Linking schools brings world issues home

4th March 2005 at 00:00
In the last few weeks, the shock of the Boxing Day tsunami has been replaced for most of us by the slow realisation that we can now carry on with a comfortable life, unlike those directly affected.

The horror lingers in our minds, while initiatives directed at the problems of the developing world are debated: Gordon Brown's call to reduce poverty in Africa; the UN's millennium development plans; Government promises of cash for "capacity building" in less developed countries. At the same time, mounting scientific evidence confirms that profligate rates of consumption and pollution in the West have turned the threat of climate change, with its devastating impact on poorer countries, into reality.

While politicians grapple and argue over these important issues, they overlook a key chunk of the population: children. We should be helping children understand the need for international, sustainable development, and giving them the tools and the confidence to find solutions. Perhaps you've read the Government's education for sustainable development (ESD) policy and initiated an eco schools project. But are these concepts really enough? The ESD policy lacks the resources to enable proper implementation and the scope to make any real difference.

Our children must be primed to identify and implement a global correction of the way in which we live. They need an understanding of the problems and their causes, and we must inspire them to take action. I have an idea, inspired by a real and uplifting event, that might be a good starting point.

Wigmore primary is a small rural school in Herefordshire, where my eldest son is a pupil and I am currently a governor. Like many schools, Wigmore decided to raise money for the survivors of the tsunami. Unlike most, however, it knew exactly where that money would be going. Two former pupils, Luke and Nicola Oxley, emigrated with their parents to Sri Lanka just months ago, to live in an area directly affected by the catastrophe.

They survived, but found themselves inexorably caught up in the trauma. The parents, Mark and Mary, have described in regular e-mails how their lives have been transformed, how they have become devoted to the relief effort, and how the money raised by the children at Wigmore, which is sent straight to them, will help. The personal contact and the vivid accounts have made a huge difference. To everyone's astonishment the children managed to raise over pound;2,000 from a sponsored walk - that's in a school with fewer than 200 children.

If we bring the discussion down to the level of the individual, and translate the big issues into personal realities, we make them matter. We must facilitate dialogue between children here and children in a developing country. Last November, the Government proposed a national scheme for twinning schools. It's working now: see www.globalgateway.org.uk. There is also a pairing service run by People to People International at www.ptpe.org. There may be other links your school can make. Any such connections will not just be rewarding; they will be life-changing. You never know, they could even be world-changing.

Vanessa Spedding is a parent governor of Wigmore primary school, Herefordshire

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