Reward caring in a MAD world

11th December 2009 at 00:00

An increasing number of our senior pupils are MAD. They are, of course, Making A Difference by giving up private study time to help others and raise funds for good causes.

In some schools, timetabled MAD classes meet once or twice a week to provide pupils with opportunities to work collaboratively, and to think creatively and differently, in order to come up with new ideas on how to raise money for good causes. It is entrepreneurship but with what Adam Smith called a "moral sentiment".

MAD classes also help pupils to gain better perspectives on their own lives. Learning about the difficult lives of the poor and homeless, for example, makes them more appreciative of their own situations. "Think more, want less" is the logo on one of the posters I recently saw in the foyer display of a school with MAD classes. There was also a photograph of Archbishop Oscar Romero and his inspirational words: "Aspire not to have more, but to be more."

Senior pupils are also taking on new responsibilities, including organising the buddy and other friendship schemes which do so much to help new pupils settle in school. Increasing numbers of senior pupils are also visiting their schools' associated primaries to help out with sports and other activities, such as dance classes.

Altruistic pupils are going even further by helping out in local charity shops or even nursing and care homes. It is an arrangement which benefits both the givers and the receivers. For pupils, the gain is the satisfaction of knowing they are doing something positive and, at the same time, acquiring an awareness of the sort of work which is being done in our caring professions.

A group of senior pupils in one school recently took turns to help an elderly lady who had been hospitalised, by walking the beloved dog she couldn't take out herself. It was a simple act of kindness but one, the pupils were to learn, which meant so much to the lady concerned.

With some training, senior pupils are also participating in mentoring and tutoring schemes to provide personal and learning support for younger pupils. It's a programme which helps the older pupils to develop initiative and useful leadership skills and, simultaneously, provides the younger ones with valuable one-to-one help and support.

Many of our older pupils make excellent role models. They are, after all, easily moved and motivated to make a difference and to care about people and issues. For younger children, most of our senior pupils present visible evidence of where working hard at school, and behaving well, can take you.

By helping to shape and develop the school's values, ethos and public image, the work of MAD groups also raises the level of pupil participation and input in the school. As one pupil wrote in her school magazine: "There comes a time when we all have to do less taking and start thinking about giving."

In the United States, the trend has been for universities to look at more than standardised tests and exam passes when allocating much sought-after places. Voluntary work ranks high in the list of supporting activities.

In this country, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and other voluntary schemes encourage and reward charitable work but are not accessible or available to all our pupils.

Perhaps it is time for us to consider some sort of national reward, or award, for those pupils who do so much to help others and, indeed, help our schools move away from the idea that they are just "exam factories".

Exams are, of course, important, but so too, with Curriculum for Excellence, is the idea of schools doing more to encourage our young people to become caring and responsible citizens.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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