Important to teach pupils about disasters

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
Horrific images of people whose lives have been lost or devastated by the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China (above) can't fail to shock the most hardened adults
Horrific images of people whose lives have been lost or devastated by the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China (above) can't fail to shock the most hardened adults. So what sort of effect are they having on our children? And how should their concerns, questions and anxieties be dealt with in the classroom?

We must ensure that they are able to reflect on the suffering they see on television, as well as explore the wider global issues - whether that be the way poverty and inequality exacerbate "natural" disasters, the work of international bodies and aid agencies or the role of national governments and their decisions.

More than 3,000 schools have been damaged in Myanmar and approximately 900 students in Dujiangyan city, China, were trapped when their school collapsed.

Young people in the UK need to understand and empathise with (not pity) their counterparts around the world. They need to develop skills such as critical thinking and problem solving in relation to complex global issues in the safe space of the classroom. They need to feel empowered and confident that people really can make a positive difference.

The word "disaster" has many connotations. It may help to spend time exploring what it means. Children could think about what would be a disaster for them - and what makes a situation disastrous at a personal level, before thinking about what constitutes the kind of disasters we have witnessed.

It is worth emphasising that what may seem like a global disaster is, in fact, a personal disaster multiplied many times over. To help make connections, it is important to use case studies of people, families and communities.

For all pupils, there is much work to be done on exploring the use of language and images, in particular, how they represent people affected by disaster. And there is the question of whose viewpoints we are getting. More importantly, whose we are not getting. Not to mention the ethical questions and dilemmas confronting journalists reporting on the disasters.

- www.oxfam.org.ukeducation for ideas on how to teach about disasters in the classroom

Gillian Temple, Head of Education and Youth, Oxfam GB.

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