A land of bananas and Caribbean sun

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Wendy Morgan and Vincent Bunce on the primary resources available on St Lucia columns. One fine March day class R "flew" to St Lucia in the Caribbean. Passports had been prepared, jabs administered and suitcases packed. Slides of the people and landscapes of the island relieved the tedium of the journey. Anticipation of "meeting" the Harvey family and "visiting" the Anglican Infant School added to the excitement of "investigating" a place very different from their own.

How had this adventure come about? In 1991 Worldaware organised a study tour. Its purpose was to collect resources to help teachers introduce pupils at key stage 2 to a "locality in an economically developing country". We chose to visit St Lucia for many reasons.

First, St Lucia had a geography offering strong points of contrast with home in respect of weather, natural environment, farming, jobs and economic activity as well as lifestyles. The official language is English, though a French-based patois is widely used. The scale of study allows pupils to gain a realistic impression of everyday life in a small and homogeneous place.

In addition, there are tangible links between the UK and St Lucia through the bananas which are found on the shelves of most supermarkets, and through the children from families of Caribbean descent in many of our classrooms.

The visit provided the four participants with a wealth of resource material. This was soon shared by means of in-service training and a series of publications. First was a special issue of the Geographical Association's magazine Primary Geographer which identified strategies for teaching about distant localities, offering resources and photographs from St Lucia as an example. A photo-based activity pack, Focus on Castries, St Lucia followed, including colour photos and background information.

The pack is now used in more than 5,000 primary schools in England and Wales. The Ministry of Education in St Lucia says it intends to buy packs for its own primaries, an endorsement of the pack's authenticity and relevance.

The range of materials produced after this began to reflect teachers' demand for more varied resources, with opportunities for using the locality as a vehicle for exploring aspects of thematic geography: three slide-sets look at transport, bananas and home life in St Lucia; a satellite poster offers an image of St Lucia from 832 km up. BBC Schools radio broadcast ten 15-minute slots featuring the same family and locality as in the previous resources.

The Images of Earth remote sensing pack offered St Lucia as a case study, as does the CD-Rom Distant Places; also Ordnance Survey made available its Worldmap 4 Saint Lucia. To help teachers make best use of this wealth of material Lessons on Castries St Lucia was published, offering a series of lesson outlines. This variety of publications made Castries, St Lucia the best-resourced locality study available to primary schools.

The first phase of activity produced resources targeted at key stage 2, which teachers adapted for infants. Teachers then requested materials designed specifically for key stage 1, and a photo pack, with notes, posters, lesson plans, games and floor maps was created and trialled on a class of five-year-olds. Their interest and enthusiasm led to refinements and extensions to the materials, which eventually won a Centenary Curriculum Award from the Commonwealth Institute. Although no publisher has yet agreed to publish these resources, the bursary awarded by the Commonwealth Institute, matched by funding from Worldaware enabled the two of us to make a second study tour of St Lucia in December 1994.

The second phase of activity will produce St Lucia materials in the forthcoming Cambridge University Press Primary Geography series. A pupils' book, a set of A3 photographs plus a teacher's handbook will make up the unit.

The July issue of Primary Geographer will feature a Castries locality update and articles on weather, rivers, settlements and environmental change in St Lucia (available on subscription from the Geographical Association).

The Commonwealth Institute will put on two more Inset day courses on June 5 and 6. Details, tel: 0171-603 4535. Video resources are still urgently needed. Plans are being made to produce a video closely related to the existing resources.

Ideally teachers should visit St Lucia themselves and some have already done so. Are there more teachers who would like to go to St Lucia? You are invited to join a study tour during October half term 21-29 October 1995. Accommodation in an all inclusive hotel priced around Pounds 995. For further details tel: 01473 824237.

The five-year-old travellers wrote a composite poem, "A Sense of St Lucia": I breathe deeply and smell the scents of St Lucia.

I can smell the perfume of the flowers, the juice from passion fruit and pineapples, salt spray and fish in the harbour and sausages sizzling over charcoal in a coalpot.

If you want your pupils to share a sense of St Lucia, contact Worldaware or the GA for details of resources: Worldaware, l Catton St, London WClR 4AB, tel: 0171 831 3844, fax 0171 831 1746; Geographical Association, 343 Fulwood Road, Sheffield, Sl0 3BP, tel: 0114 267 0666, fax 0114 267 0688.

Wendy Morgan is editor of Primary Geographer; Vincent Bunce is education officer at Worldaware

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