A slick international project

Children from Nigeria and Aberdeen are tapping into the oil industry and discussing its impact, Jean McLeish says

Young people from Nigeria and Aberdeen are exploring the impact the oil industry has made on their communities, as part of an international project.

In a film shared with Scottish students, children from a state primary school and a private school in Nigeria's oil capital Port Harcourt described the positive benefits of the industry, such as employment, and the negative impact of kidnappings and pollution.

Now second-year students from Ellon Academy have been filming interviews in their own local streets to investigate how Aberdeenshire has been affected by the same industry.

The students will produce a news programme from their interviews and are taking photographs to create comic strips illustrating their research. They are also preparing for a lunchtime Question Time, with experts on Nigeria facing questions from a school audience.

It has been a busy two days for the six modern studies students at Ellon Academy, but they are learning how to handle deadlines. "I think I have to go and interview someone now," says Kaitlyn Still, 12, who is heading back to continue filming.

Shell's international relations manager for Nigeria has flown in from The Hague this morning to be a guest on the Question Time panel, which includes an academic from the University of Aberdeen.

Kaitlyn and her classmates have prepared questions based on what they have heard from the Nigerian youngsters on film. "It was quite shocking, because they had to put up electrical fences around their school in case of militancy. People would often be kidnapped for ransom money," she explains.

"It was a wealthy school and the people in the community weren't so wealthy, so they would kidnap them to get ransoms for them," says the second-year student. "They had to use generators, yet they were a really wealthy community. They were talking about the good and bad effects of oil - employment was a good one, because it gave them lots of jobs."

But there are downsides, she adds, when people try and steal the oil: "Oil spills destroyed the farmlands and contaminated the waterways, which is what people use to live."

Ellon Academy is one of five North East schools involved in this Power Politics project, run by the Living Earth Foundation, a development education charity that works on global projects with a particular focus on energy-producing areas. Portlethen, Torry and Alford academies are also involved, along with Robert Gordon's College and community groups in Aberdeen.

Ellon Academy's S2 pupils study a unit on oil in modern studies, exploring how the industry has altered Aberdeen, with a section on Nigeria. Modern studies teacher Victoria Flemming says projects such as this help students to think independently and form opinions.

"When they leave school, we want them to able to say, 'I know how to think for myself, I can make my own decisions in life' and go on and hopefully be successful people when they're older."

The main aim of this project is to raise awareness of development, specifically investigating whether Millennium Development Goals set for Nigeria have been met.

"It's looking at development issues predominantly in Nigeria and Scotland, using the oil and gas industry as a lens to make comparisons," says the project's development education coordinator, Claire Needler.

"I think these children will remember this for the rest of their lives. Watching them gaining these technical television and media skills while learning proper education content - it must be a really fulfilling way to learn. And they seem to be having fun."

The project takes two days in different departments at each school and uses arts-based media to draw on relevant themes that include elements of particular local interest.


"I really like the mix of local content, relating their own experience to that of their contemporaries in other parts of the world and making it real," says Claire Needler, development education coordinator for the Power Politics project.

Martin Ayres, a visual artist from Caged Beastie worked on film and photography on the project in Nigeria at a state school Rumuomasi Primary School and with older pupils at a private school, Graceland International School, also in Port Harcourt.

He found that children were astute and articulate, raising concerns about pollution and the growing divide between rich and poor in their communities.

"They had very balanced views," Mr Ayres says. "They saw the positive impacts in terms of the development of the economy, but they also saw that there were fundamental issues around the activities of the oil industry and that was based around a number of things."

Sola Abulu, international relations manager for Shell in Nigeria has come to Ellon Academy to take part in discussions with students. "I will talk about my experiences, I will talk about the facts," Ms Abulu says. "I will engage with them and try to build a context around Nigeria and what makes Nigeria the kind of country that it is. I will provide the insights I have as a Nigerian ... and hope that somehow they can put the pieces together by themselves."

www.living earth.com


At Portlethen Academy, students on this project explored local environmental pressures, focusing on how housing expansion for oil workers affected Portlethen Moss and the disappearance of the Great Crested Newt from the area.

Films and photographs from all five schools involved will be used to produce cross-curricular learning resources for teachers, which will be trialled in all of them.

One of the partners in the project is Aberdeen Maritime Museum, which will stage an exhibition based on the children's work in May 2014.


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