Missing pieces

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Tomorrow, the family of the European Union will grow dramatically from 15 states to 25, with five more nations queuing to join. In 53 years the EU has grown out of a hub of six countries co-operating on coal and steel to a partnership of 450 million people under one political umbrella, sharing values such as freedom of trade, cultural diversity and protecting individual and minority rights.

The union helped hold Western Europe together during the Cold War and is bringing East and West together again, creating a platform for European influence on the world. But if you ask geography teachers what children are learning about their place in Europe and the rights, responsibilities and dilemmas that go with it, the answer is surprisingly little.

David Lambert, chief executive of the Geography Association, blames the narrowness of the geography curriculum and the blinkered vision of publishers. "The curriculum rarely covers the big questions about European identity and how it's changing with expansion," he says. "Too often it settles on individual countries - and a very narrow selection of countries at that." Most schools seem to focus on Italy, France or Germany because there are no textbooks on other countries.

European expansion raises questions about our identity and values at a time when they are being tested by migration, globalisation and differences with the United States over how the world should be run. There are moral, social and cultural questions to do with the themes of citizenship education and diversity that schools must deal with if they are to prepare children for the world in which they are growing up. European enlargement offers schools a reason to think again about how that can be done.

The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of the Times Educational Supplement and not that of the British Council.

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