How Would You Define a ‘Planetizen’?

François Taddei, co-founder and president of the Learning Planet Institute, describes a ‘Planetizen’ as someone who learns to care for themselves, others, and the planet – a “Planet Citizen” for short.

Being a Planetizen, in my view, signifies transcending boundaries—geographical, cultural, or religious. It’s about fostering collaboration, not competition, and channeling our energy towards making a profound impact on the planet, rather than purely chasing awards and certificates to put on LinkedIn. And so, as a proud Planetizen, my mission is to challenge traditional learning norms. I’m inspired to ensure that future generations not only learn but also question, create, and connect textbook knowledge with the real world. 

Jasmine, could you share your personal experience with traditional schooling? Why does it need to be challenged?

Traditional schooling often feels like a prison for curiosity, with four walls trapping the inquisitive spirit. Personally, I found this especially true growing up in Shanghai, China, where education was akin to an Olympic memory contest. Take, for example, the time I first locked horns with learning, wrestling with the Trimetric Classic, a dusty text brimming with Confucian traditions.

As I was knee-deep in Lego masterpieces, nibbling on afternoon snacks, or seeking adventure in the park, my grandparents would repeat its verses. Before I knew it, I was flawlessly parroting back this ancient manuscript. I was dubbed “a prodigy” without comprehending a single character of the text. That’s the paradox of Chinese education – you might not understand a thing, but as long as you can recite it, you’re good to go.

Once I hit primary school, our homework was no more than a nightly game of ‘Simon Says’ with the textbook – commit a paragraph to memory and regurgitate it the following day. School was a factory assembly line, shearing our individual quirks and casting us into identical blocks, like a real-life Lego set.

We were moulded into conformists, trained uniformly to sit, stand, walk, and even sync our movements. And if you dared to break the rhythm? Let’s just say my reward was a trip to the psychologist. My swift learning earned praise, but in truth, all I learned was the stifling price of dancing to a different beat.

While in New Zealand, I experienced a slightly more flexible system, but the rigidity of the syllabus was far from gone. We found ourselves shackled to our seats, facing the onslaught of 5-hour daily lectures, with the exhilarating flame of intellectual debate nowhere in sight. Every subject we studied, be it history with its fixation on Rosa Parks’ birthdate, biology insisting on the Kreb Cycle’s step-by-step procedure, or psychology’s obsession with participant numbers in Milgram’s Experiment #7, everything came down to a jumble of rote facts. However, the critical connection between these textbook tidbits and their relevance in our contemporary lives was left completely unexplored.

It’s crucial to challenge the conventional idea that learning solely serves the acquisition of a degree or a specific skill. Rather, learning should be viewed as a continuous journey of self-discovery. It paves the way for a deeper understanding of ourselves, illuminates our purpose, and enables us to positively impact our world, and address the complexities of the 21st century.

Embracing my role as a learning Planetizen, I’ve internalized the essence of lifelong and life-wide learning—a profound insight shared by Alexander Laszlo during a LearningPlanet Assembly. I advocate for a boundless concept of learning, one that extends beyond the traditional classroom and infiltrates every facet of our life experiences.

What Inspired the Birth of CircuLab? 

Stumbling upon the concept of a circular economy opened up an exciting new avenue for me. As I explored the pressing necessity of Sustainable Development Goals, an intriguing idea took root – could we teach students about the circular economy in a way that departs from traditional classroom tedium? Motivated by this, CircuLab came into existence, aiming to make learning more relevant and engaging.

Planetizen Jasmine Wei's CircuLab from Catalyst 2030.

I soon discovered I wasn’t alone in this pursuit, as I was joined by a dedicated team of over 40 members, each bringing their unique talents to various projects – from app development to paper conservation initiatives, research, and beyond. What ties us together is our collective goal of making educational tools that move beyond passive memorization, instead igniting curiosity, nurturing understanding, and fostering innovation. 

Jasmine, could you elaborate on your role at CircuLab?

As the co-founder and executive director of CircuLab, my roles have spanned from hands-on tasks to strategic leadership. In our earlier stage, I created our website, scripted our narrative learning game, CircuTale, and recruited team members. As CircuLab got bigger and bigger, I transitioned to strategic planning and oversight while developing new SDG-focused projects.

Through our CircuNerd channel, named by our Programming Lead, Aashaya, I support members with their schoolwork beyond CircuLab through nightly study sessions. We also encourage everyone to chat about absolutely everything in our ‘connect’ channel. I’m proud to say that this space has not only rekindled old friends but also fostered life-long friendships.

There are so many environmentally focused non-profits. How is CircuLab different? Why do you think other youth might be interested in joining CircuLab?

Who better to answer than our very own team?

