Lessons on global citizenship risk promoting simplified and stereotypical views of developing countries, says a leading Estyn inspector.
Alun Morgan has warned that too many schools base their teaching around the work they do with international aid charities. This can create an "unwelcome and undesirable" impact and give pupils an over-generalised view of the developing world, he claimed last week.
Speaking at an Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) conference, Mr Morgan said: "While we must recognise the tremendous hardships these societies face, some of them can also teach us a lot.
"For example, how they treat the elderly, value customs and tradition, and harbour a sense of community and identity. Charity work has to be a starting point, not a finishing point."
Mr Morgan, lead inspector for global citizenship, said schools should not only focus on developing countries but also look at developed nations in Europe and the US to give pupils a more balanced world view.
This follows research earlier this year which warned that school partnerships between the UK and developing countries can promote racist attitudes in pupils. Teachers who see links with schools simply as a charitable opportunity are giving children "neocolonialist" views, the Exeter University-led study claimed.
Education in global citizenship and sustainable development has become a priority of the Assembly government in Wales. It looks at the links between society, economy and the environment, and between lives in the UK and abroad.
Since 2004, Estyn has been required to inspect provision in schools, which Mr Morgan said has greatly improved in recent years.
In 2008 the inspectorate said the main stumbling block was that not enough schools knew what it was about. Mr Morgan said there were also concerns that the topic had not been properly integrated across the curriculum. There is "great potential" for more subject areas to have an input, he added.
However, growing familiarity with ESDGC meant that in the last academic year around one-third of schools inspected were graded "outstanding" for their work.
Gareth Wyn Jones, chairman of the ESDGC Schools Networks, which organised the conference, said Wales was leading the way in Europe. But he said challenges remain, particularly encouraging teachers to be creative in their approach and to consider how to deliver it in an "era of austerity".
WORLD OF KNOWLEDGE
Education for sustainable development and global citizenship explores:
- the links between society, economy and the environment at home and overseas;
- relationships between power, resources and human rights;
- the local and global implications of people's actions.
The Assembly government says it should not be seen as an additional subject, but as an ethos that can be embedded throughout schools.