Banana republic

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Fair trade issues provide excellent material for citizenship debates, says Hilary Wilce

Imagine you are the manager of a company making a fizzy banana drink. How can you persuade the local council to let you build a new factory? Would it be cheaper for you to relocate to Newcastle? Or maybe Thailand? How are you going to make your product appealing to children? What does the Euro mean to your business? And what's the best deal that banana growers supplying your company can get?

All these questions and more were on the agenda at a novel citizenship day designed by staff at George Abbot School, Guildford, and trialled by Year 10s in conjunction with the South East England Regional Assembly. The project was born when the assembly approached the school to suggest working in partnership to develop citizenship materials. One of SEERA's roles is to tell people about regional democracy and the various levels of governance, and doing this via schools seemed a good avenue.

The school was happy to take up the offer. One of the new leading edge schools, it already had an active citizenship programme, but knew that some parts could do with a boost. It decided to work up resources on financial and economic awareness - areas which, as Sue Medley, assistant headteacher, points out, can be hard for schools to deliver successfully to students across the ability range. "Teachers don't necessarily know that much about it themselves, and we don't have the contacts to get people into school to talk about it. But someone like SEERA can really help here."

SEERA put in pound;25,000, which allowed drama teacher Sally Marsh, and history teacher Trish Ellison, to develop a variety of imaginative materials. They used the idea of a fizzy drinks company to link together activities from a planning debate to a research exercise on the Euro.

("Then we realised it had to be a banana fizzy drink," explained Marsh, "because we wanted to use a fair trade banana game" - all the kids said 'Urgh!' when they first heard about it!") The Billionaire Business Giant Game was developed to give pupils an idea of how the economy functions. Good cards, such as "Your excellent business skills have been mentioned in the Sunday Times business sectionI" would speed them along; financial reversals would set them back. They also developed a marketing exercise, during which students would have to sell their product to children, teenagers and young adults.

The projects were tried out by a few students last winter. Then they were produced - via SEERA - as high-quality resources ready for classroom trials. The outcome was what management gurus call a win-win situation.

SEERA got a raised profile, and could see that the materials, once finalised, would be something they could offer to other schools. The school was thrilled to see how its back-of-the-envelope ideas had been turned into polished resources which worked with pupils of all abilities. And the students loved it. "I'm quite shy," said Amelia Bell, 15, "but I spoke up in the first debate. It made me more confident."

"It definitely made us think more about the issues," said Lucia Wu, 15.

"And think about how things affect other people all round the world, not just locally."

"And it made people think for themselves, not just follow what their parents say. Some people changed their minds about things," said Ben Wallace, 15. "Also, we're just about to go off on work experience, so it was good to have to do things like look at financial figures."

By the end of the morning, they had debated issues from the morality of paying slave wages in a developing country, to whether jobs or environmental issues mattered more when siting a factory. They had learned how fortunes can be won or lost on a quiver of the stock market, and come up with some truly memorable ideas for marketing the "Bling Bling Banana Brew" to teenagers, and the "Biz" (banana + fiz) to eight-year-olds. After lunch, they settled down to research the pros and cons of the Euro on the internet, and then to become banana growers, discovering the effects of fair trade on their income.

Teachers agreed that the day had engaged students, and its variety of tasks - design and presentation, maths, debating and ICT - had given everyone a chance to contribute.

Sue Medley said that once the materials had had a final tweaking, they should be available for other schools to use, either as a whole-day package, or in sections suitable for individual lessons. "And we've made them very user friendly. You don't have to be a teacher who's especially creative, or a specialist, to use them. You can pick them up and just read them."

More details from George Abbot school

Tel: 01483 538433

SEERA, Berkeley House, Cross Lanes, Guildford GU1 1UN

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