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Feeding their minds

AN AMBITIOUS schools project aims to show pupils how they can change the world.

Inspiring Enquiring Minds - developed at Glasgow's Jordanhill School but now involving several other schools - requires pupils to look outwith the minutiae of traditional curricular subjects and see bigger pictures.

The citizenship project, aimed initially at S6 pupils, presents complex moral and philosophical issues and is designed to stimulate a sense of responsibility as a citizen in a democratic society. The current crop of about 20 participants voluntarily attended sessions for 90 minutes each Wednesday after school, although next year these will be incorporated into their normal day.

Pupils could be suddenly presented with scenarios where the Earth is about to be destroyed and a spaceship can help 100 people escape; the pupils discuss whom they would save. They may also be asked to research a topic in advance, perhaps investigating issues behind the popular perception of certain countries. This has prompted discussions about punitive immigration laws in apparently carefree Australia, control of the internet in China, and reflection on issues they had not previously considered in the UK.

The project has extended beyond S6 and out of Jordanhill. The older students led a conference for P7 pupils, where they encouraged debate about global issues that resulted ultimately in their younger peers creating an exhibition at Glasgow's Kelvin-grove Art Gallery.

It is also being used at several other schools. Jordanhill held its second annual Inspiring Enquir-ing Minds conference in Glasgow last week, which was attended by six other Glasgow schools, as well as Blairgowrie High, Dunbar Grammar and Grange-mouth High. It is hoped that others from throughout Scotland will become involved.

A highlight of the conference was a talk from Claire Bert-schinger, the Red Cross nurse who featured in Michael Buerk's BBC reports from famine-stricken Ethiopia in 1984 and subsequently inspired Bob Geldof to organise the Live Aid appeal. She told pupils that, rather than relying on politicians, it was up to individuals to take a lead in making the world a better place. She advised sceptics to consider the power of a tiny creature such as the mosquito to wreak havoc.

A question-and-answer session provided evidence of the enquiring S6 minds developing in the schools involved, with Ms Bertschinger fielding some searching queries. One questioner asked how she managed to choose which children's lives to save, while another asked if she believed she had truly made a difference.

Derek Brown, deputy headteacher at Jordanhill School and one of the staff behind the conference, said: "This is about raising awareness of global issues, helping pupils understand - without dumbing down or patronising anybody - and making it relevant to them.

"We talk about problems and challenges the world is facing, but in such a way that they see potential opportunities and what difference an individual can make.

"Pupils say it gave them a strong voice in school and a way to define that voice - that's the thing we are most proud of. We feel that the pupils have a different way of exploring and articulating things."

The project has been supported by the Scottish Executive through the Future Learning and Teaching Programme (FLaT), while it is being organised by Jordanhill along with the applied educational research team at Strathclyde University and the global citizenship unit at Glasgow University.

In an evaluation of the project, Glasgow University found that Inspiring Enquiring Minds "provides a model that all Scottish schools can draw upon and adapt to suit their circumstances", in the light of the policy recommendations regarding citizenship and A Curriculum for Excellence.

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What would you do?

Two trains are going to collide. One driver has a wife and children; the other one does not. One can be saved. Who do you choose?

This was a scenario presented to S6 pupils at Jordanhill School at an Inspiring Enquiring Minds session.

"You could say what you wanted to say, as long as you could give the reason why - you don't normally get the chance to do that in class," said Michael Lynch, 17.

The teachers taking the sessions would instigate debate, but not drive it towards a predetermined conclusion. Instead, they would take part as equals, chipping in now and again with their thoughts. "Sometimes they would just sit back," said Michael, who found it refreshing to work with teachers on the same level.

Pupils found that the sessions sparked interest in topics they had previously been indifferent about, and that sometimes they came away with different opinions to the ones they had started with.

Vicki Cox, 18, said: "Before, you would have made a generalised comment, but now you can back it up and you know how to go out and research it better. You have to be more constructive than before."

Michael and Vicki were involved in organising the conference for P7s in addressing global issues.

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