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Source of unity

Links with schools across Europe are opening pupils' eyes to the benefits of living in harmony, writes Douglas Blane

Around the trunk of a tall tree at the edge of a wide, turbulent, blue ocean, naked babies of many colours are clambering among seashells, mauve flowers and questing green roots. Up above, exotic birds perch among sparse foliage on pointed boughs.

Three stunning ceramic murals (another of which is shown here) have been created by teachers and pupils at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow for Roads to Equality, an international schools project.

Ceramic murals almost always outlive the people who produce them, says the art teacher, Kenny Morrison. "It is quite a responsibility, but it was wonderful for everyone involved in this project."

It all began at a partner-finding conference in 1999, says the school's Comenius co-ordinator, Lesley Atkins. "Five schools around Europe, including ourselves, decided on a Comenius 1 partnership called Different Languages, One Spirit." That collaboration with schools in Drammen, Norway, in Logrono, Spain, in Kirchdorf, Austria, and Teplice, in the Czech Republic, explored communications across languages.

The friendships formed laid the foundations of the Roads to Equality project, begun in 2003 and aimed at developing race and gender equality and student democracy in each of the schools.

"The murals were just one part of that work," says Ms Atkins. "To see them installed in our partner schools in Norway and the Czech Republic was very inspiring. The words and images are a lasting tribute to the strength of the partnerships and the important ideas the project is built on."

Another legacy of the project is a large set of resources that have been put on the Roads to Equality website. The documents include project meeting reports, technology tutorials, lessons on bilingualism, thinking skills and sexism, advice on student forums and school democracy, and guidelines and discussions on racial equality.

"It pleases me to see that these international projects are not just add-ons in schools but are used as central tools to develop, influence and expand the curriculum," says Ms Atkins. "I was particularly delighted to see the work of refugee children being integrated.

"This is so much more than just exchanges. It provides wonderful opportunities to develop - educationally and professionally - and to expand our horizons."

Fifth year pupils Naomi Porter and Robert Dykes recently participated in a project meeting on student democracy in Kirchdorf with others from the partner schools.

"The school council at Kirchdorf is huge and takes in representatives from all years," says Robert. "So the needs of the whole school are brought to the attention of staff and no one year is given more attention than another."

"In Drammen, the pupils manage a budget themselves," Naomi says. "They decide how the school spends a portion of its funds."

While international collaboration is particularly well developed at Shawlands Academy, it is not the only school that looks abroad for inspiration and education, says Glasgow's international education officer, Edna Paterson.

"Ours is a multicultural city and international education has a very important role. Our schools have active links with 41 countries.

"They might use different languages, but teachers and pupils do similar things in every school in every country in the world.

"Pupils, parents and teachers all benefit enormously from links with other countries. Every school that gets involved in international education stays involved."

Ms Atkins believes international education reflects the reality of modern Europe. "This is a wonderful mix of cultures and languages, which all influence and engage with one another.

"International education makes a difference. It is inspiring and it puts unity before conflict."

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