Modern Slavery Mural: Exploring modern slavery in the school and the classroom

Development education projects allow us to focus on one issue and explore what kind of injustices cause that suffering and what value questions are evoked by it. Do we value others as equal to ourselves? If so, then the development of everyone’s (not just mine in Ireland!) existence to an equal plateau is a logical extension. If we do not care, then it is not. This is a personal question people should ask themselves, daily.

If we are to prepare young people to actively engage in their community and do a better job than we are doing, then my job is done.

In their recent exploration of contemporary slavery, a cohort of about 20 students committed to meeting once a week after school for at least an hour to discuss these issues. The students then designed and painted a mural in response to what they discovered. Following on from this they planned a workshop to present their work to their peers and parents about these issues. At the centre of the workshops, before anything else, was enthusiasm, idealism and the energy brought by the students for taking on tough issues. For any project such as this one to be successful it requires educators giving young people the space to challenge, and be challenged by the world around them.

Active workshops were a great tool to explore the history of the global slave trade, the causes of contemporary slavery, it’s more common forms, our own responsibility in relation to slavery, human rights and slavery, global development and potential solutions to these problems. You don’t have to be an expert to have an opinion about any one of these topics. The workshops were also in interesting space to explore pedagogical methodologies. If we are to use these educational opportunities to create a better world, I believe the only way to do so is by all of us modelling positive behaviours towards each other; respect, tolerance, empathy, compassion, democracy, justice.


Presentation College, Bray, Transition Year: Joseph Mcgrath, Patryk Labuzek, Eoin Coogan, Tim Wehr, Brendon Gonouya, Evin McKay, Niall Deeney, Peter Conroy, Gavin Dowling, Eamonn Wolohan, Barry O’Donoghue, Andrew Dore, Jan Dale Salazar, Colm Fleming, Clancy Smith, Conor Davenport, Colm O’Connor, Stephen Murphy, Conor Clancy and Darren Walsh.


2012-2013 school year (two terms).


We use Adobe Photoshop to create a mural design but you could do so by creating a collage of images, phrases and photos, photocopy this to a transparency and project (old school!). This can take a bit of work but is well worth the effort. Boards, paint, paintbrushes, projector, pencils, rubbers, rulers, tape, floor covering, pots


The project evolved out of the one done the year before; child soldiers, which came about initially at an intersection between two forces; the need to make the work being done around social justice issues relevant to the cohort studying them and thus invoking an empathic response (studying the lives of people of a similar age), and as an area of personal interest – I had just had my son Elijah and read an article somewhere about child soldiers and was deeply moved. Child Soldiers as a symptom of failure to develop as a nation/region was a good fit for both of those forces.

During our exploration of the child soldier phenomenon, I noticed a significant and specific impact upon girls and women in conflict scenarios. I wanted to introduce a theme which would again in some way relate to the lives of the students studying the phenomenon and highlight the very specific inequalities which females experience as a result of development and human rights stagnation/deterioration.

Human trafficking was the natural evolution in that it was a phenomenon which directly spanned developed/developing communities and therefore fulfilled the criteria to relate to the students studying it within a developed nation. This theme then expanded to modern day slavery in general as the use of children in bonded labour globally and the use of enslaved humans in the commodity chain was a potential point of empathic understanding and an opportunity to explore personal responsibility.

Case Study: first hand accounts from child soldiers as part of the learning and taking action

I was really happy with the use of first-hand accounts to engage students. They really began to understand global development when they saw its impact at its extreme on people through these first-hand accounts. I was also very happy to help students make the connection between our own actions and the potential to reduce the global slave trade through questioning, informing and awareness.

Another aspect of the project was exploring the history of the slave trade and the misconceptions around its modern day criminal form. This then led us to compare the trade with other large scale criminal activities such as the drugs trade and murder rates and the corresponding conviction rate comparisons and resource allocations to tackling these issues. I was also extremely proud of the students when they took over the project as their own and organised presentations to teach their peers about these issues.

Groups of students selected different aspects of modern day slavery and became expert in those areas which enabled them to give more thorough answers to questions during presentations. The culmination, in my eyes, was a stunning article written about the project and published in numerous locations.

Project Learning

The main advice I could give is to work with another teacher who is also interested, stay focused on the fact that you are engaged in important social development work and are making a significant contribution to the world (this helps you get through those difficult times). Remember to empathise and to let your decision making process be guided by a compassionate desire to help others.

We can become very entangled in statistics and disillusioned by our inability to affect change if we forget to empathise with our fellow sentient beings.

Measuring Impact

Measuring of impact was really on those directly involved and was done informally. The students’ passion for the project was a marker for me; nothing formal though

Links to Project Activities