Good citizens in the making

6th April 2007 at 01:00
Ross Deucharis A Senior Lecturer In Strathclyde University's Education Facility

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to be able to welcome two different groups of primary pupils to our university. They talked to student teachers about the work they have been doing to promote an ethos of active, responsible citizenship in their schools.

The students were inspired by the children's commitment towards celebrating different cultural values, their passion for finding resolutions to current controversial issues and their desire to become active citizens in society.

The first group of pupils, who were members of their school's pupil council, talked to the students about their experiences of working with teachers, parents and members of the local community to draw up a statement of "shared values" which later formed the basis of the school's code of conduct and the focus for each class's personal and social development topics.

The second group talked to the students about their experiences of democratic participation in P7, when they chose to organise a mini-conference on social entrepreneurship and to present ideas for addressing social and environmental issues in a creative and innovative way.

The experiences these children shared with the students are particularly worthy of discussion, given the recent intense debate in England about how schools can enable pupils to value cultural differences while, at the same time, understand what binds us together as a society.

These issues are as important for Scotland to consider as they are south of the border. However, I would argue that we are further ahead in our journey towards ensuring that democracy, identity and diversity are at the top of the agenda in Scottish schools. These principles are, indeed, firmly embedded within the four capacity areas set out in A Curriculum for Excellence.

The Scottish Executive has made it clear that pupils are to be encouraged to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life, to develop informed and ethical views of complex issues, to be confident at expressing their own values and beliefs and to value cultural diversity.

The pupils who visited Jordanhill campus provided excellent illustrations of how these principles can be transferred into practice. They were experiencing demo-cratic participation in making decisions about school policy and practice, they were learning about their rights as citizens, expressing their own beliefs and values and engaging in critical thinking about the beliefs and values of other cultures. School had clearly become an enjoyable place for them because they felt they were actively involved in working towards social change.

More needs to be done to promote this practice in teacher training and ensure new recruits are equipped with the skills and confidence to promote diversity and citizenship. The students taking the option courses were inspired by the way in which education for citizenship can promote all of the recommended capacity areas in A Curriculum for Excellence.

All of our students need to become exposed to the good practice that is currently going on in education for citizenship and to experience first-hand the impact this has on pupils. In short, education for citizenship needs to become a core and compulsory part of initial teacher education in Scotland. I hope that future generations of pupils will be given the opportunity to play a part in this.

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