Writing to children who live in mud huts, beating out traditional rhythms on African drums and learning how to use a drop toilet are among the experiences that The TES Make The Link campaign will open up for British pupils.
This month, The TES is launching its Make The Link campaign, to encourage British schools to set up partnerships with schools around the world. The aim is for both sets of schools to develop curriculum ideas and learn about each other's worlds. Pupils will be able to see how technology can transport them to classrooms around the globe. The lessons learned will be invaluable in geography or citizenship debates.
When Ingleby Mill primary, in Stockton-on-Tees, set up a link with a primary in northern Ghana, Liz Shaller, Year 6 teacher, visited the school.
She now uses her photographs to illustrate citizenship lessons. "Pupils look at the pictures of pit toilets, and say 'urgh'," she said. "They live in a cocoon of privilege. But they're prepared to believe what I'm telling them, because it's coming from first-hand experience."
The campaign will also encourage teachers to use such links in more unexpected areas of the curriculum. When Dudley Ray, music teacher at Polesworth high, in Warwickshire, learned that his school had set up a partnership with a village secondary in Ghana, he looked for ways to enhance his own subject teaching. "I visited the village, and was taught traditional local rhythms by a master drummer," he said. "We were playing in the shadow of a tree, with the sound of dancing feet on hard earth, and the dust rising around us.
"Now, when I teach Year 8 pupils drumming, they are learning the oral tradition of a specific village, using a drum made from a tree. It means something. It's a bit different to going to Covent Garden and buying one."
The Make The Link campaign will emphasise the value of whole-school links, which include pupils in the process. Pupil correspondence is often difficult: few schools in the developing world have guaranteed internet access, so letters must be sent by slow and often unreliable postal systems. And the disparity between British and developing-world class sizes means that British pupils often have to write letters to multiple penfriends.
Jennifer Blockley, Year 4 teacher at Launceston primary, in Cornwall, believes that the effort is worthwhile. Her pupils regularly write to their counterparts at Kyema primary, in Uganda.
She said: "Pupils do their best literacy work then, because they know they're writing to people whose first language isn't English. They like to know that their work is for a purpose. It's killing about 10 birds with one stone."