Join the long line of global explorers;Another voice;Opinion

9th July 1999 at 01:00
TURN the pages of Sugar, Bliss, or Just 17, and unless there is some amazing new chart topper of a pop group from beyond the English Channel, the sense that the reader is growing up in an inter-dependent world is absent.

Dan Dare hardly expanded my generation's sense of the world either. The web, the Net, satellite television, mobile phones might be expected to combine to produce a global society without precedent. And yet my sense as a parent and a school governor is that, if anything, the school-aged child is inhabiting a narrower and narrower world with even less of a feel for the way others live.

Perhaps for my generation, obscurity, distance and difficulty of communication intensified the desire to know about other parts of our world. Technology has reduced all the above, to render much of the world as accessible as our own small section.

At the time I left school I had never been out of England - never even been on a plane other than a single-engined Auster in which I was taken for a flight at some rustic show. My own sense of the world was formed by history, geography, the overhang of Empire, and visiting missionaries.

Clare Short's ambition to eliminate world poverty by the year 2015 will remain unrealised so long as there is no majority constituency for spending huge new money on development. Presumably the National Curriculum's new talk of promoting citizenship is to foster support for such concepts - hence its mention of developing awareness and securing "commitment to sustainable development at a personal, local, national and global level". Sounds great, but potentially boring - how can we make it live in the classroom and beyond?

Two years ago I was walking through a corn field with a friend from Oxfam and we started talking about how we could use the millennium to focus people's minds on how others beyond our shores lived.

We thought about the Dome - which at that stage sounded corporate, northern-hemisphere dominant and moneyed. Then we thought about why it was there and we thought about the zero meridian on longitude. Longitude, as anyone who's read Dava Sobel's superb best seller can tell us, is a very new concept - little more than 200 years old. So where does the line go?

From the North Pole, its first contact with land is not far from Grimsby, then out down Eastern England; through France, West of Paris; though Spain almost hitting Seville; Algeria follows; Mali; Burkino Faso; Togo and Ghana, before plunging on down through the South Atlantic to the South Pole. By chance it is an amazing clutch of countries - starting with the three great imperial powers of this millennium. In Algeria you have the pain of internecine strife and imperial inheritance, in Mali sumptuous music and fabrics in a country that sustains the University of Timbuktu, dominant seat of Islamic learning and culture in the first millennium.

From this single thread of countries and peoples who live "on the line" flow marvellous consequences. We awaken to sunrise at approximately the same time, eat, go to work, or school (if we are fortunate enough), return home, eat again, and go to bed at the same time, from Accra to Grimsby. All experiencing life in the same time zone - the possibilities are endless: school kids on the line, teachers on the line, mothers on the line, mullahs on the line, on line or the line. Deadline, bread line, waist line, plumb line, dance line, score line, and they are all coming together in one great millennial extravaganza that we hope will carry on long after the festivities have ended.

Soon after Oxfam, Channel Four joined the project, then Voluntary Service Overseas and Christian Aid - and crucially, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), which was interested in the incredible swathes of ocean and varied terrain that are on the line.

Today there are endless partners on the line and we are developing the educational tools that will enable the concept and its inter-active consequences to enter the classroom and put real flesh on the National Curriculum's thoughts about citizenship.

Already exchanges have taken place, and the millennium awards board is looking at a very significant grant to to enable individuals to accept the invitation to "put yourself on the line". There is not an aspect of our global life that is not to be found on the line - it even has "latitudinal" consequences - after all were not the Indian sub-continent, the United States and Australia explored and colonised by men and women who were born on the line?

Why not join us "On the Line"? How about waking up to thereality of precisely who else shares our time experience of the world and how their lives differ from ours?

Jon Snow is a Channel Four News journalist.

On the Line is a millennium project funded by Oxfam, Channel Four and the Worldwide Fund for Nature which aims to link people and places in eight countries on the zero meridian. Teachers' hotline 0870 6061405. Website:

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