The appointment of Clare Short as International Development Secretary shows how much the Labour Government's commitment to global issues differs from that of the previous administration. Ms Short nailed the Government's colours to the mast when she told the House of Commons of her aim to "get everyone committed" to halving world poverty by 2015. She said: "Young people can give the lead, and we want to work with them to ensure they do."
As shadow spokeswoman for overseas development, Ms Short had already declared that she would make the promotion and understanding of development issues within education a priority if and when she became a minister. Since May 1 her speeches and comments have confirmed she means business.
At the start of November the new Department for International Development will launch a White Paper covering all aspects of development. It is likely to contain positive statements about development education and the need to put global perspectives at the heart of revisions to the national curriculum. Alongside the White Paper, the Government is likely to publish a popular version, aimed at young adults and stressing the need for people to engage with the key development issues. The department hopes that schools and colleges will use this version as a development education tool, particularly with sixth-formers.
This ministerial commitment is not happening in a vacuum. Increasing numbers of people are realising that we live in a globalised society and that local and global issues are inseparable. The growing interest in citizenship is moving beyond the confines of national definitions and civics to include world and global perspectives. These ideas and the notion of sustainable development have become relevant to all sectors of education.
The Department for Environment, Regions and Transport has also recognised this and has increased funding for sustainable development projects and set up an advisory panel on education for sustainable development. Even the Foreign Office has adopted a code of ethics in its decisions on sanctioning arms sales and has asserted its responsibility for promoting human rights in its dealings with other countries.
Many headteachers have said that following the death of Princess Diana there has been an explosion in interest among children and young people in finding out more on such topics as the use of landmines and global causes of Aids. And, however glib it might appear, such key words to development educationists as justice, fairness and tolerance are not the dirty words they were five or 10 years ago. It is curious, then, that the one department that could do most to ensure these values are spread through our schools has yet to meet the challenge.
The Department for Education and Employment's recently published consultation document, Learning and Working Together for the Future, reveals a utilitarian approach to education in which preparing young people to be effective workers in the marketplace is the overriding priority. There is, as yet, little recognition that global perspectives should be at the heart of the curriculum.
The Scottish Curriculum Council's paper on values, The Heart of the Matter, is an excellent starting point, which the DFEE and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should consider adopting. It refers to education not being a commodity but an end in itself. It talks about providing young people with a foundation on which to base moral and ethical decisions and behaviour in our interdependent world.
"Education must aim to provide a framework on which young people can base critical thinking and judgements," the report says. "These will enable them to participate as active and responsible citizens in the personal and social dimensions of society, and will encourage them to be explicit about the values of a just and caring society."
To back this up the global dimension needs to be part of the everyday life of all schools. The cultural diversity of a school should be celebrated. Links with schools across the world should be encouraged and tolerance, justice and equity should be core values on which all teaching is based.
For this to happen, there needs to be greater recognition of global perspectives within the initial and in-service training of teachers and school inspections need to value and encourage the promotion of a global dimension within school life.
The Development Education Association - the umbrella body for the promotion of development education in the UK - took part in the consultation process on the DFEE's White Paper, Excellence in Schools, and welcomes the commitment to high standards. But it believes the references to citizenship in the White Paper must be developed to include references to the increased globalisation of our society. Learning about our global responsibilities, developing positive attitudes towards other peoples and other cultures, believing the world can be a better place and taking appropriate action should be part of any citizenship programme.
Professor Michael Barber, special adviser on standards for the DFEE, has also recognised the need to make awareness of the wider world a core feature of the national curriculum. His influential book, The Learning Game, stresses the importance of globalisation. In it he asks: "If the ethics of teachers do not promote world understanding, whose will?" These issues are being discussed in many countries. A recent Council of Europe conference on global education in schools discussed a draft Global Education Charter. It suggested that "through education young people should consider the fundamental equality in diversity of human beings, the need for respecting other cultures and races and for condemning violence, coercion and repression as social control mechanisms".
Throughout the UK, many projects are putting global perspectives and development education ideas into practice. The 50 or so development education centres in the UK provide information, advice and help to teachers and community groups. They also run in-service training programmes and produce materials for schools. Teachers clearly value their work, but they have to survive on a shoestring.
National development agencies such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Save the Children, Voluntary Service Overseas, Intermediate Technology and ActionAid have education programmes that also include production of resources and provision of teacher training.
The DEA hopes that in the new political climate, the issues and concerns its members have been raising for years will at last move centre stage. Expectations are high that the Department for International Development, unlike its predecessor the Overseas Development Association, will become a strong advocate for putting global perspectives at the heart of the school curriculum. But we need more than words. If global perspectives are really to become an integral part of school life, the DFEE and the DFID must provide the necessary resources and support to the bodies that can offer the training and materials teachers need.
Douglas Bourn is director of the Development Education Association