No camels in Norfolk

29th April 2005 at 01:00
East Anglian pupils have glimpsed life in Sweden and Qatar.

Adi Bloom reports.

All things considered, Kennedy Barnes would rather live in Qatar than in Sweden.

"Swedish children don't have to wear school uniform," said the nine-year-old, chewing pensively on her bottom lip. "But it's really cold there. Qatar is hot, and they have lots of swimming pools."

Kennedy and her Year 4 classmates at Caister middle school, Norfolk, have recently begun to correspond with pupils at Al-Khor community school, in the Arab state of Qatar, where a former Caister member of staff is now working. The comparisons with Sweden arise because, for the past five years, pupils at Caister have also corresponded with Sigfridsborgs primary, near Stockholm.

Caister's long-standing Swedish link has given Year 6 pupils very clear ideas about life in famously liberal Scandinavia.

Matthew Stanhope-Smith, 11, said: "They don't call their teachers 'Mr' or 'Mrs' or 'Sir'. They call them by their first names. It makes you less afraid of them."

The pupils have also picked up on other elements of Swedish culture.

Matthew's classmate, Hannah Willment, 11, said: "All the girls are really pretty. They sent us a class photo and they're all tall, with blonde hair.

They obviously don't come in other colours."

But they are aware that the appeal of life in Qatar may be less clear-cut.

Most pupils immediately noticed the Islamic headscarves and face-coverings worn by some of the girls there. "Scarves are fashionable in Qatar," said Kennedy. "So they'll probably become fashionable here soon. I'd want one with a nice pattern.

"I think girls in Qatar have bikinis underneath their long robes. Then they can just take them off and jump in the pool. That's why they have four or five outdoor pools in their village."

This burkhas-and-bikinis lifestyle that pupils envisage may betray a lack of understanding of the finer points of Islamic society. But Mike O'Reilly, Caister's head, believes that this will change as the correspondence progresses.

"The children are slowly learning that not everywhere around the world is the same," he said.

Meanwhile, pupils are focusing on the similarities between the three countries. "Coca-Cola is his favourite drink," said Hannah of her Swedish penfriend. "He watches The Simpsons, like me. I could live in Sweden."

This is a long way from the archetypal link between resource-laden British schools and cash-strapped primaries in third-world countries. But Patrick Freeman, Year 4 teacher, believes that correspondence with a class of oil-rich adolescents or snow-bound Scandinavians is equally valid. "There's an assumption that foreign countries are full of poor people surviving on cash crops," he said. "This shows that there is a range of people out there."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

See UK-Africa link feature in this week's Teacher magazine The TES Make the Link campaign promotes partnerships between British and overseas schools. Staff and pupils are invited to exchange emails, letters and videos, and to organise visits to one another's schools. Campaign details at www.tes.co.ukMake_the_Link. If you have an innovative link, email: Make_the_Link@tes.co.uk

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