Make the link to global citizenship

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Cultural and educational exchanges between schools here and around the world are helping pupils and teachers to improve Scotland's international outlook and prospects, writes Su Clark

On the same day that terrorists flew into the twin towers at New York's World Trade Center, stirring racial and religious intolerance, the Scottish Executive published its policy on global learning.

The aim of An International Outlook: Educating Young Scots about the World is to ensure pupils are given a global perspective, preparing them for the journey many will take beyond Scotland's borders in search of education, work and experience.

Awareness, understanding and tolerance of other people and their cultures are fundamental to the five national priorities in school education. The timing of the policy's publication in 2001 was not only painfully ironic but also unfortunately subsumed by the dramatic stories and pictures coming from the United States.

However, four years on, the ethos has been bedded into the curriculum in many schools, primarily through citizenship lessons. A recent audit by the international relations branch of the Scottish Executive Education Department found that 160 schools have firm links with schools in Africa.

Schools such as James Gillespie's High in Edinburgh, Anderson High in Shetland, and Sanday Community School (a junior high) in Orkney have put their relationships with African schools high on their agenda, building direct links between pupils at each school and raising thousands of pounds to improve education opportunities.

Schools' cultural and educational exchanges have proliferated, with teachers as well as pupils benefiting.

Echline Primary in South Queensferry, organises annual exchanges with a school in Austria, giving the children an opportunity to sample another country's culture for about the cost of a residential trip in Scotland.

"Twenty per cent of our young people will grow up to do jobs that don't even exist yet," says Jim McColgan, headteacher of the school. "That includes the potential to move and work abroad. We have to give them opportunities to experience different cultures as much as possible."

The Education Minister, Peter Peacock, leads by example when it comes to looking outwards. He has travelled widely to promote Scottish education and to learn how to improve it.

"These are exciting times for international education," he told TES Scotland. "This issue has not been so high up the political agenda for some time.

"We want Scotland to be recognised as the best small country in the world.

Our education system consistently contributes to that by punching above its weight. We owe it to ourselves and to others around the world to build on that proud tradition."

Despite the enthusiasm evident among advocates of global learning, there is still concern at the Executive that the policy lost momentum because of the timing of its launch. But it is getting a boost today from the annual Edinburgh Conference, which is organised by the city council and sponsored by TES Scotland.

The organisers have brought together speakers from all over the world to discuss the benefits of global education. They include the director general of the Finnish National Board of Education, the chair of the OECD education committee, the chief inspector of the Department of Education and Science in Ireland and a range of experts from the United States, Belgium, Finland and Norway.

Young people's perspective will be illustrated by a group from the Lyceum Youth Theatre, who will share their experiences of an exchange trip to the United States, and Anderson High will give a presentation on the links it has forged with schools on every continent, in Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, South Africa and the USA.

"When you live on a small island you have to look outwards and prepare young people for a time when they might leave these shores," says Stewart Hay, the school's depute headteacher. "We have to educate our children to challenge stereotypes. "

Short and extended exchanges of up to a year have been organised for students and teachers; relationships between students have been developed using new technology; educational methods have been shared; joint lessons have been held via video conferencing and some students have even taken exams within the different education systems.

Anderson High recently won funding under the Executive's Schools of Ambition programme because of its global work and now one of its students, Peter Shaw, is taking part with one pupil from each of the seven partner schools in an enterprise initiative with one of Shetland's biggest employers, Shetland Catch, a mackerel and herring packing company. They will jointly investigate opportunities for the company in the developing world.

The Orkney islands face similar pressures in preparing its pupils for living beyond the islands.

"We have to educate pupils to see themselves as part of the Orkneys and the world," says Daniel Connor, head of Sanday Community School, which won the Scottish Executive's recent Africa Challenge. The prize was a funded exchange with a school in Malawi.

"I think our pupils won because they produced a project that showed they didn't have preconceived ideas and actively wanted to understand the experiences of pupils in Malawi," says Mr Connor. What had given the pupils a head start was the personal insight brought back from a visit to South Africa by one of the teachers, Sandra Towrie.

"Global learning isn't just about educating the children using a text book," says Mr Connor. Even without visits, links can still enhance teaching. Sanday pupils now learn about letter writing, emailing and skills such as film making within a context as they correspond with pupils at Minga school in Malawi.

"This is much more motivating for them and so much easier to teach," says Mr Connor.

"It is also good for teachers," he says. "It enables them to work with pupils in a knowledgeable context. It is also a great motivator, a real fillip for their careers."

It is also useful for teachers wanting to understand other educational approaches. Even when direct transfer of good practice is impossible because of structural differences, "policy learning" and adapting ideas is beneficial.

"Going to somewhere like Finland is highly informative because they have good systems that have many similarities. It is easy to see how their practices could fit into the Scottish system," says Roy Jobson, director of children and families in Edinburgh.

Watching teachers in Kenya, who may have to use the chalk and talk approach because of huge class sizes, can be just as instructive, even if it is in just learning how to make the most of limited resources, says Jim McColgan, the headteacher of Echline Primary, which was nominated for an education award from the Scottish Executive for its commitment to global learning.

Mr McColgan is just as keen to invite overseas visitors to talk about their experiences to his staff and pupils and readily volunteers Echline Primary as a host school. Being in Edinburgh gives many opportunities for such visits.

"Scotland is a tiny country and it would be arrogant for us to think we have nothing to learn from other education systems. Developing links with other schools abroad is a great opportunity for our teachers to expand their own knowledge," he says.

The Scottish Executive has a similar enthusiasm to extend Scotland's links abroad so as not to curtail its influence or its opportunities to learn.

"It is fashionable at the moment to criticise the Government but I think it is making a real effort in this area," says Mr Connor. "As part of Scotland's commitment to Malawi, the Executive plans to fund installation of electricity into Minga school so that we can have electronic links between the two."

The Executive also continues to give financial support to other organisations that promote cross-fertilisation of teaching methods and student exchanges.

It is looking at how to extend global learning at home and is working on a continuing professional development unit that should be ready to extend to schools next year. Meanwhile, consideration is being given to how to embed it within initial teacher training.

Further information on opportunities and funding: a copy of How Good is Our School?: International Education

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