Bunk off to save world

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Bob Geldof calls on teachers and pupils to lobby G8 meeting. Brendan O'Malley reports

Bob Geldof is urging pupils and teachers to bunk off school for two days to lobby international leaders attending the G8 conference for wealthy nations in Edinburgh.

As The TES announced a new pound;21,000 award scheme for schools that make links with pupils around the world, the founder of Live Aid said: "I want every school to decamp on July 5. I want the teachers to lead the kids to Edinburgh. I want to see all their buses, their blazers, their flags up there demanding that they tear down trade barriers to African farmers'

goods and write off the continent's international debt.

"They should shout: 'Do this now!'"

The former pop star said it would be an immense moment of "nudge-nudge-wink-wink" civil disobedience. He said: "I say, what's more important, learning geometry or remembering these two days all your life because you conceivably helped tip the world a little in favour of the weak?"

He urged schools to respond to the launch of The TES's Make the Link awards by forging lasting partnerships with schools in Africa. The campaign helps schools to make links with others elsewhere in the world, including Africa, with prizes of up to pound;5,000 for the best schemes.

The awards, sponsored by HSBC and supported by the British Council, encourage schools to carry out joint class projects and share teacher expertise with the aim of ensuring both schools in the link exchange benefit. "We need to have a to-ing and fro-ing between our idea of what the world is and theirs," said Mr Geldof. "And it all starts with twinning."

Richard Rolfe, head of Le Rocquier secondary, in Jersey, believes that links with Jordan, Europe and the United States have transformed his school. He said: "Our children learnt about the history of the Wild West by talking to people who live there. It lights a fire. It gives them a better understanding of other people and of their own place in the world."

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, and Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, faced a grilling from schoolchildren today as they launched a booklet, Our common interest: what does the Commission for Africa report say?, to raise awareness of problems in Africa. The 50-page leaflet, aimed at 14 to 18-year-olds, explains the history of the continent and how the international community is trying to help.

They were questioned on how they planned to stop children becoming soldiers, and reduce the continent's burden of debt, at Archbishop Tenison's school in south London.

Mr Geldof said that he despaired that Africa had got worse in the 20 years since he launched the Live Aid appeal for Ethiopian famine relief. A second event, expected to be held on July 2 at London's Hyde Park, will not raise cash, but will be aimed at putting pressure on the G8 group.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is attempting to secure an agreement to put dramatic improvements in aid and debt relief for Africa top of the agenda, along with agreement on steps towards climate change.

The 25 European Union member states agreed this week to double their financial pledges to the poorest countries by 2010, at least half of it for African nations. The wealthiest 15 EU countries promised to spend at least 0.51 per cent of their national income on the developing world by 2010. The rest agreed a target of 0.17 per cent.

Mr Geldof also pressed schools to back an international campaign, Send My Friend to School, which calls on politicians to fund education for the 100 million children not in school.

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