Lessons from around the world

7th November 2008 at 00:00
From Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, an Inverness primary has won an international education award for the links it is forging with schools around the world

When an earthquake shook Iceland earlier this year, pupils at a Highland primary came to class with faces grave with concern.

It was the same when trouble flared in the Lebanon. The Inverness youngsters were glued to their television sets, anxious for news.

Cauldeen Primary has just won an International School Award for its outstanding development of international education as a context for A Curriculum for Excellence. The children's engagement with what is happening in countries thousands of miles away is just one of the many spin-offs.

This is the first primary in Highland - and just one of 15 schools in Scotland so far - to win International School recognition. The driving force is headteacher George Glass, who will soon celebrate 25 years at the helm of the city school. He is an ambassador for Connecting Classrooms and the e-twinning project the school has been working on, and is inspiring other schools with his enthusiasm.

Using the latest digital technology, children from different countries can work together on shared study, then email recordings, photographs and film animations to illustrate their handiwork and reveal more about their different cultures. In countries with limited resources, they use what they can to take part and teachers email their creations to and fro.

Pupils here are forging links with young children in some of the world's worst trouble spots - at schools in Kandahar in Afghanistan and in Lebanon. Their teachers have been inspired by new connections - sharing best practice on teaching strategies and exploring cultural differences.

Cultural exchange has been going on at this school for the past 20 years - long before email and the internet. There have always been regular trips to Europe for pupils; student teachers come on placement from the United States and teachers visit from Switzerland.

But new technology is allowing learning to leap across international borders, creating a global classroom and enabling teachers and children to make vital connections to enliven their learning and broaden their experience.

"It was addressing our citizenship policies and issues, it was addressing the new curricular issues, particularly in terms of contextualising the curriculum and specifically looking at the experiential side of the new Curriculum for Excellence," says Mr Glass. "This is a context, it's nothing more than that. The curriculum hasn't really changed, but the way the teaching takes place has. The staff now are very keen on using the interactive technologies they have in the classroom."

The International School Awards were first set up in 1999 and are funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and managed by the British Council. They are run in countries throughout the world, including India, Sri Lanka. Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan. This year, more than 500 schools won accreditation.

At Cauldeen, every child has worked towards the award - even the three to five-years-olds in the nursery department. Many of their award-winning projects are leading to visits between the overseas partners. Today, a group of children from Saxony in Germany is visiting and working alongside the Inverness pupils on a project exploring traditional legends.

"Each of the teachers decided themselves what aspect of international education they would fit into their curriculum. Some of it was through their environmental studies and project work; others were doing it through maths," Mr Glass explains.

"So in P1 we did a maths project with a number of European countries, including Poland, Spain and Malta. That was called "1, 2, Buckle My Shoe" and it looked at all the different aspects of early mathematics.

"Because they were working with other European teachers, the ideas and the information on new techniques of teaching and learning were actually flowing between them - so not just the children were benefiting," he says.

P1 teacher Margaret Hay explains more about the award-winning project: "My class had a buddy in P7 and made animations to do with shapes which we sent off to Malta and Poland."

Six-year-old Ibrahim Ali must have enjoyed it, because he remembers it vividly. "We sent animations to Malta using the Digi Blue cameras and we made shapes. There was loads of stuff going on," he says.

P1-2 teacher Marsalidh Chapman worked on a health education programme called "Chocolate and Chips", which paired infant children on a wide range of activities with a nursery in Malta. "We shared lesson plans and both did the same lessons and compared results. The teachers emailed and we drew pictures. I scanned them and sent them to the other school."

Ms Chapman later visited the school in Malta: "It was really nice to go there and meet Miriam, my partner teacher," she says, as she brings her pupils back into their class after break.

Connecting Classrooms involves a cluster of schools in one country engaging with a cluster in another. Cauldeen is working with a primary school in Dingwall and two in West Sussex in collaboration with four schools in Kandahar.

The idea of these relationships is to look at the curriculum and explore ways of enabling cultural exchange and broadening understanding. "It's about making the children understand what current affairs are about and trying to break down stereotypes, so when they go out into the world they are not going out with prejudices," says Mr Glass.

The UK cluster of heads has already met here with the Afghan headteachers - one of whom is a 17-year-old who runs a girls' school in Kandahar. Further excursions are planned and Mr Glass will visit Kabul next Easter with other UK heads.

Neve Cargill, 10, has been doing research with her group on schools in Afghanistan. "They seem quite poor to me, because we have loads of stuff - books and computers - and all they really have is blackboards and books. And not many have desks in their classrooms. Sometimes you just wish you could give them loads of money so they can," she says.

"When we were doing research, we learned that children, when they are walking to or from school, can get killed sometimes. We clicked on BBC News and it said that a group of children had got killed on the way home from school and I don't understand how that happens.

"We're also doing a story from dawn to dusk about what we do through the day - from when we wake up and what we do in school - and about our pets. We are going to send it to the Afghan children and they are going to send theirs back to us. So they know what we do and we know what they do."

Pupils also began work on an e-twinning project with schools in Iceland and Lebanon last year, which took a Water Use theme to explore science activities. They even had a visit from the Lebanese school's headteacher.

P7 teacher Helen Murray is continuing this theme with her class, researching the contrasting lifestyles and climates in the overseas countries. "We've done a project where the children have researched Lebanon and Iceland and used the information to produce a PowerPoint, because it's to give them as much opportunity as possible to improve their ICT skills," Mrs Murray explains.

"Basically, schools get online if they see a project that interests them - like Lebanon and Iceland who had decided they wanted to do a water-usage project. I send emails to the teachers in Iceland and Lebanon and we all suggest work we can do with the children.

"For me it's about sharing world cultures with children and broadening their horizons and an opportunity for them to have an audience for their work. If they have an audience for their work they are going to produce better work and they can also use their ICT skills."

Her pupils have been using Audacity to record Scottish stories to send overseas and Photo Stories 3, which allows them to take photographs of their artwork based on Scottish scenery and email it to their classmates overseas.

E-twinning ambassador Mr Glass says the British Council scheme is great for schools. "E-twinning is a European programme which is free and I highly recommend it for education. It's a very easy, straightforward starting point where you can link up with the 45,000 schools on the website looking for partners.

"Our very first e-twinning award, which was a European award winner, was based on interviewing our veterans for a Second World War project," he said. "And we did it in conjunction with a school in Malta, so that the children could understand it wasn't just our veterans who were being interviewed; the Maltese children were interviewing their veterans and we were exchanging the information."

"We were working with the Imperial War Museum in London to create this archive and the work the children did in terms of recording these veterans, then editing it and scribing the text, is now part of the Imperial War Museum's archive."

School janitor Ian Cameron is an ex-sergeant in the Highland Regiment, which has recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He is setting up links between the school and the regiment to broaden the children's understanding of the current situation.

"We're organising some of the soldiers to come and speak about the reconstruction and the importance of security for that society to develop. We're not talking about the conflict - they get that in the news all the time," says Mr Glass.

"What we are trying to concentrate on is to let the children see and hear at first hand, as we did with the veterans, what's happening on the ground - why the soldiers feel they are there and what they feel they are achieving. That makes it far more positive for the children, rather than the negativity they get through the media."

Is he apprehensive about visiting Afghanistan next year? "It has to be an equal partnership. We can't just say we're nice and comfortable, so you come and see us. I think it's important that we, as headteachers, visit and understand the issues headteachers in that country have."

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