Local living, world vision

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Today's pupils are citizens in a global village . applauds the way they respond to the other people's troubles

It must be frustrating to be a child when you see your counterparts suffering in some distant part of the globe. Powerful visual images bring horrific scenes from abroad to the attention of young people, as vivid on screen as if they are on local news: tsunami victims distraught at being instantly orphaned, children in Africa dying of Aids, emaciated babies with no chance of survival in drought-stricken lands.

Adults can send a cheque, phone in a pledge, flash their credit cards, even volunteer to drive a supply lorry. Children can only grieve silently, powerless to help their cousins elsewhere.

Yet citizenship is an official requirement on the school curriculum, and we are all supposed to be global citizens nowadays. Jet travel and satellite technology have apparently shrunk our elastic planet to a manageable size, and most people have a Starbucks around the corner and a can of cola in the fridge.

There's an African saying: "It takes a village to raise a child". In the 21st century it may require the whole planet to raise the world's children.

The good news is that this need not be a purely adult effort. When we ran 'The TES' Children Helping Children campaign for those tragic youngsters in Afghanistan who had had no schooling for several years under the Taliban, it was pupils in primary and secondary schools who raised more than pound;250,000 to help their cousins who had been denied their birthright.

The campaign, launched in March 2002, was run in conjunction with Unicef, so every penny spent was invested wisely. For a few pounds, a whole class was given writing materials for months, something that is taken for granted in Britain, but a precious gift to children previously starved of education. For relatively little more, a "school in a box" was shipped out, a brilliant concept that allows teachers to set up and run a school in the most unlikely locations.

Children can become global citizens without merely learning about the horrors of the world. Action is more important and valuable than hand-wringing. In the Children Helping Children campaign we came across some remarkable stories about schools and individuals. One young girl regularly raised hundreds of pounds for appeals of various kinds. She may become head of the United Nations one day.

Increasingly, schools are forming links with a twin, not just in France or Germany, but in Africa or Asia. Interactive technology means that communication, by text andor digital photos, may be possible, even in difficult locations, often via some intermediary body. It is the 21st century version of the time-honoured pen pal.

Children's fundraising efforts and their moral support of others can help teachers concentrate on the good that humanity does around the world: the billions raised to help Third World children; the hope that good will come of bad, in the form of treatment of killer diseases, rebuilding battered communities; early warning systems that will avert future catastrophes such as the tsunami.

They can also broaden interest in the whole planet. Where are Malaysia and Sri Lanka? Why do certain places have volcanic and climatic disasters? Where are these countries in which people are dying of starvation or plagues, and how can they be helped or treated?

What about the good effects of climate and culture elsewhere? Where does our fresh fruit come from in winter? Where did curry, pizza, pasta, kebabs, grapes and wine originate? Which countries, including the UK, have produced the world's great literature, music, art, architecture, inventions? What, indeed, did the Romans, and others, do for us?

The roots of global citizenship lie deep.

Ted Wragg is emeritus professor of education at Exeter University

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