How overseas links mean well, but...

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Tie-ups with developing world leave children with `neocolonialist' views, research shows

School partnerships between Britain and the developing world can leave pupils with a "racist" impression of other cultures, according to new research.

Badly trained teachers who portray nations as poverty stricken and see links with schools there simply as a charitable opportunity are giving children "neocolonialist" views, the study claims.

Instead, schools should work with their counterparts abroad as equals and avoid fundraising. The Exeter University-led inquiry will call for a new way of approaching global education.

The research findings will also have implications for geography teaching and the way gap years abroad are run, according to Fran Martin, who is leading the study.

"I'm not saying all the partnerships are wrong, or that teachers are unable to act with understanding up to a given point," Dr Martin said.

"But there needs to be a different way of thinking to avoid partnerships having these neocolonialist or racist undertones, or being patronising about another belief system.

"Many teachers can only see things from their own world view and it's hard for them to move away from that. Only showing poverty or problems gives UK children a very biased impression, and it influences their views when they grow up."

The pound;323,000 study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, finishes in 2012.

It aims to show the benefits of what Dr Martin calls "genuine partnerships" between two countries. She will focus on work done by Canterbury Christchurch University in children's homes in southern India and teacher training jointly run by staff in Gambia and the UK.

"It should be equal, but they often are not because the UK school raises money for their partner. It's well intentioned but it doesn't create a true partnership. It's often the Western school who goes abroad to visit rather than the others, so it's not a fair exchange," she said.

The British Council supports 2,142 UK primary and secondaries with world counterparts and hopes to establish 4,600 links by March 2012. It also trains teachers to run partnerships in an equal way.

Ruth Najda, global education adviser at the council, said the quality of school partnerships had improved over the past decade.

"If it's truly a joint project the benefits aren't often seen for six months or more, so schools have to realise it's going to be a developing relationship."

Bad impressions

What English children said about their Gambian counterparts (from interviews conducted by Dr Martin)

Dr Martin:

What sort of clothes do they wear?

Child 5 - They don't wear much clothes. They wear straw.

Why are we so lucky?

Child 1 - The boys wear skirts, too. They wear straw skirts.

Child 2 - They have nothing to wear on their feet.

Child 3 - They wear rags.

Child 1 - Their houses are made from wood.

Child 2 - And they've got straw roofs.

Child 3 - They stick them together with mud.

Child 1 - They have sand on the floor.

Child 4 - Yes, but it's yucky wet sand.

Child 5 - Yuk! Gross things like flies go in their mouths.


Why do you think that?

Child 2 - They have food on their mouths.

Child 3 - Because they're muddy.

Child 2 - Because their mouths are brown and the flies think their mouths are made of mud.

Original paper headline: Patronising and `racist': how overseas links mean well, but ..

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today