Today's children have a greater world vision than ever. Gareth Mills argues that a global dimension is now an essential part of the modern classroom.
Earlier this year The TES ran a series of supplements under the theme "What is education for?" In one feature, Tony Benn suggested that one purpose for education is "to discover the danger of hate and the power of love". In the aftermath of the London bombings it could be argued that this aim is more important that ever. It is also one of the reasons why a global dimension should be an important part of any national curriculum.
Global issues are part of young people's lives in ways that they never were in the past. Less than 80 years ago no one owned a TV and few people travelled more than 50 miles from their home town in their lives. Today, television and the internet bring international news, sport and culture into our homes daily. We live in a society enhanced by peoples, cultures and languages originating in many different parts of the world.
Think about what young people will have witnessed in the past few months. The Live8 concerts were followed by images from Niger reminding us that one in five of the world's population continues to live in extreme poverty and hunger. Sad and disturbing images of bombings in London, Turkey and Baghdad provided stark reminders of the conflicts and violence that the world struggles to solve. Floods and landslides in Mumbai, droughts in Africa, degradation of the ozone layer - all of these events ask us to reflect on the relationship between humans and the environment.
Young people are often touched by these issues. Some will be anxious about conflict and how it might affect them. Others will be motivated to do something to address issues of poverty, fair trade and social justice. While politicians are concerned by the lack of engagement in traditional party politics, the number of young people who engage with global issues through campaigns such as Make Poverty History, is growing. Connecting learning to the world beyond school - to real people, real places and real issues - gives learning relevance and broadens horizons.
Increasingly, schools are harnessing technology to build a global perspective into the curriculum. A visit to the sites mentioned in this edition of Online (see left) illustrates the range of innovative ways schools are using the internet to develop global links. ICT is being used to encourage mutually beneficial partnerships in which young people have direct contact with peers in other countries, do joint class projects and experience an international dimension to school life. A wide range of activities are under way. Schools are creating joint websites, developing e-pals and video-conferencing. Some schools host discussion forums and provide opportunities for collective voting. Joint projects such as composing music and contributive databases, such as photo galleries, are becoming more common. UNESCO hosts a site for pupils to broadcast their own radio programmes to the world.
These experiences help young people learn about their rights and responsibilities as citizens and stewards of the world. Genuine exchanges with other students can help them to appreciate the importance and value of diversity, based on our common humanity and the importance of social justice, as an element in sustainable development and the improved welfare of all people.
Projects on fair trade and ecology help them to understand the interdependence of people and nations. Projects on sustainability and recycling help them reflect on the needs and rights of future generations, and appreciate that what we do now has implications for what life will be like in the future. By discussing contentious issues they can reach a better understanding of the nature of conflict, its impact on development, and why there is a need for resolution and the promotion of harmony. Most importantly, a global dimension gives pupils opportunities to examine their own values and attitudes, and can equip all young people with the skills to make informed decisions and take responsible actions.
The current national curriculum begins with the sentence, "Education influences and reflects the values of society, and the kind of society we want to be." In a shrinking and interdependent world what kind of society do we want to be? Many young people want to do more than rebuild the world as it is, they want to do something to make it a better place. As Nelson Mandela says, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Gareth Mills is principal consultant for ICT at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
If you are thinking of starting an international project there are lots of materials available:
* DfES Developing a global dimension in the school curriculum www.dfes.gov.ukpublicationsguidanceonthelaw115_00
* Cool Planet Oxfam's Cool Planet website has lots of teaching resources such as Go Bananas and Looking behind the Logo that address issues of fair trade. Resources such as Milking it and online games like Cowsequences, which compares the lives of farmers in Wales and Jamaica, introduce students to the interconnectedness of decisions.
* World Class Working on a collaborative project with other students is a fantastic way to get involved. The BBC's World Class website introduces you to pupils from Masinindi Town primary in Uganda or Gibson Youth Academy in Ethiopia. www.bbc.co.ukworldclass
* Global Gateway Managed by the British Council, the Global Gateway website is a great starting point for schools partnerships worldwide. It includes a database of schools wishing to develop joint projects.
* Unicef The Unicef website has radio programmes made by young people around the world.
* Radiowaves UK sites like Radiowaves will help you produce your own programmes and broadcast to the world. www.radiowaves.co.uk
Professor Stephen Heppell on the art of communication - and mobile phones
George Cole on video-conferencing and protected online environments - with FREE trial offers for GridClub l A London primary's brilliant link with Uganda. And more at www.tes.co.ukonline.