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Education minister calls for a 'smarter' Scotland

SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES in Scotland are helping to tackle some of the educational challenges now faced by developing countries, Hugh Henry, the Education Minister, said this week in Cape Town, South Africa, where the education ministers of the Commonwealth countries were meeting.

But Scottish education also had to help build a "smarter" Scotland, he said, as globalisation and electronic communications enabled work to be transferred to countries such as India.

"We have to think about what we can do better, where we can be more skilled or better equipped to add value," he said. "We've got to be smarter."

Mr Henry confidently chaired a meeting on the impact of globalisation on education at the Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers. This had last been convened in Edinburgh in 2003. "The meeting in Edinburgh was a great success and an honour for Scotland," Mr Henry told The TESS in Cape Town. "So it was important for me to come here as part of the handover to South Africa."

The Commonwealth ministers are under pressure to do even more to ensure good quality schooling for all. An estimated 27 million Commonwealth children still get no primary schooling.

An extra four million trained teachers are needed in sub-Saharan Africa alone, if universal primary education is to be provided with 40 pupils to every teacher.

One proposal put before ministers was for every school in the Commonwealth to enter into a partnership with a school in another country for mutual support and better understanding of global issues. Chancellor Gordon Brown pledged pound;7m to support such links at a meeting with Nelson Mandela in Mozambique earlier this year.

"We are a small country but we are keen to help where we can," Mr Henry said. "We have long-standing historical links with Malawi and are looking at how we can help develop some of the huge numbers of teachers required in Africa."

He said his department already supported schools and colleges building links with their counterparts in developing countries, such as Malawi and South Africa.

"It broadens pupils' horizons, breaks down barriers and gives a better understanding of those countries and cultures and of some of the historic injustices of the world," he said.

Scottish education was internationally oriented, he said, with many of its young people going abroad to work, while students or teachers from overseas came to Scotland to train. And the Scottish Qualifications Authority worked across the world to help raise standards.

The minister described Scotland as "a tolerant and welcoming nation" but, echoing the Prime Minister's controversial remarks on integrating ethnic minority communities, Mr Henry added: "It is part of education's responsibility to ensure immigrants are absorbed and integrated and to help resolve any tensions."

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