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Talking a universal language

Students are addressing citizenship issues in artwork, as part of a Bristol-Uganda partnership. Abi Newman reports

Moses Ndahura's classroom is a veritable oasis amid the stark interiors of Kabalega Secondary, an all boys' school in Masindi, western Uganda. The brown walls are awash with paintings and rudimentary posters exclaiming "tone", "texture" and "shape", much like any art department.

But alongside still-life drawings of Pringle crisp containers are less savoury images of female circumcision and mob justice inspired by a discussion about community citizenship. "We talked about their rights, but I also wanted them to think about whether they should do something for their community," Moses explains.

The lesson certainly made an impression on Edgar Mujuni, 16, who portrayed female circumcision because "it's unfair to women and must be stopped".

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Onimo, 18, depicted universal free education, which was introduced in Uganda in 1997. "This kind of art can influence community leaders and emphasise their role to ensure children go to school," he says.

The boys' sophisticated drawings were inspired by a project on good citizenship designed by Kabalega's head of art and design, Ben Alwodo, and Des Lane, head of art at Hengrove Community Arts College in Bristol. The schools have been working together since February last year, during which time they have enjoyed three reciprocal visits.

Although Hengrove is in special measures, it has a very successful art department and a solid citizenship programme. Kabalega - which charges its pupils pound;72 a term - is a high-performing school with an academic bent.

What they have in common are pupils from deprived families who are not used to looking beyond their immediate world. As Masindi's district education officer, Derek Nkata, says: "The aim of the partnership is to increase students' understanding of themselves as global citizens in an interdependent world."

The link is part of a cluster of eight partnerships between schools in Masindi and Bristol. It was established by Derek and Bristol LEA in 2003 to give Masindi's private primaries and secondary schools the chance to benefit from international links, which the government primaries enjoy thanks to the charity Link Community Development.

Kabalega and Hengrove have jointly studied two themes so far. First, students at both schools created images that symbolised their own communities. Then the UK students drew their perceptions of an African landscape. The work culminated in exhibitions of both schools' work at Hengrove's art gallery, entitled Hands Across the World and Perceptions of Culture Through Landscape, respectively. The link has given Kabalega's teachers the chance to experiment with new art methods, such as pastel drawing with stencils, which Des taught when he was there in February.

Moses has also started writing learning objectives on the blackboard and teaching three-part lessons, and Ben has freed up the curriculum.

Des hopes the next phase of work will enable his pupils to develop their perceptions of Ugandan culture further and become good citizens.

In 2003, Ofsted reported: "Many students have little understanding of those outside their community and there's little evidence they are developing insight or compassion for others."

Des believes the partnership is already changing that, and is impressed with his Year 8 pupils, who completed the landscape project, for delivering an assembly about their work:"My students are responding really well. I was shell-shocked when I came back from Uganda. They picked up on that and it gave them an insight into how different their needs are."

The next phase, which involves the students using digital cameras to create portraits of themselves in their inner-city homes, will produce images for an exhibition which coincides with the Ugandan teachers' visit this September. Until then, both schools hope the good citizenship project will spark discussions about universal issues, such as human rights, and help the students realise they belong to a global community.

Des hopes the link will continue energising his staff: "It has reminded us that education can change the life chances of young people - now that's a major benefit."


For more information on making global links, visit

How to fund international links

The Bristol-Masindi Link trips cost around pound;1,000 per teacher. They are funded partly by Bristol local education authority and partly by Reciprocal Visit grants and Teachers' International Professional Development grants from the Department for International Development.

Bristol LEA recently applied for two Global Curriculum Project grants from DfID worth pound;20,000. If the application is successful, it will secure the Bristol-Masindi Link for a further three years.

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