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Let's save the world

Have primary pupils' attitudes changed? They show more conscience, writes Adi Bloom

finding osama Bin Laden, ending drought in Africa or developing an environmentally friendly flying car are among the ambitions of today's primary pupils.

Research reveals that, between homework stresses and worrying who to play with at break, children are increasingly focusing on climate change, world poverty and international terrorism.

Asked to name their biggest fear, almost two-thirds mentioned war. Several decried Tony Blair and George Bush for war-mongering, and called on them to resign. And one 11-year-old boy suggested that the world might be a better place if "Saddam dies, Bush dies, Blair dies". Others worried about terrorism, fearing that the violence they witnessed in the media would spread to their home towns. One boy commented: "I hope that Bin Laden don't bomb Bristol."

Cathie Holden from Exeter university interviewed 9 to 11 year olds from primaries in the South. A third of them hoped for an end to world poverty.

They spoke about eradicating hunger, as well as ending overpopulation and overcrowding. And they debated why Western governments had not yet dealt with these ills. One 11-year-old boy suggested: "Putting the world's money together and giving Africa water."

A third were also concerned about the environment, particularly pollution, global warming, and the disappearance of the countryside. One 11-year-old girl claimed that "the whole world will become a series of never-ending cities".

But boys were more optimistic, suggesting that problems might be solved through technological innovation. These range from the plausible "something to be... used instead of petrol" to the fanciful "flying cars", via the timeless "robots for housework".

Generally, the children said, they just wanted society to be happier. One girl insisted she wanted: "People to stop swearing and putting up the middle finger." Another boy plaintively asked "for the world to get more human".

Pupils' preoccupation with such global concerns is relatively recent. In 1994, when Dr Holden asked pupils similar questions, only 10 per cent of primary pupils were involved in fundraising or campaigning for change; today, it's 33 per cent who say they participate.

And, while 20 per cent of the 1994 pupils said that they had learnt nothing about global issues in school, today only 4 per cent had not covered these topics. Dr Holden concluded that this "may reflect a new interest in politics among British pupils in the aftermath of 911 and the Iraq war".

Today's children are also more likely to worry about crime, violence, alcohol and drug abuse.

Dr Holden concludes: "What they have to say dispels any notion of childhood innocence. Children are aware of many of the challenges of our time, as they speak about the dangers of drugs, violence, racism, and the possibility of personal failure...

"All children, whether from inner-city London or rural Devon, are aware of world conflict, environmental challenges and economic inequalities."

"Concerned citizens: children and the future", by Cathie Holden, is published in 'Education, Citizenship and Social Justice'. Volume I (3) c.e.holden@exeter.ac.uk

What children say

The TES asked Jonathan Pollard, 9, Harry Bowles and Molly Shipman, both 10, pupils at Flintham primary in Nottinghamshire, about

War

H: "There's too much war in the world. The Iraqi war has gone on for a couple of years now, and that's just over-the-top."

Third World poverty

H: "All the things you don't want, things you decide to chuck away, you should send to people with poverty."

Alcohol and drugs

M: "People can die from things like cancer if they drink too much."

J: "A lot of people get drunk because they're stressed or worried. It wrecks your body and you die earlier."

Pollution J: "People throw stuff away, instead of recycling it. Then the polar ice-caps will melt, and the sea will rise and countries will be underwater."

Protesting

J: "I don't think I'd feel strongly enough to protest. Nobody really listens, so there's not any point."

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