Europe's new horizon

7th April 2006 at 01:00
An arts-based project involving five countries has been an inspiration for the students and teachers who took part, says Rab Walker

have just come back from Kezmarok beneath the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, a truly magical land in Middle Europe where snow means 10ft deep and cold weather means - 30C. We left Scotland 10 days previously, at the same time as our Comenius partners from the Czech Republic, Norway and Poland, each bound for Slovakia, laden with laptops, video cameras, 6ft square oil paintings, songs, recordings, poems, photographs, films, drawings and, in our case, Calum's guitar.

After a week spent working on our Comenius 1 Project with my European friends and colleagues, I found out a few home truths. First, there are some things about you, both as a teacher and as a person, that only someone from another country can tell or point out - and if you listen, there is a chance you just might become a better human being because of it.

Second, while to see oneself in a European context has always been desirable, at this point in time I would say that it is simply imperative and should form a paradigm for all education.

What makes me think this way and how did it all begin? It all started in Lillehammer in Norway just over a year ago, when I was sponsored by the British Council to meet teachers from other countries who might be interested in developing an idea that I had for an art project.

This was where I met Eva from the Czech Republic and Monika from Slovakia and the project was re-conceived as an arts-language project, adding Olav from Norway, Renata from Poland and the idea of citizenship on the way.

This new project, inspired by the ideas of those teachers I met in Lillehammer, was to be called "Who am I? Who are we?", and was designed to cross borders and bridge cultures through the construction of a creative community across five different European states, using the internet and the creation of artforms that explored and shared differing perceptions of the notion of identity and reality.

The gestation period for the project in each of the schools saw the setting up of networks of pupils and staff who began to exchange both art and "pieces of their lives", on a regular basis, gradually becoming part of a larger Euro-entity.

That this was a "school" project is completely beyond belief. For its achievement was quite exceptional on every level - as an arts exhibition, as a collaborative practical activity, as a mutual personal development activity, as immersion into another school system, as a glimpse into another culture, as an opportunity to connect and make friends, as exposure to alternative pedagogies and, perhaps of greatest importance, as the chance simply to grow as a human being.

Working with creative young people is always a challenging and stimulating experience. Working with creative young people from five different countries is a truly unique and outstanding experience.

Indeed, the International Creative Community is the paradigm that I propose - for my partners and myself. It is a working reality and, in the next phase of our project, we prepare for our visits to Norway and Poland with ongoing collaborative tasks in mind for youngsters who live thousands and thousands of kilometres apart but are so very close in heart and spirit.

All this is made practical because of broadband internet, low-cost flights abroad and the networking of fellow teachers in other countries. There also exists a massive network of people behind the scenes, including each school's headteacher, educational managers, classroom teachers, all those students who didn't travel, parents and interested outside agencies - all offering support and goodwill in an enterprise of sharing and hope.

So, I think it's time to listen to Renata, Jana, Olav and Eva if we are to fulfil our true potential as citizens of a 21st century Europe - and the true beneficiaries without any doubt will be all of our pupils.

Who am I? The answer is easy: my name is "Rabova", a name given to me by my Slovakian friends. Who are we? It's even easier to answer: we European teachers and students are the hopes and dreams for our future, and that future is here now.

Long live Comenius.

Rab Walker is principal teacher of art and design at Dunfermline High.

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