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Common grounds for celebration

OUR MODERN COMMONWEALTH. Education Pack from the Joint Commonwealth Societies' Council. Free to schools. Age range: 10 plus.

Forget your impression of the Commonwealth as an outdated relic of Empire. The 53 member countries include some of the largest and smallest and richest and poorest nations on Earth - and some that were never part of the British Empire.

Every member state is committed to world peace, international trade on fair terms, freedom of the individual, tolerance, equality and democracy.

The Commonwealth promises to combat poverty, injustice and racial discrimination. No decision is made unless all the members are not opposed - which gives even the smallest countries a voice.

Did you know that two-thirds of Britain's primary school children have at least second cousins in another Commonwealth country, or that Britain has a healthier balance of trade with the Commonwealth than with the European Union?

1997 is the UK Year of the Commonwealth, and the Royal Commonwealth Society has produced a pack to encourage teachers to present the Commonwealth to their pupils. The pack offers an unstructured muddle of suggestions, varying in difficulty from plaiting a friendship bracelet to an open discussion on the role of the Queen.

Yet if you take the time, you will find inspiration. 1997 is the 50th anniversary of independence in India and Pakistan (and the 40th in Ghana and Malaysia).

Teachers should be able to exploit the tremendous range of traditional stories, poetry and drama which these celebrations offer. Something could be made of the different religious, dance and musical traditions.

What makes it so attractive is that this tremendous diversity is welcomed within the Commonwealth. It is not a cause of conflict - here is a theme for social and moral education.

On Commonwealth Day (March 10) the theme "talking together" presented many opportunities for cross-curricular work on communication.

The Royal Commonwealth Society is now on the Internet ( so these can only go from strength to strength.

Sadly this pack's worksheets do not, nor is there enough information for pupils to do the work successfully. Teachers will have to do a lot of research and preparation first.

To help, there is an excellent list of sources for further information in the back of the "Ideas for Teachers" booklet.

This is an excellent project, with laudable aims, but it will need great teacher input to make it work.

The Joint Commonwealth Societies' Council, 18 Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5BJ

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