Seeds of future world harmony

The simple aim was to encourage children to become better citizens and make more friends in the playground. But one year on, schools piloting the Primary Democracy project in Swansea are crossing cultural divides, generations and even time zones.

The scheme works on the theory that children are more likely to become community-minded if they feel empowered.

According to Jill Ahern, community education officer at Pentrehafod school in Swansea, letting children be the bosses of their projects has produced results inside and outside the school gates.

A cluster of 36 schools across the UK are involved in the pilot, funded by community learning charity ContinYou Cymru and supporting local authorities. They include schools from two local authorities in Wales - Swansea and Bridgend.

Pupils at Pentrehafod decided on an environmental theme and designed and nurtured an oriental garden. Year 8 pupils have been responsible for running the garden, from the initial purchase of seeds to their planting and care.

Their plans for the garden have led to links with schools in China as pupils have investigated what seeds to plant and how to lay out the garden.

Visits are already arranged.

Tom Whyte, 12, from Landore, became an active member of the green-fingered brigade after his friends became involved. "Working on the garden has been great because we didn't have a teacher decide for us," he said. "We chose the plants and so we took advantage of the buy-one-get-one-free deals."

But working on the garden has also given him a community perspective, helping him to see the bigger picture outside of school. "Now, if I see a group of boys throwing litter in my street, I pick it up," he said.

But Tom's transformation from schoolboy to citizen does not stop in the streets of Swansea. "I was aware of global warming, but after gardening I wanted to do something to help stop it.

"People say there's no point in doing it because there's nothing we can do, but if everyone in the world did one small thing, we could all make a difference."

The Hafod Youth Action Group, an after-school club, was set up by a Pentrehafod pupil as a result of the project. Young dancers from the group will soon perform Bollywood dancing for elderly members of the community.

At neighbouring Daniel James community school in the Penlan area of the city, the pupils wanted an art scheme.

This led to the hiring of nationally renowned artist Becky Adams. As part of the scheme, pupils were able to visit feeder primaries to help younger children prepare for a move to the big school.

"The whole thing has been fantastic," said Daniel's art teacher Clare Middleton.

"Many of our children tend to remain within their own communities and this has given them a far greater understanding of the city, its communities and the wider world," she added.

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