PSHE Scotland - When being young is not so fun

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Our children are aware of their rights, but do they know what people their age endure in war-torn countries? Maureen Dollman offers a memorable lesson

As a guidance teacher (or pastoral teacher), it's difficult to find challenging, interesting and relevant material for the personal and social development programme.

An excellent source for resources is the War Child website. War Child is a registered charity and the site provides up-to-date and stimulating material about the effects on young people of living in countries experiencing war - perfect for the global citizenship project our 14-year- olds would be working on.

I built one of our initial lessons on this around the rights of the child. I split the class into groups and asked them to brainstorm what they believed those rights to be. Groups fed back their responses and I distributed copies of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child for information.

The next stage was to circulate photographs of young people whose basic rights had been denied as a result of the conflict in their home country. These included images of very young children playing on a rusty tank that had been blown up during a conflict.

Without exception, our pupils were shocked at the pictures depicting the experiences of many children in the world. It was straightforward for the groups to identify the rights denied in each image and there were feelings of outrage and frustration that simple things we took for granted were beyond the reach of the individuals in the images.

Most of the photographs detailed scenes from countries at war now, or dealing with the aftermath of conflict, which were recognisable because of recent TV news coverage.

We looked at photographic material of child soldiers, many of whom were younger than 14. The shocking images of these youngsters wielding machine guns or machetes provoked discussion.

The groups were given case studies of children who found themselves forced into fighting and they were asked to compile a list of the issues they thought they might face, imagining the feelings of the children whose liberty and childhood had been denied.

We reflected on the differences between the lives of young people in a country experiencing conflict and those who live in a relatively stable country like ours.

The lesson generated an energetic and charged discussion and left pupils considering the issues we had explored that day.

I had hoped to challenge the pupils and get them to appreciate the frightening experience that was the norm for some children in the world and to make them consider their stance on the topic. I think we did this, thanks to the highly topical and relevant content of the material from War Child. Not only did it have an impact on pupils, it provided a clear frame of reference and a fund of relevant materials for teachers.

Maureen Dollman teaches at St John's High School in Dundee, Scotland

WHAT TO DO NEXT

- Run the unit past other departments in your school in case they have tapped in to the materials already.

- Keep the pace of the lesson going for maximum impact, although the work could be split across two shorter lessons.

- Consider carefully what you hope to achieve before downloading as there is so much material available.

- Be prepared for opinionated discussion.

Visit www.warchild.org.uk.

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