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Honours Class students defend plans for society

Nine Honours Class students pitched their plans on 3 March to make the city of Leiden safer, more transparent and more democratic. In this version of 'Dragons Den' headed by Professor Job Cohen the students were tested on their plans and their mettle.

The sexting issue

Sexting: it's something a lot of young people get involved in that can have more serious repercussions than they realise. They send a nude photo to a friend, who then distributes it further without their permission. It can cause a lot of embarrassment if classmates get to see it. And it can even lead to suicide, as in the case of a fifteen-year-old Dutch boy, Onur (15) from Enschede.

‘This has to stop,’ said Yasmin Stip, Sammy Wals and Marieke Koning. The three students presented a solution for this kind of societal problem on 3 March in the Council Chamber of the municipality of Leiden. 'By bringing together the Municipal Health Service, the police and the schools, we can organise a programme of prevention. Then hopefully we can stop this kind of tragedy happening again.' 

Dragons Den

The programme against sexting was just one of the five plans presented by the second- and third-year Honours Class students to tackle societal dilemmas in Leiden. Before the students start putting their ideas into action, their plans were examined by an expert team during this ‘Dragons Den’. This year the ‘dragons’ were Job Cohen (Professor by Special Appointment in Municipal Studies),  Paul Laudy (alderman for the Public Space) and Marije van den Berg (specialist in citizen initiatives and social entrepreneurship).


In the ‘Learning by Doing’ Honours Class, students work on challenges that have been put forward by important players in the Leiden community. The police, for example, asked for an innovative solution for the many break-ins in student houses and cycle thefts in Leiden. Reponding to this request, over the coming months student Gerard van der Klein will be encouraging cycle owners to register their bicycles. That will make it more likely that the bikes will be recovered. 'It so happens that's my field of policy, so it's something we'll definitely be talking about more,' was the response of alderman  Laudy. ‘And if I could make one suggestion: you need to make it clear to the cycle owners how your project will make sure they get their bikes back. Many people think it's not worth reporting a stolen bike.'  


Other students are going to tackle the high number of break-ins in student houses. It's all too common that if you nip out for a beer and leave a window open, your laptop will have disappeared by the time you return. 'We're proposing using WhatsApp groups to make sure students keep one another informed,' says Malak Al-Gawahiri, who is handling this project together with Leonoor van Pelt and Mandy van der Walle. ‘This kind of group app can make the distance between students and police a lot smaller, and it also creates more of a team feeling.' Jury member Marije van den Berg believes it's a good plan, but there are a few practical issues that need to be looked at in the pilot stage. 'I don't know if the aim should be to catch thieves red-handed. I would say it's better to focus on prevention, and preferably within existing WhatsApp groups.' 


The Honours Students will be putting their ideas into practice over the coming two months.

The results of all the projects will be presented at a concluding session of the Honours Class on 16 June, at which the 'dragons' will also be present to hear the results. In evaluating the projects, the focus will be not only on the results achieved, but also on what the student in question has learned from the project. As part of the assignment, the students all have to write a self-reflection report.

In carrying out the projects, the students will undoubtedly come up against setbacks. 'That's all part of the game, just as it is in real life,' Job Cohen told the students after the pitches. Or, as students said last year at the end of the class: 'I've developed some important life skills here' and 'Pity about the setbacks, but I'm proud of what's been achieved.' 

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