Bufan Zhao, Co-founder and Director of CircuLab

Our members consist entirely of high school students, which makes us much more friendly to other high school students, and enables us to interact extensively with schools. Members can talk freely on our server, sometimes chatting with a peer from across the globe, sometimes finding a long-lost friend. We also have dedicated coordinators and team leaders who regularly check on members to ensure their wellbeing.

We have a highly diverse range of members, from world-class artists to award-winning mathematicians, whose talents often combine with their passion for the environment to surprising effects, like creating an educational video game, or making a computational model. This also means that our members can learn much more than just the environment by interacting with their peers.

Lilian Altorah, Marketing (focusing on CircuTale)

“Circulab is different because of the quality of its volunteers. Circulab chooses highly skilled and passionate students. Importantly,  the co-founders of Circulab are passionate about their mission. From my experience, finding such a student-led organisation is very rare.”

“Personally, I did not mainly join Circulab for its environmental goals but rather for the people I will be working with.”

Baohao Zhang, CircuSaver NZ Chapter Leader

“CircuLab is so different from other environmental non-profits because it takes a grass-roots approach, targeting young people in membership as much as possible. This creates a friendly but also innovative atmosphere within the organisation, which is useful in both coming up with solutions and further encouraging more young people to join.” 

“The atmosphere was super important in my initial joining and continued participation in CircuLab. Because of this mood, the non-profit acts as a rewarding opportunity to make friends in the context of working towards a safer, cleaner and more environmentally-friendly future. This is the reason for my willingness to dedicate my time towards the project.”

What Change Did the Recognition as a Youth Fellow from LearningPlanet Bring to Your Journey?

My efforts were acknowledged in a meaningful way. Learning Planet Institute, an organisation committed to nurturing innovative learning methodologies, recognised my work by appointing me as a Youth Fellow This acknowledgement not only boosted my confidence but also reinforced my commitment to my mission.

Yet, the most rewarding aspect was gaining membership to an expansive network brimming with inspiring innovators and visionaries.

How do you think the LearningPlanet ecosystems can support CircuLab?

The mission of CircuLab, focused on enhancing youth education, aligns powerfully with the objectives of the LearningPlanet ecosystem. This synergy enables us to profitably harness it towards creating a global generation educated and empowered to make a circular economy a reality.

Through the medium of Youth Fellow community calls, not only have I forged connections with individuals who share similar passions, but I have also drawn immense inspiration from the diverse missions and perspectives of other fellows.

Our award-winning narrative learning game, CircuTale, originated from a stimulating discussion in a breakout room with another Youth Fellow.

The vast resources and international reach of the LearningPlanet ecosystem equips us with the potential to collaborate with global research entities focused on refining circular economy education could result in mutual advancements.

In reverse, how do you think CircuLab can support LearningPlanet ecosystems?

CircuLab can reciprocate the support to LearningPlanet ecosystems in multiple ways. With our existing relationships across 17 global schools, we can offer LearningPlanet a solid network of supportive partners. Being an organisation exclusively composed of high school students, we’re uniquely positioned to offer real, first-hand insights into the youth perspective. This can provide LearningPlanet with an invaluable, authentic understanding of the needs, aspirations, and perspectives of the youth demographic, thereby allowing them to refine their initiatives for better resonance with their target audience.

Planetizen Jasmine Wei with fellow Youth Fellow, Raven Frias, and two members of the LearningPlanet Alliance. from left to right: Edward Stevenette and Olivier Bréchard.

Bottom line

Reflecting on my journey, I’m convinced that learning is more than a memory test. It’s a dynamic process, one that involves questioning, understanding, applying, and innovating. So, here’s to a future where education goes beyond the classroom, transcends geographical boundaries, and inspires a generation of Planetizens who are not just future-ready but eager to shape it.

Meet Jasmine

Jasmine Wei is a youth leader, academic, actress, writer and cross-cultural musician from New Zealand. Committed to fusing her eclectic passions to effect long-lasting systemic changes, Jasmine channels her efforts toward creating a more sustainable and peaceful world.

Jasmine co-founded CircuLab, an innovative initiative aimed at better equipping young people to be future leaders in confronting climate change through improving the quality and inclusivity of circular economy education. CircuLab, through its user-friendly CircuTale app, has distinguished itself in the field of circular economy education and emerged as a finalist in the Catalyst 2030 challenge. Its CircuSaver paper-reduction project has engaged over 17,000 students.

Further harnessing the power of education and storytelling, Jasmine founded UKRAINIUM, a platform where students across the world share views and stories on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine while raising awareness of global peace. More than just a discussion platform, UKRAINIUM actively fundraises for the education of Ukrainian children. Founded in 2022, UKRAINIUM now has 50 members, published 40 articles, raised over $5000 and has been featured on broadcasts such as 95bFM.

Beyond her leadership and academic pursuits, Jasmine is an adventure enthusiast. She enjoys various extreme sports such as skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping, snowboarding, and scuba diving.

Connect with Jasmine

Instagram: jjasmine.wei