In a land far, far away ..

3rd December 2010 at 00:00
World values inspired young children in a village primary to explore distant cultures through stories and paintings

On a day when the west wind whips up the waves along the Machars peninsula, hurling breakers over Port William's sea wall, the village primary pupils are casting their minds beyond the Irish Sea.

"Our class did a story from India," says Conner (P7). "It was The Peacock and the Tortoise."

One of 12 projects from around Scotland, selected for a global citizenship display at this year's Scottish Learning Festival, Port William's took world values as its theme, says teacher Lesley McDevitt.

"The whole school was involved, with each class tackling a different country," she says. "The idea was that the art the children would produce, and its colours, textures and techniques, would reflect the chosen culture."

So the large Indian illustration her P56 class created was begun with a wash of inks on canvas, to create an impression, full of swirling turquoise and shades of ochre, of tropical water, baked landscapes and glowing skies.

The foreground detail for this ancient tale of avarice outwitted was put together by the pupils and features paper and tissue trees, tonal printed jungle birds, a three-dimensional birdcage and a large peacock, resplendent in pale greens and shimmering blue.

Classes were divided into small groups to do the artwork, says Mrs McDevitt. "So the pupils can tell you which part of the four illustrations we did as a school that each of them was responsible for."

"Mine did the tortoise swimming down to get the pearl," says Conner. "We made it from lino with a carver, then pushed it hard onto paint, which went into all the wee bits and stars. Then we glued it onto the picture."

The technique was new, but easy and satisfying to do, he says. The brightly plumaged peacock was more complicated, says Mrs McDevitt. "The feather was printed, with hand-stitching and sequins sewn on by the children."

There is one further element to the project, says Mrs McDevitt, which occurred to her while pondering global citizenship and remembering a school trip to the Scottish Parliament. "I realised we should try to relate world values to those that are important to us."

So as well as illustrating a traditional tale from India, Africa, Australia and North America, each piece of art also features one of the four words inscribed on the Scottish Parliament's silver mace: wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity.

"Our word was compassion," explains Faith (P2). "We had a really long story from America - we still haven't got to the end of it."

She indicates a tableau of Lowry-like scenes on leather, stretched by black cord on a wooden frame. Under the stars, surrounded by trees, tepees and totem poles, long-haired American Indians, drawn by the children, act out the tales of The Moon Woman and The Arrow Chain Boy. Blues and reds predominate and the word "compassion" is stencilled at the top in big bold letters.

"We were in groups of three people," says Abby (P2). "We did it with black pens first. Then we coloured it in."

The entire project took over two months, says Mrs McDevitt. Teachers had to research traditional tales from their parts of the world and find one that best illustrated the word they had been given from the four on the mace.

The school has an art specialist for the area, who came in and showed the children new techniques. The teachers then read their selected story to them and the children created a picture to try to illustrate it. They also made models - papier mache animals for Africa, Diwali clay lamps for India - while "the wee ones" made North American food instead.

Once the project was put on display, a group of pupils was given the chance to make the long journey from Dumfries and Galloway to the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow, says Mrs McDevitt.

"Education minister Mike Russell came to talk to us, when he heard what we'd done," she says. "We suggested he might like to put the pictures up in the Parliament building."

Emily (P5) remembers her visit to the festival: "When you went in the door, there was a big, long row of pictures and statues that people like us had made."

"There was lots of artwork on global citizenship," adds Jamie (P7). "There was a big person made out of wire and a little person, and they had written things and laminated them."

In the end, the whole school learned a lot and enjoyed what was very much a cross-curricular project, says Mrs McDevitt. "There was culture, drama, art and religion. We had listening and talking with the stories. We looked at patterns, which is maths as well as art."

Pupils from remote schools rarely get the chance to go to events such as the Scottish Learning Festival or places like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, as Mrs McDevitt's students did that day.

"It is such a long journey for us to get anywhere," she says. "But it's so valuable for the children. We go on educational trips as often as we can."

But even when pupils are confined to the schoolhouse, their minds can be carried, by projects like this, across the sea.

"It's about how you should act and we should all act to make the world," says Jamie.

"Global citizenship is about us all working together," Emily concludes.

For more information on global citizenship, go to

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