Buying and selling is fair game

17th April 2009 at 01:00

Speculators in garish garb swarm together thrusting paper in the air as they frantically exchange commodities. It's not the London Stock Exchange, but South Lanarkshire Council's headquarters in Hamilton; the traders are children in colourful school jumpers.

This is a conference organised by pupils, for pupils. About 100 P6s and 7s from 30 schools are learning about rights, responsibilities and fair trade. Small groups have each been assigned a country. They have to accumulate wealth by cutting out shapes for cash, but not everyone has the same means of production and shoddy products will be rejected.

China's hoard is rapidly swelling and its representatives are looking pleased with themselves. They are driving a hard bargain for one of the most valuable assets, a pair of scissors.

A boy from Laos holds his head in his hands. A colleague despairs that "we've not got a lot of money and we can't buy anything". Another suggests planning a conspiracy and robbing rival countries.

The main guest at the half-day event, organised by pupil councils at Hamilton's St Peter's and St Elizabeth's primaries, is Bruce Wilkinson, Unicef's education officer in Scotland. He reveals that trading rules have been fixed in favour of bigger countries.

Now he wants the countries to work together. The frenetic scene transforms into one of orderly co-operation, and everyone ends up better off.

Another scenario orchestrated by Mr Wilkinson is more shocking. Each group is playing draughts, and some pupils have been ordered to throw the game. Everyone has to guess who, and banish them.

Everyone is accused at some point. One exiled small boy - furrowed brow, arms crossed tight and rooted to the spot - looks upset. Yet it transpires that no one was told to lose. "Maybe you've hanged an innocent man or woman," Mr Wilkinson tells the room.

Complex geopolitical ideas are sinking in, and connections made with everyday life. "I have a responsibility to clean my guinea pig's cage," muses one boy.

Organisers of adult conferences take note: cut the tiresome speeches and get delegates on their feet.

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