Earthing the agenda

ANY group of pupils attempting to make sense of the earth summitry in South Africa this week would have learnt little of global plans for the future of the planet. They would, however, have learnt a great deal about the discourse of public debate as environmentalists gently chided world leaders for their "shameful" failure to take critical decisions, their political "stitch-up" and the "meagre outcome" of their lengthy deliberations.

Against that sense of deep disappointment, Jack McConnell should count himself lucky that he has earned some environmental praise. The WWF Scotland hailed the First Minister's "landmark" speech at the summit as a sign that Scotland was at last beginning to take its responsibilities in this area seriously, and there will be some welcome for the renewed drive behind eco-schools. These, of course, may simply be warm words. It now remains to be seen whether action follows and the outcome of the Scottish Executive's spending review this month will be scrutinised against a whole series of ministerial pledges.

There may not be a self-evident link between the Johannesburg summit and the latest efforts to promote mental well-being (page four). But for hard-pressed teachers there most certainly is. Schools must ride to the rescue. They should make "sustainable development and global citizenship" a key purpose of their activities, according to WWF Scotland; and they must also turn out "confident, well-balanced and emotionally literate" youngsters, according to the Health Minister.

Schools are now expected to tackle drug addiction, prevent teenage pregnancies, make the nation fit and healthy, improve our national sports performance, promote racial tolerance, become digitally adept, save the economy and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

The very list is testimony to the absurdity of it all. The curriculum and exam syllabus are simply incapable of delivering - however "holistic," "cross-curricular" and "permeating" these agendas are dressed up to appeal to a sceptical profession. Enthusiastic individuals will always do their best and our columns regularly reflect some inspiring efforts. But the only real solution is to go back to the drawing board and redefine the curriculum radically. Somehow, we do not think this is what the promoters of the great education debate intend.

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