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Designer and RSA Student Design Award Winner, Kazz Morohashi, reflects on her recent experiences as a judge for the RSA Pupil Design Awards and on the joys of young people and their creativity in the world of social design.

There is something wonderful and yet terrifying about teenagers. Perhaps it is their flippant brilliance or their uninhibited display of haughtiness, but teens have a way of captivating me with their edgy intelligence. Teenage years, however, are fraught times and the perennial challenge as a society is to nurture them onto a positive life course where they can channel their unique energy in a meaningful and lasting way. The RSA, I feel, has found a winning solution through the RSA Pupil Design Awards, a programme that encourages students between the ages of 12 to 17 to address social challenges through design thinking.  

The RSA Pupil Design Awards, now in its second year, is an intensive design programme currently run within participating RSA Academies in the West Midlands. Students were invited to consider and design a solution from one of the three key social challenge themes taken from the more established 90-year-old big sister programme, the RSA Student Design Awards.

I had the privilege of joining the RSA Pupil Design Award’s judging panel, as a previous RSA Student Design Award and Howarth Award winner,  to see some of the most encouraging and inspiring (and at times eccentric) ideas from the pupils. With ideas ranging from peace-making puzzles to an anti-bullying app and home study educational freeware, it became evident from an early stage that pupils as young as 12 were working to solve some of the most complex of social issues.

RSA Pupil Design Awards

What was particularly striking was that each student dealt with the issue with a great deal of empathy. Whether their drive was guided by direct personal experience or classmates’ stories, I feel that the pupils understood that their ability to strongly relate with the problem was central in formulating their design ideas.  And yet, we as a society often forget to teach pupils the importance of applied empathy as a valuable skillset. The success of the RSA Pupil Design Awards, I felt, lies in its approach to develop these soft skills through creative collaborations where pupils are intellectually and emotionally stimulated and supported.

Collaboration is certainly what the RSA excels in. It not only provides pupils with briefs, but also a collaborative network of contributors at all levels. This included Selina Nwulu and Georgina Chatfield from the RSA, who introduced the briefs to RSA Academy pupils and provided special sessions on research methodologies. They were joined by past RSA Student Design Award winners as mentors to work with each student team to give confidence to the pupils and give help strengthen their ideas. Members of the RSA Pupil Design Awards’ judging panel, headed by Betty Jackson CBE RDI, gave the shortlisted pupils feedback and the successful pupils were awarded with either the RSA Pupil Design Award or Make It Happen Prize, which provide work experience at Birmingham Open Media for the former and an RSA Fellow-led mentoring sessions for the latter.

As one of the judges, I was in the lucky seat. I got to simply enjoy and be inspired by all the wonderful ideas presented. What I particularly loved was seeing the students' passion and commitment.  The two students, Demi-Lee Abercrombie, Shannon Appleyard from RSA Tipton, for example, who are hoping to develop freeware for disabled pupils to carry on with their study at home, were incredibly proactive. They not only demonstrated a working prototype of their software, but also explained that they had got a computer scientist at an American university involved to find the best working model to realise their idea. I was also touched by a duo, also from RSA Tipton, who used and shared their own painful experiences of being bullied as a way to develop their prize winning bully prevention app idea.

I still remember how nervous and apprehensive I was when I presented my idea for the 2015 RSA Student Design Award. Naturally, I had a lot of sympathy for the pupils who were a fraction of my age pitching for the RSA Pupil Design Award. However, my big-sisterly concerns were quite unnecessary. The pupils gave such compelling and inspiring presentations, I was quite amazed. In fact, their teenage spirit was contagious as they beamed with fantastic ideas and confidence. I came away from the day feeling enlivened and even indebted to their enthusiasm. Make no mistake—behind those sweet innocent looks are young talents waiting to emerge. With the right nudge and guidance, these youngsters may surprise us once or many times over with their wild ideas that just might change our world for the better.

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