Anyone who thinks of the national curriculum as a pedagogical straitjacket might be heartened, surprised, shocked even, by the possibilities that development education brings to the subject of geography - not to mention English, history, art, personal and social education, drama and just about every other nook and cranny of the curriculum.
Development education has had a chequered history. In the Sixties and Seventies, it was funded by the Government. Alongside the mushrooming of development education centres around the country (resource centres usually run by and for teachers, of which there are now 40 in Britain), came the growth of non- governmental agencies such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid and others and the building up of their education work.
The Development Education Fund was cut back and wound up during Mrs Thatcher's first government in the early Eighties. But in the past three or four years, funders have made more promising noises. While the Overseas Development Administration gives only a small amount of funding - Pounds 500,000 - to development education, the ODA is currently in consultation with the fledgling umbrella body, the Development Education Association, about the increasingly important role of this area of study in schools and colleges. The biggest boon has come, however, from the European Union, which is keen on supporting this work and is the largest funder in this country and elsewhere in the Union.
Doug Bourn, the Development Education Association's director, says: "If it wasn't for the EU, development education would have a tough time." That there is a need for this work is, according to Bourn and other proponents, beyond debate. Children are growing up in a more multicultural society than ever before, with a greater awareness of the world outside their own country than at any other time in history. Through development education, the global becomes understandable, full of connections. Children learn the causes and effects of North-South economics, they learn about sustainable development and about the perspectives of people in the developing world.
In curricular terms, development education's most obvious place is in geography. Teachers around the country have found its usefulness and power to motivate children through its basis on actual people, places, situations. Birmingham Development Education Centre, one of the oldest in the country, organised a group of young British geography teachers to collaborate with counterparts in the Ghanaian city of Kumasi on a joint field study on the city's sanitation provision to be used in teaching in both countries. Here, it was designed for use at key stage 3 as a case study showing "the geographical features and conditions of an economically developing country" with reference to both physical and human elements. The project yielded a practical resource for teaching about development issues in Ghana, with considerable input from Ghanaians themselves.
One of the longest running and most inventive projects is a North-South link between the two tiny countries of Wales and Lesotho, both of them mountainous, bilingual and with a long tradition of mining. It has involved a number of community and education activities. For nearly 10 years, the partnership, called Dolen Cymru (Wales Link) has run a schools linking programme with funding from the Welsh Office. The project has developed a primary pack on daily life in Lesotho from a child's perspective.
While some development education centres and projects produce their own materials, the bulk of resources is produced by non-governmental agenciess. ActionAid has a team of 20 visiting teachers which last year visited more than 500 primary and secondary schools around the country giving presentations on a wide choice of countries and issues for a fee of Pounds 45. Education officer Steve Brace says: "A school can ring up and ask for one of our teachers to come and talk about water or health issues in Kenya or any of 20 countries and themes." ActionAid's packs were used by one million school children last year.
Oxfam is another major non-governmental agency producing resources for schools. From eight regional offices throughout the UK, the Oxford-based organisation runs in-service training and other courses for teachers and sells and lends packs and other resources to schools and community groups. According to Chris Mason, Oxfam's development education leader based in Newcastle, "the main thrust of our development education work is to communicate Oxfam's experience overseas and its analysis of the causes of poverty in a way that meets the needs and agendas of teachers, particularly concerning the national curriculum".
While development education is not a priority in the curriculum there is a sense that the movement is gaining momentum and the DEA is lobbying the Government and the EU to increase support. Similarly, it is keen for the Office for Standards in Education inspections to make reference to international perspectives in schools' curricula. Links are being made with the Institute of Education and other training colleges to include development education in teacher training.
In the meantime, the regional DECs are making good links with teachers, getting their packs trialled in local schools. The collaborative partnership between the centres and the schools is a crucial one. According to Doug Bourn, "teachers are crying out for help in interpreting the curriculum in a more global way, in showing positive perspectives of the South. And they're not getting that help from anywhere else".
o The DEA offers teachers information about development education, regional development education centres and contact numbers for non-governmental aid agencies. Phone the information worker on 0171-490 8108