Cooking over an open fire has given children in a Devon school a new perspective on global development. Martin Whittaker reports
Chagford Primary School seems a long way from anywhere. Set in the rolling hills of Dartmoor in Devon, a signpost outside the school emphasises its remoteness, pointing to destinations that include the North Pole, Moscow and London. Another place the school could now add is Uganda. For the past three years, Chagford Primary has developed strong links with Kirume School in Uganda's Mubende district.
Thanks to this link, seven and eight-year-olds have taken part in a hands-on project to compare cooking methods, giving them a valuable insight into just how different their diet and lifestyle is to that of Ugandan children. This project, and similar ones in three other Devon schools, now make up a new classroom resource pack on global citizenship to be sent to every county school.
"What the children got out of this was empathy with the children and families over there," says Chagford assistant headteacher Stephanie Whitcher, who ran the project at her school. "We only have to turn on a switch - they have to light a fire."
Chagford Primary forged its links with Kirume School three years ago through an initiative called Food For Thought, run by the charity Devon Development Education and Exeter Diocese. The project offers school links with Uganda to explore food issues, particularly focusing on sustainable agriculture. In common with Kirume, Chagford has its own vegetable garden.
The link started with pupils exchanging letters about their school gardens.
While Chagford's gardening club harvests potatoes and runner beans for the school kitchen, at Kirume the garden plays a central role in the curriculum, as children are taught essential agriculture skills.
This link was considerably strengthened when Stephanie Whitcher made an exchange visit to Kirume two years ago. She taught classes of 80 children, crammed into Victorian-style desks in a building with concrete floors, and no electricity or running water. School dinners were also a revelation, as she watched the preparation and cooking of matoke - a kind of plantain banana that makes up the staple diet Uganda.
"Everything is cooked on an open fire and it takes all morning to cook a meal," she says. Back in Chagford, she decided to put her experience to good use. She started by swapping teaching ideas with Kirume School, getting her Year 3 class to make diaries charting what they ate and drank for breakfast, lunch and evening meal.
These were sent to the Ugandan school, who in turn sent theirs. One pupil's work depicts, with beautiful illustrations, their typical breakfast of cassava, matoke and groundnuts, washed down with a cup of tea. Lunch was porridge with sugar cane, while supper was matoke and cabbage, cassava and beans. There was no meat and the diet was unchanged from one day to the next.
"Our children found these fascinating because they showed the difference between their diets," she says. "This led me to think about the cooking methods I saw used in Uganda and how they were so different from the ones our children experience."
Using Oxfam's Curriculum for Global Citizenship as a framework, she began by getting the children to think about all the different methods of cooking we use. The class then made work cards for Kirume, showing different ways of cooking and fuels used in the UK - including gas and electric cookers, a microwave oven, a toaster and a breadmaker - with lists of questions about them.
Kirume School reciprocated, sending a video showing how they prepare and cook matoke. Then came the fun part. Stephanie Whitcher led her class out into the garden, built a Ugandan-style cooking fire using three stones, kindling and wood, and cooked rice, which the children ate.
This led to discussions about the difficulties of cooking on an open fire; the children didn't like the smoke, for example. They also discussed other Third-World cooking methods such as bio-gas, produced from cow dung, plant waste and urine. Finally, the children built different kinds of solar oven, and tried them out in the June sunshine, testing the temperature with thermometers and warming up biscuits.
Stephanie said the project covered different aspects of global citizenship, giving the children greater awareness of the similarities and differences between peoples and cultures. As well as geography, it also covered literacy, maths, science, and design and technology.
The last word comes from the children. Now in Year 4, they still chat enthusiastically about the project and what it taught them about the children of Kirume School. "They don't have as much food as we have," says Alice Rubbra. "They hardly have anything, really," adds Mickey Turner. "But we have lots."
Three other Devon schools took part in similar global citizenship curriculum development projects through the Devon Global Education Network.
Alphington Combined School looked at a pupil-led approach to global linking; Mill Water, a special needs school, looked at global citizenship for autistic pupils; and Highhampton Primary's project examined tackling the subject in a small school setting.
David Weatherly, Devon's adviser for geography and education for sustainable development, said: "Devon has the second-lowest non-white British population per capita in the country, and therefore we have a strong commitment to a learning for sustainability agenda, of which global citizenship is a central part. We feel very strongly that children in Devon are going to be distinctly disadvantaged unless they have an entitlement to this kind of curriculum experience."
* To obtain a copy of the resource pack - Global Citizenship: Developing good practice in primary and special schools Tel: David Weatherly 01392 384831