Children can design solutions for a better world. That’s the thinking behind It’s My Future Toronto, a program created by OCAD University’s dean of design, Dori Tunstall.
Launched in 2021, IMFTO guided a group of 17 BIPOC students through the critical thinking, design and presentation skills needed to identify problems in their communities and pitch solutions.
Back this year, the program has grown to more than 100 youth, in partnership with the Toronto District School Board. IMFTO kicked off with a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum, where students from George Webster Elementary School in East York and St. Margaret’s Public School in Scarborough learned about biodiversity, laying a foundation of knowledge for this year’s assignment: addressing the climate crisis.
Given the sophistication of the task before them (and the confidence on display in many of their video presentations), IMFTO participants are surprisingly young – nine to 12 years old. That’s intentional. As kids get into the middle-school years, self-censorship starts to set in, says Ms. Tunstall, author of Decolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook.
Both schools are diverse. At St. Margaret’s, 40 per cent of students speak a language other than English at home, and about 20 per cent were born outside Canada. Meanwhile, the 550 or so students of George Webster represent more than 30 language groups.
After completing a design workshop, where the students created three-dimensional designs depicting their climate solutions, some chose to share their knowledge through journalism, and were coached through researching and writing by volunteers from The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. (Others chose to design policies that can help create change, coached by local, provincial and federal policy-makers; and a third group learned how to spread the word through advertising.)
Three months of hard work culminated in a showcase of the students’ work back where they started – at the ROM – on April 22.
“To see the pride in parents’ eyes watching their children have their work displayed at the ROM – priceless,” said Jason Kandankery, a centrally assigned TDSB principal who helped shepherd the students through IMFTO.
“The ability for TDSB students to use their creativity and ingenuity to imagine a better future for Toronto is what this partnership is all about,” shared Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education for the TDSB, in a statement.
Here’s a sample of some of the students’ work.
Naga Kovuru, 10
Naga dug into the problem of air pollution, noticing the emissions from factories and other buildings. Her bold idea? Use a system of pipes to channel the harmful exhaust into a special room in the building. “In that room is a purification system that makes the air clean,” Naga explains in the article she wrote to accompany her prototype. The cleaned air can then be released into the atmosphere.
Learn more about Naga Kovuru's proposed filtration system for factories.
Karmanvir Bharath, 11
While many of his peers conceived of physical solutions to climate-change problems, Karmanvir is proposing tax policy to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Quoting the U.S. Department of Energy, his article notes that “highway vehicles release about 1.7 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year – mostly in the form of carbon dioxide.” We could reduce emissions faster by incentivizing people to drive electric vehicles instead of conventional ones. “Offering tax breaks for people who buy them … will reduce the price,” he wrote.
Learn more about Karmanvir Bharath's proposed green tax incentives.
Imani Canterbury, 11
Noticing the volume of housing construction in Toronto, Imani came up with an idea for replacing the trees cut down for lumber: a solar-powered tree planter that can operate “all day and all night.”
Learn more about Imani Canterbury's idea for a solar-powered tree planter.