Making pupil history

17th June 2005 at 01:00
The leaders of Britain's three largest teaching unions consider how schools can capitalise on Bob Geldof's Live 8 campaign

Last week's Live 8 lottery received 1.5 million texts on its first day and just about every child in the country is talking about it, just as we were about Live Aid, 20 years ago. Then as now, putting a bunch of pop stars in a London park for the day to highlight global poverty is, at first glance, about as sensible as bunking off to walk to Edinburgh. But it has got everyone talking about Make Poverty History. And texting. And emailing. And thinking. Which is the whole point.

As the likes of Joss Stone and Robbie Williams are picking outfits, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been jetting round the world persuading other G8 countries to respond to the challenge to eradicate Third World debt and increase aid levels. Would they be making this much effort if the world's media wasn't constantly drawing our attention to the plight of Africa? Would pupils be talking about it or wearing white bands? Live 8 is much more than a pop concert. It's just one part of a unique worldwide campaign to get G8 leaders to act decisively to deal with the poverty that blights lives across Africa, Asia and Latin America. A campaign that the NASUWT, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Union of Teachers all whole-heartedly support.

So when Bob Geldof asked children to bunk off school to support Live 8, we all know it's pretty unhelpful to schools. But we should also consider why he said it and how we can respond. This really is a one-off opportunity. By helping students engage with the issues Make Poverty History is raising, we can excite them, stimulate debate and help them to grow into global citizens, rather than lose them to cynicism and small-mindedness. And surely that's what education is about? Perhaps we should also look more clearly at the issues we are talking about - simply put, there are 100 million children in the world who will never have the chance to bunk off because they don't even go to school because their families are too poor.

That's 100m children who the G8 promised would be in school by 2015, but at the present rate will have to wait until 2150. This statistic is all the more shocking when you consider that the recent Global Campaign for Education report showed that a million children die each year because they missed out on school. The fact is that education is one of the most effective routes out of poverty, yet each year another generation of children loses out on education's power to transform.

Live 8 will be something that millions of children in the UK will remember, just as their parents remember that shocking footage of the girl in the refugee camp. Live Aid opened our eyes to what was happening in Africa, and showed us we could do something to stop it. Live 8 and Make Poverty History go a step further - by lobbying for change at the highest level, we can do even more about global poverty and now is the time to act.

The Live 8 concerts and Make Poverty History campaign around the G8 summit are one of the most exciting global citizenship opportunities we've ever had. This is a chance to energise a whole generation of school children, and to help them realise that their voices matter. Unless teachers offer perspective and debate through the school structure, there is a real chance all our children will take away from Live 8 is pop stars and white bands.

And that's something Bob Geldof understands more than most.

The run-up to the G8 meeting presents lots of opportunities for activities to stimulate pupils. Just think of the impact if every school in the country did an assembly in the same week. It could explore Nelson Mandela's call to children to be "that great generation" and look at the lives of children in other countries. You can download Mandela's speech from the Make Poverty History website.

Follow that with Make Poverty History's Send My Friend to School Challenge.

Pupils in more than 100 countries have been learning about the reasons why so many children are missing out on education, and making child-shaped messages called "buddies" to send to the G8.

If you want to be a bit more adventurous, why not join the Sydney Harbour Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral by putting a white band around your school? Or hold your own Live 8 concert in the same week as the stars grace the stages in the world's largest pop concert across two continents. If you really want to go to a rally in Edinburgh, arrange your school trip for Saturday July 2. Look at the Make Poverty History website for information.

This summer we have a chance as educators to raise consciousness about global poverty, and do what we can to move it into the history curriculum.

By increasing children's understanding of global inequality we can bring about change for generations and ensure that everyone in the world gets the benefit of an education.

An exhibition of thousands of "buddies" is on this weekend at the Oxo Tower on London's South Bank. For more details, and to make your "buddy" visit Mary Bousted, Chris Keates and Steve Sinnott are respectively general secretaries of the ATL, NASUWT and NUT

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