European explorations;Scottish curriculum

20th February 1998 at 00:00
The Comenius project links children across the continent, writes Eleanor Caldwell.

Children's letters, photographs, e-mails and faxes will soon be whizzing around Europe from the small town of Tullibody in Clackmannanshire. Pupils in P5 and 6 at St Serf's Primary are dying to get on with a project that links them to schools in other small towns in Italy, Germany and Finland.

Last month teachers from the three countries spent a week at the school, finalising details for a joint curriculum project being run under the European Comenius scheme. Comenius partnerships are set up between primary or secondary schools from at least three different countries and are organised in Scotland by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Edinburgh. The co-ordinating school receives 3,000 ECU (about pound;2,000), while others receive 2,000 ECU each as an annual grant from the European Education Projects fund. This covers preparation and running costs such as computer software, materials and translations. A further 1,500 ECU is provided for teachers to visit partner schools abroad. While pupils are encouraged to observe differences in lifestyles and cultures, there is a new move to concentrate on shared elements of the European curriculums.So a project on local environments quickly pans out to include aspects of local history, geography and issues of health education. "Living for Life" was the topic under discussion at St Serf's. It will encourage pupils in all four countries to think more about healthy eating, exercise and personal care.

The Italian and German teachers brought a wide array of materials prepared in the first stage of their partnership - photographs and descriptions of pupils cooking regional food in Germany, a photo story encouraging "keine Angst vor dem Zahnarzt" (don't be afraid of the dentist), a life-size drawing entitled "io vorrei un dottore cosi" with full descriptions in Italian of the ideal doctor, and a video of a boy who pretends to be ill and falls foul of the "cry wolf" adage.

Material was in a combination of Italian, German and English. Where language caused problems, pictures took over. The assembly hall was turned into an exhibition centre for the week to allow pupils to wander in and see what they were getting involved in. The children were fascinated by the geographical locations of their partner schools, particularly Orimattila in southern Finland, and thought it was "really good that foreign teachers wanted to come to our school in Tullibody".

One of the teachers made a video of the children to show to her classes back home. Making new international friends, especially for primary school children, is an exciting classroom activity now available at the press of a button. Friendships will develop across the four countries through the exchange of e-mails, faxes and videos - and, in some schools, through video conferencing.

The Comenius scheme encourages the use of information technology for instant communication. But this is not always straightforward, even face to face, as the visiting teachers discovered for themselves. The common language of Comenius is English, but some of the teachers had real difficulty following the discussions and making themselves understood. St Serf's P6 teacher, Marion Broadfoot, is currently learning German on the Modern Languages in the Primary School programme but was annoyed that her skills were "not up to discussing school things like this".

Relations were warm, and the visitors were able to reassure colleagues that the vernacular of central Scotland was "just as easy to understand as accents in the south of England". They were struck by how calm the school was, and how quiet the children were in class and assembly.

All of which already went some way towards headteacher Craig Rennie's avowed aim that the project should "give us the power to see ourselves as others see us".

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