Heroes of Chile bring lessons to the surface for all

5th November 2010 at 00:00

Every once in a while, a top international story comes along which has huge resonance for educating our young. Such stories are usually associated with whole-scale human disaster - the Boxing Day tsunami, the floods in Pakistan, 911. These generally require a teacher's skill in stripping out the truly ghastly bits.

But the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners last month was just the opposite. Nothing needed to be censored, nothing added. A billion people worldwide watched their rescue, hearts warmed, eyes brimming with joyful tears. It was good news at last.

It is likely that almost every teacher in the land had a fleeting thought of using the rescue story in lessons or assemblies to demonstrate all manner of human qualities - courage, hope, faith, endurance. Up and down the country I am sure hundreds of teachers did. It is one of those remarkable true-life stories that can be applied to anybody's life, whatever the age group or circumstances.

Many of the miners' individual stories have emerged and we'll continue to learn wider lessons. I'm sure we will be impressed by their grit and determination to survive for a long time to come. We will also continue to be inspired when we hear more from the mining engineers who worked tirelessly to get the miners out. But at present it's the Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, who has, for me, so eloquently put into words the universal lesson for all of us. Describing the rescue operation, he said: "We did it because we were united, we did it because we were convinced, and we did it because we would never leave anyone behind. And that's a very good principle for Chile, and a very good principle for the world."

Simple words and profoundly thought-provoking for anyone involved in education. Their triumphant success has many lessons for our young people, but what are the lessons for those in charge of the young? What is the lesson for the individual school, struggling against the odds, striving to do better, planning to meet economic hardship head on?

Success may be achievable if we are able to say, "We were united," with staff working as a team, each one having the opportunity to make a difference. And "convinced"? A staff that understands and subscribes to the school ethos, and certain of the rightness of it, will surely help shape its success.

And finally, "never leave anyone behind". This is a striking reminder of our inherent purpose as educators. We cannot falter on this, however hard the times we live in. Schools will have to find ways through.

What is truly special about a good news story is that it stops the world in its tracks and for a brief moment in time gives people a moment to think positively and hopefully. It is especially true for educators in this turbulent time.

Lindy Barclay is headteacher of the Redbridge Community School in Southampton.

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