Toronto — Early this month the world's fourth autumn interschool conference on world affairs, called Introducing: The World, gathered 700 students from Toronto and American high schools to discuss some of the most important issues facing mankind today.
They were joined by 150 adult ''resource people'' from the arts, government, associations, business, religion, nongovernmenal organizations, and academia.
John Fraser, national editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail and author of ''The Chinese: Portrait of a People,'' stressed the uniqueness of man.
Clare Westcott, executive director of the Office of the Premier of Ontario, spoke of his distress at the apparent apathy and insularity of youth for human suffering.
The conference theme, ''Dealing With Change: Priorities for Global Directions ,'' was structured around six topics:
* ''Choosing Leaders: Responsibility for Power.''
* ''The Media: Information? Propaganda? Entertainment?''
* ''Need or Want? New Perspective on Energy?''
* ''Life Since Einstein: Redesigning the Nuclear Age.''
* ''Global Economics: The Worth of a Day's Work.''
* ''Science and Art: Creating Values for the Future.''
These themes were discussed in small groups of 10 to 12 students and two resource people, with a student moderator. Quite a stir was created among the members of one group when a representative of Ontario Hydro, which supplies nuclear power, produced a small pellet from his coat pocket and announced that it was what went into a nuclear reactor.
At a special plenary session in the afternoon, Lewis Perinbam, vice-president for special programs at the Canadian International Development Agency, carried on an informal discussion with Robert W. Reford, president of the Reford-McCandless International Institute, and Wendy Farmer, a student host and moderator. This session included a general question-and-answer period.
The conference was wrapped up with final mini-plenary sessions, where critical questions, group resolutions, and new insights were recorded for later reference to appropriate agencies.
Throughout the day students took the important leadership roles. The resource people answered questions but did not monopolize sessions. As one student said, ''There were people sharing from all over the room. It was great!''
Lisa Carrozza, a student at Weston Collegiate Institute (Weston, Ontario) said, ''It reaffirms the fact that every person is a citizen not only of a country, but of the world. . . . We were trying to overcome one of the biggest problems today - lack of communication.''
Glenn Maddock, Greenwich, Conn., a student at Principia Upper School in St. Louis, which sent 13 student delegates to the conference, commented, ''The direct discussions with students from all over North America were more enlightening than any news report I've ever heard.''
And Julie Watt, Geneva, Ill., another Principia student, concluded, ''Canadian or American, we all need to open up our thinking to find solutions to the world's problems.''
Introducing: The World is a nonprofit, nonpartisan program sponsored by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.It is designed to interest high school students in world affairs and students' roles in them. The format encourages students to examine all sides of an issue and make their own judgments.
The program supplies a bibliography (prepared by the Canadian Institute for International Affairs), holds two large conferences a year, publishes two student newspapers, one before each conference, and operates a large speakers bank, offering visits to all participating schools. In addition it creates a network between students and resource people.
As an extracurricular program, Introducing: The World supplements school courses. One of the strengths of the program is its flexibility, which permits its adaptation by diverse groups. For example, the American Red Cross Society in Rochester, N.Y., is in its third year of such a successful adaptation.
Many of the teachers at the conference stressed the great need in education systems for programs such as this one.
Students were equally appreciative of the opportunities available. Cheryl Ferguson, a student at Thomas A. Blakelock High School, Toronto, said, ''Sometimes I am overwhelmed with ideas. Introducing: The World gives me somewhere to go with them, to discuss and express them. I don't feel as if I have limitations because of my age.The possibilities and directions are limitless. Young people can have a voice in shaping the events of our world.''
This tone of hope, energy, and concern was echoed throughout the conference. The sentiments of the staff and the ultimate goal of the program were summarized by Stephanie McCandless Reford, the program coordinator: ''Introducing: The World is only a beginning. Don't let your questions end with our conference. Take them to positive conclusions that will make a difference!''