Cows before humans at water hole

1st July 2005 at 01:00
What started as a shared science project with pupils in Kenya has blossomed into a full partnership for Gumley House convent school. The comprehensive girls' school in Isleworth, Middlesex, has since arranged teacher exchange visits to Misikhu Friends' secondary school. It now plans to do the same for its pupils, who hope to bring back goods to sell to help the local economy.

It all began six years ago when the two schools exchanged notes on shared science topics such as sustainable energy and drinking water. Judy Machin, the head of science, says this partnership and links with other schools abroad have helped to bring science alive for pupils, as well as putting their own lifestyles into perspective.

"We got some wonderful communications from the middle of Africa," she says, "where one school said when the rains don't come, the first things that get the water are the cows, and the people wait in line behind the cows because they represent their livelihood.

"That just made our kids sit back in sheer horror that you would let a child go thirsty rather than a cow."

Gumley House has cultivated these links through a programme called Science Across the World, run by GlaxoSmithKline and the Association for Science Education. It lets teachers and children on opposite sides of the world share science topics, giving them global views on such issues as acid rain or genetically modified crops.

"Certainly for sixth form students who are looking at issues like GM, to be able to see what students in other parts of the world think is really useful," says Judy Machin. "Because a country where a GM plant is going to provide a sustainable existence for a million people will have a somewhat different perception to this country, where it has a much more marginal impact."

Schools can register online. Teachers gain access to a database listing schools by science topic and age group around the world. They can then choose up to 20 schools working on their topic with which they can exchange research.

For Eating and Drinking Around the World for 8 to 12-year-olds, there is a table comparing how much ice cream a person eats in a year in different countries. Pupils are asked to investigate their kitchen cupboards.

The programme is certainly proving popular. It has 3,469 teachers in 107 countries.

"We have large numbers of UK schools getting involved," says Marianne Cutler of the Association for Science Education. "Some are using it to build active partnerships with other schools abroad. They can use our programme as a basis for developing solid curriculum links through science and languages or for working towards an International School award."

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