Moments of Humanitarian Learning in Secondary School Students and their Educators

  • Amanda Mccorkindale

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the role of humanitarian education in the development of the students' sense of global responsibility and the potential impact it has on year 9 students. This interdisciplinary analysis bridges the humanitarian and educational fields to explore the student experience in English secondary schools. Two instrumental case studies, Schools Linking Network's Model United Nations and the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, act as a comparative focal point for the research to understand how these were integrated into student learning and ultimately how students empathised with the subject. Methods for data collection included: document analysis, observations, interviews with students/teachers/organisations and student focus groups. The analytical framework explores the academic and the empathetic effects of humanitarian topics on participants. It was found that humanitarian topics may be academically available to students depending on their teacher, class and whether strict curriculum time constraints allowed. A discussion is included regarding how students and teachers define humanitarianism, giving an insight into the student voice reflecting these topics. A spectrum of engagement explores the responses from students, ranging from sympathetic to empathetic. The main themes which arise from this research include: the elements of disengagement; student ownership; relatability of topics; and the locality of the topics discussed. The final discussion looks at the lasting empathetic influence of specific humanitarian topics, through how they resonate with students. Findings of this research stress the need for greater involvement with students regarding complex issues and humanitarian topics. Students are interacting with humanitarian issues every day; from a passive acknowledgement of 'the other' to an active engagement with charitable initiatives. They want to learn about these issues and believe schools should be teaching it. External influences from governmental policy and the role of NGOs can shape the extent to which students have access to humanitarian knowledge. The implications of this research would fundamentally transform the path of the learning experience of the student and enable educators and humanitarian organisations to better engage students on these vital issues.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Gatrell (Supervisor) & Melvin Ainscow (Supervisor)


  • geography
  • qualitative research
  • citizenship
  • instrumental case study
  • focus groups
  • humanitarian learning
  • secondary school students
  • humanitarian education
  • student ownership
  • student voice
  • humanitarian educators
  • empathy and secondary students
  • empathy

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