The PIE: Can you give us an overview of Politikum and how it started?
Andres Gonzalez: Politikum offers political education primarily to high school and university students. We started off last year in the middle of the pandemic, a group of students and myself, and we created this idea of having classes on topics that are not discussed in high schools or in universities – not because they don’t want to – but because they lack the time to teach issues like citizenship education issues. For example, constitutional rights issues and the political status of a country.
It is incredible that a 16 year-old that is already able to vote in Ecuador does not have a sound knowledge about the political process, and is then able to go out and vote for the National Assembly. So we came up with this completely virtual platform on to really expose political topics to these students. But then we discovered that we had a chance to enhance the activities of schools and offer them the chance to make students be more creative, more critical and teach them not only content but also abilities.
The PIE: How does Politikum operate?
AG: We work on four pillars that are our basis: Delegate, Thinker, Citizen and Candidate. Within the first pillar we focus how to become a better speaker, how to talk about topics that you don’t know. The second one, thinker, is about how to write – how can we improve that experience without just doing a boring essay? We also are known for being plagiarism busters – we teach them how to not do that because we’ve had a lot of it during the pandemic. And in the citizen pillar, we have sessions in which we talk through debates about stuff that happens nationally, regionally and international.
We talk about Ecuador, but also made them debate about what’s going on outside Latin America. What we want with the citizen pillar is to make them more of global citizens – to recognise there is a European Union, there are problems in Africa, and Syria. The last one, and our newest, is the so-called Candidate pillar, which is academic counselling done differently. We’re not a placement agency, but we have discovered that there’s a lot of students who have trouble applying for schools. Amy, who inspired this pillar, was a student of equity and wanted to go to Canada to the University of British Columbia. She asked for my help to apply because she didn’t know how to go about it. We spent several hours designing her application, and she was constantly doubting herself – ‘I’m from this small country of not going to make it’. I told her: ‘Amy, you’re going to send me a picture of you sitting on the front entrance of UBC’. And she got in, and was accepted by other universities. It was an amazing story.
The PIE: How long do courses last? Do university students that take your courses also use the candidate pillar?
AG: Regular courses are a whole year from October 31. So it becomes a companion to your studies. We also started an intensive course in the summer – so it was a compacted course that fit the essentials of our regular timetable into four weeks. Students said it was great because they had one hour in the week when they could come and blow off some steam.
In courses we read the newspaper together and they discuss what the topics that were interesting to them. And then we move on to the main topic. Then at Christmas, we have a sort of ‘test in disguise’ to test their knowledge. At the end of every class, we do a summary of ideas when we prepare for the next year, we ask for their honest feedback. For class, we meet and zoom every week, and we do this all virtually. When it comes to undergrads, we have people that are in their first, second year of undergraduate studies and they don’t know how to apply for a job or for an internship, or even what’s going to happen after university. The pillar varies depending on whether it’s K12 students or undergraduates.
“It is incredible that a 16 year-old that is already able to vote in Ecuador does not have a sound knowledge about the political process”
The PIE: Could you give us a sneak peek on your latest projects?
AG: Well on new projects, we do some classes in German because I grew up academically in Germany. So we decided to create a program called Politikum Deutsch. We first started a bilingual program in Spanish and German for German speaking students, which combined the four pillars. We also gave them directions on how to apply for German universities. It was a win because all of them went to German universities.
At the moment, we don’t get particularly large numbers, but we’re growing. The feedback of our students is always positive on the lower numbers cause then attention is better. Politikum Papers allows students to get published within our corporation. There is a huge disenchantment with academia in general because you spend your university life writing papers and nobody reads them. We give our students the chance to publish them with us. The first batch will be coming out soon. will never get published because even professors of South America, of Africa, of Asia have problems themselves publishing.
The PIE: How do you recruit? Would you ever go into in-person classes?
AG: Essentially, it’s all open. We have approached schools, universities. Sometimes they’re hesitant because they feel like they’re doing something that I’m not offering, and they don’t want to expose that to their students by offering political education. Some schools do forward on the message, but most of the students have come to the website and have funded themselves. It’s word-of-mouth propaganda. Most of our students have been brought into politics by their own effort.
For the first time here, we’re offering the academic simulation experience to kids all over and we’re thinking always, what about these people who cannot travel? While we are thinking about that, what we do now are such great experiences. We have seen the potential of virtual education, and we’re able to reach those kids that geographically are excluded. For example, this year’s kids who have issues with self-esteem, who can’t deliver a speech; they can learn it from the safety of their own home. So that’s what we want for the moment.
But as soon as the pandemic allows it we want to take the show across the world. We want to do a Politikum Deutsch live in Germany. But we’re focusing on the inclusion we can offer. It is a great experience so far, and we believe that the future of education has to be both innovative on the on the live side and also on the virtual side. There’s no borders anymore. So that’s what Politikum is all about, and we want to offer not just classes, but an experience.