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Realities of the world about us

Clare Short says development education should be an integral part of the national curriculum. In a society obsessed with morality, it is unthinkable that children should not be helped to understand the reason why the numbers of people living in poverty are growing while the wealth of the world continues to increase.

If the next generation wishes to protect the environment and prevent war, it needs a fuller understanding of these issues, and Britain's interest in them, rather than the shallow, short-term perspective shown so tragically towards Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

In 1976, the Labour government set up a Development Education Fund to promote a better understanding of "worldwide social, economic and political conditions, particularly those which relate to, and are responsible for, underdevelopment".

Development education was seen then as a set of values that should permeate education. Now, however, that perspective has shrivelled. People feel despondent about what can be achieved at home and rarely dare to hope that we can create a better international order.

This is where development education comes in. If we are to engage people in what is really going on in the world, we must incorporate a global perspective into education at all levels. My view is that the best way of achieving this is to make the connections between what people experience at home and what happens overseas; the people of the North and South must act together, otherwise they will be used against each other and all will lose out.

The Government has failed to grasp even the fundamental issues at the heart of the debate. Its policies are the same as those that are devastating the poorest countries in the world.

Economic liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation are part of the disastrous, and now discredited, ideology of the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet they are still being inflicted on developing countries.

Further, the public debate made by the Government fails to make the link between environmental degradation and development - even though we signed up to both at Rio.

If the Government took its commitments at Rio seriously, it would remember that it signed up to Agenda 21, which stated: "Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues."

Children could then be taught that poverty-stricken countries in Africa and South America are unable to defend their rainforests from deforestation. They would see that poor countries are unstable and vulnerable to exploitation, military conflict and environmental degradation. And they could make the connection between their lives, and those of other children like them.

Because morals and values are important - around the world as well as in our schools - it is development education that should be an integral part of the curriculum, not a return to the use of the cane.

The Labour party will work to increase wider public understanding of global interdependence and development matters, including more discussion of these issues within the school curriculum.

This is not just about kindness and morality. It is necessary in order to give our children a chance of living in a safe and decent world.

Clare Short is Labour MP for Ladywell and the Opposition spokesperson for overseas development

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