For any child walking down London's Kensington High Street, the Commonwealth Institute is an unmissable landmark, but ask the significance of the building or the meaning of commonwealth, and chances are the child will be unable to tell you. The institute hopes all this will change when citizenship becomes a compulsory curriculum subject for secondary schools in September - with the added boost of this summer's Commonwealth Games in Manchester and the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
For the first time on the national curriculum, the citizenship orders will require schools to make a specific study of the Commonwealth. For the institute it is too good an opportunity to miss. Last month, it issued a free education pack to more than 30,000 primary and secondary schools in the UK.
Until recently, the institute's education work consisted chiefly of hosting large, permanent exhibitions of Commonwealth memorabilia - artefacts and displays from countries emerging from colonial pasts. But the exhibitions are no more. Some of the exhibits have gone to other museums, thousands of artefacts are waiting to be digitised to form an online resource for schools, and the big exhibition halls are hired out.
On January 1, 2000, the Commonwealth Institute began the process of reinventing itself. "We have turned the idea of the institute on its head," says chief executive David French. "Our mission is no longer to promote an institution, but to promote constructive cultural diversity and learning across the many cultures of the Commonwealth. And we see the future as being about focusing on young people - with 60 per cent of people in the Commonwealth under 25, it is very much a young people's network."
The paucity of these young people who would readily identify themselves as Commonwealth citizens does not daunt the institute. "Scratch the surface, and you'll find that 60 per cent of young people in Britain have at least a second cousin living in a Commonwealth country," says Mr French. Studying the Commonwealth "explains the patterns of these immigrations, and their impact on the cultural diversity of Britain. It's there in people's family histories: that's why the Commonwealth is such a fantastic context for these issues."
The Commonwealth Games education pack, part of the Spirit of Friendship festival, which runs from March 11 (Commonwealth Day) through to the games in July, is the biggest educational project it has undertaken, and has the support of the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for International Development.
Taking sport as its starting point (with A4 flashcards of well-known and lesser-known Commonwealth athletes), the pack branches out into discussions on human rights, cultural diversity, lifestyle choices and teamwork. It includes an ingenious simulation game, in which pupils are asked to weigh up arguments for and against staging their own Commonwealth Games in the imaginary city of "Livia", looking at environmental considerations and the impact on the local community.
The pack aims to provide teachers and pupils with useful "warm-up" activities before the launch of citizenship in the autumn, says Kim Stephenson, an ex-primary teacher who designed it. But several teachers have already told the institute they plan to develop the pack for two years after the games. One school's design and technology department is even planning to build a 3-D model of the city of Livia.
"This kind of work helps children to think about stereotypes, and to grasp that issues can affect people in different ways," says Steve Brace, the institute's director of education, a former secondary teacher and head of ActionAid's education programme. "It's about the ability to make choices based on evidence when there is no one right answer."
Other features of the games' education programme include Common Link, an interactive website for pupils and teachers; grants of around pound;2,000 for schools and LEAs planning Commonwealth-linked projects; and Top Link (with Youth Sport Trust), in which secondary school pupils will run mini games for their local primary schools.