Fight Euro lies, schools urged

7th May 2004 at 01:00
Schools are the first line in defence against xenophobic scare stories about Europe, according to Chris Patten, European commissioner for external relations.

Pupils urgently need better lessons about Europe to stop them believing stories in the newspapers, Mr Patten said. There is a "worrying shortfall" in British education about the EU, which tomorrow welcomes 10 new member states.

The former governor of Hong Kong said this made it easier for the tabloid press to treat the historic event as a scare story about immigration.

"Ignorance creates a vacuum, which an irresponsible media are all too ready to fill with half-truths and outright invention," he said. "Schools, of course, are our first line of defence against such pernicious nonsense."

Newspapers have claimed that the EU wants to ban saucy ads for bras and set strict guidelines on the bendiness of bananas. In recent weeks several tabloids have warned that the enlargement of the EU will cause Britain to be swamped by an "invasion" of East European immigrants, some of whom may carry a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.

Mr Patten admitted that the subject could be boring for children: "Europe presents a particular challenge to teachers trying to find ways to excite their students and motivate them to learn. The processes can be arcane and the source material dull, but not always, and the outcomes matter."

The commissioner's concerns are backed by research which suggests widespread problems with the way European countries are studied in schools.

John Hopkins, an adviser to Birmingham education authority, examined geography textbooks for 11-14s and found that the only European countries to receive detailed attention were France, Italy and Spain. UK pupils had less chance to learn about countries such as Czechoslovakia and Poland than children in other parts of the EU.

The EU has been trying to foster greater partnership between schools in different nations through its Socrates schemes. But a report by the Scottish Council for Research in Education found that interest from UK schools has declined since 2000.

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