Citizens of a disappearing world;Modern languages

19th June 1998 at 01:00
Kim Brown asks if a commitment to citizenship education threatens to snuff out language teaching?

A group of Year 10 pupils is working on a photograph activity in a French lesson. They have to talk about what they see and write down questions to the two children looking out from the steps of their home.

Next door, Year 9 pupils are reading about the daily routines of two young people in different parts of the world. And a class of Year 8 pupils has been given a series of statements describing a typical school day and must work together to form a physical timeline of the events.

At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about these language-learning activities. They all address GCSE topics of house and home, daily routine and school. But a closer look shows they are quite different. Home for the two traveller children in the photograph is a large, shiny trailer; daily routine for the two boys described in the reading is of hardship and injustice as they work to support their families, one carrying stones in a mine in India, and the other labouring on a farm in South Africa. The school day described by the timeline tells how a young boy in a Tanzanian village rises at 5.30am, walks some way to school, has lessons in agriculture and politics as well as maths and science, then walks home to help with housework and do his own homework.

These activities and resources are part of a sustained cross-curricular approach to teaching modern languages informed by the broad learning aims of global education. Pupils learn about world issues such as equality of opportunity and human rights while being taught a language. Such active learning strategies help pupils develop the understanding and skills they will need to become effective, active citizens.

History and geography are often quoted as having a central role in the teaching of citizenship. But the potential for modern languages to share this role was clearly acknowledged in the early days of the national curriculum's development.

Proposals for Modern Foreign Languages, published in 1990, contains some excellent chapters on equal opportunities and cross-curricular opportunities and, although much of this underpinning rationale is lost in the current framework, the opportunity exists for teachers to explore citizenship issues with their pupils in the Cultural Awareness and Areas of Experience aspects of the programmes of study.

So the recommendation of Professor Bernard Crick's government advisory group for citizenship in schools that the subject should be an entitlement for all pupils is welcome. Its reassurance that this "should not be at the expense of other subjects" seems to strengthen the case for an integrated, cross-curricular approach to citizenship education, in languages as well as in other subjects.

But the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has been asked to consider the case for making some subjects optional to make space for citizenship in the curriculum (TheTES May 8). French is even mentioned.

Might we be turning full circle before the potential envisaged by those who drew up the national curriculum for languages has been fully realised?

Might the doomsday scenario drawn at the recent Association for Language Learning conference - that modern languages might disappear from the curriculum in the same way as classics did - be already happening? Is it more a question of citizenship or modern languages rather than citizenship and modern languages?

Kim Brown is lecturer in modern languages education at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. The activities in this article are drawn from a new MFL resource file, 'Changing Places', written with Margot Brown, Centre for Global Education, York, and published this week by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (pound;17.95). For details or to order, tel:01476 541080

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