Now is the time to go global.Teachers and pupils of the world unite - you have everything to gain from your links, writes Brendan O'Malley
Today, The TES is launching a campaign called Make the Link to encourage teachers and pupils all over Britain to create partnerships with schools in other countries and link their curriculum work to global issues. Bob Doe, editor of The TES, says: "The terrible impact of the tidal wave in south Asia over Christmas has opened the hearts and minds of people in this country to the plight of people in countries much less developed than our own. We want to help schools to build on that."
Children's involvement in Comic Relief day is the first of an unprecedented series of opportunities this year to encourage young people to become active global citizens and to put international partnerships on the agenda in UK schools.
The newspapers and television will be full of stories about Africa and Europe as the UK holds the presidency of the G8 group of wealthy nations this year, and the EU from July. The Government has pledged to put the battle against world poverty and global environmental damage at the top of the agenda in both of these powerful organisations.
In the same period, aid charities will be campaigning together under one banner - Make Poverty History - to raise awareness of what can be done to help the world to achieve the eight millenium development goals agreed by UN member states. Make Poverty History has already launched the Send My Friend to School campaign to press the G8 to do more - when its leaders meet in Edinburgh in July - to ensure that the 104 million children around the world who are not in school are given the opportunity to have a primary education.
One way in which schools in this country can make a lasting contribution to global citizenship and the eighth millenium goal - making a partnership for development - is to create a link between pupils in the UK and their counterparts in Africa, Asia or Latin America.
Rather than hearing depersonalised statistics about the number of people living on less than $1 a day, or how many millions of people face being swept away by rising sea levels caused by global warming, pupils will be able to discover at first hand how these problems affect children much like themselves.
There are many ways in which schools can make these global links. Take the example of Lancaster girls' grammar school, which has partner schools in Madagascar, off the south-east African coast, as well as links with a school in northern India.
The African partnership began when a former pupil visited a rescue centre for children fleeing poverty, abuse and exploitation in Madagascar. From that personal link came letters, teachers' research visits, email messages, exchange visits and various fundraising activities.
The Lancaster pupils were enthralled when Unty, a quietly spoken teacher from the African island, came to Lancaster and taught lessons for a fortnight. She was funded by the Department for International Development's Global Schools Partnership.
"We learned about games, music, dance and the Malay language," says French teacher Hilary Hopwood, the school's international co-ordinator.
"But we also learned about the difficulties they face. When the president of that country didn't accept the election results in 2002 and the ports were blockaded, there was no post. Some pupils complained that they had heard nothing back, but then they realised that people were struggling to find water and food to feed their babies, and that they had no time to write letters. Having that relationship made it very real."
Unty's visit to Lancaster provided the pupils with a whole new perspective.
On one occasion, when she ran a lesson on recycling, pupils asked what she would never waste. Her immediate reply was "food".
In fact, in her home country nothing is thrown away.
Ms Hopwood says: "When we visited them, we saw that they did a fantastic amount of recycling - even gas from the toilet is turned into cooking gas, and they use solar ovens. They recycle plastic bags into balls, and paper into crafts, which they sell to fund the orphanage."
A study visit on children's rights by four Lancaster teachers brought some surprising results, too. They put up a series of pictures around the classroom relating to children's rights and asked pupils to write their name on the one they considered was the most important to them. Later, they did the same exercise in the UK school.
"Here, there were two names on education, but there the picture was covered in names," says Ms Hopwood.
In Madagascar, under the teachers' International Professional Development Scheme, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, staff from the Lancaster school worked with teenage girls who were interested to know all about the girls in the UK - how they dressed, and about discos and clubs.
"When they learned about the freedoms of girls in the UK, the reaction was not jealousy but worry," says Ms Hopwood. "'Do they need parents to look after them and guide them?' they asked. Our teachers were amazed, but half of these girls had sexually transmitted diseases or had been sexually abused."
As part of the project, the Madagascan girls devised and mimed a play about the right to go to school. In the drama, they included a scene in which two boys are not paying attention. They are thrown out of school and then start to cry. Two children doing manual work outside are then invited in to take their place, and they beam with joy.
The Lancaster school, which has twice earned a British Council International Schools Award, also has links with a boarding school in northern India.
Ms Hopwood says: "The contact with developing countries tends to shake up complacencies. It makes people realise that they shouldn't take things for granted and that there is a lot of richness to be shared."
In November, the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke urged every school in the country to develop an international dimension and to make international links. As part of its campaign, The TES will make a series of awards to celebrate effective and innovative north-south and European links.
Bob Doe says: "The TES campaign will show schools and colleges that there is much to be done to enrich school life and to enhance learning in rich and poor countries by working together. We hope that schools will use the opportunity of this year's world events to create lasting partnerships that will beof benefit to everyone."
Link organisations The DfES's one-stop shop for finding link partners and promoting an international dimension in schools: www.gobalgateway.orgDFID Global Schools Partnerships scheme offers funding to support good quality links: http:www.britishcouncil.org globalschoolsLink Community Development specialises in links and teacher exchanges with Ghana, South Africa and Uganda: www.lcd.org.uk The UK One World Linking Association links schools and communities to partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean: www.ukowla.org.uk BBC linking mechanism: http:www.bbc.co.uk worldclassGlobal issues and campaigns:Make Poverty History campaign and a list of useful websites for resources: www.makepovertyhistory.orgeducation.htmlSend My Friend to School: www.sendmyfriend.orgGlobal Campaign for Education: www.campaignfor education.orgDevelopment Education Association free resource bank: www.globaldimension.org.ukInternational Broadcasting Trust's 'Who Rules the World?' on the role of global institutions: www.ibt.org.ukThe Rough Guide to a Better World by Martin Wroe and Malcolm Doney, sponsored by DFID, is a guide to taking action on global issues: www.roughguide-betterworld.comUN global issues resource: www.un.orgPubsCyberSchoolBus