A recent contributor to the New Statesman highlighted an interesting paradox. The familiar part is that under-25s were four times less likely to be registered to vote than any other age-group, and that young people were "disengaged" from political parties. The less familiar part is that 82 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds "felt they needed to understand global issues".
They are interested in major issues such as world poverty, conservation, sustainable economics, and the causes and resolution of conflicts. Schools contribute to this awareness, notably through geography, general studies and science courses. The new citizenship initiative also reflects a concern that young people should understand and participate in political processes.
Curriculum treatment of contemporary issues is too often constrained: teachers have to be sensitive to potential charges of indoctrination; classroom debates can provide platforms for prejudice; and resources may be hard to find. But the main problem is obsolescence. Students eager to discuss today's headlines find yesterday's topics in their textbooks.
Understanding Global Issues addresses this problem. It provides 10 "briefings" a year, with each issue focusing on a specific area or theme. The past 13 issues looked at Russia, Nigeria, the Middle East, Singapore, Korea and Mexico, the United Nations, global finance, organised crime, NATO, energy, the arms trade and disease.
The 18 pages of text are liberally supported by photographs, diagrams and data, with a colour centrefold that features a map.
The series is extremely topical. The Indonesia issue (January 1998), focuses on the country's economic crises but also highlights East Timor. The May 1999 issue on the UN deals primarily with funding but incorporates a two-page analysis of the UN role in Kosovo.
The focus is on issues and conflicts, and the briefings are not merely an assemblage of relevant background information, but engage with controversies, setting out the positions of the protagonists, such as the fossil fuel lobby, the PLO and the critics of NATO. The complexity of issues is not disguised - the editorial team is assisted by academic consultants and other specialists. I found it hard to detect any ideological slant.
The prose style is a blend of the Economist and Newsweek, but it is accessible. Without being patronising, the writers nevertheless make few assumptions about background knowledge. Libraries catering for lively sixth forms should investigate this resource.
Details from UGI, The Runnings,Cheltenham GL51 9PQ.Tel: 01242 245252. Website: www.global-issues.co.uk