crisis.

Try the quick activities >


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