The same, but different
Galeshewe in South Africa isn't that different from Edinburgh. When Mike Seliane, deputy head of Isago Primary, near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, first came to the Scottish capital in 2005, he had to borrow a jacket from Paul Ewing, depute head of Juniper Green Primary. And when Mr Ewing visited Mr Seliane's school a year later, he had to borrow a jacket from his host.
But of course there are differences. It might be cold in Scotland, but no local authority would expect children to learn in unheated classrooms. They have no choice at Isago. "The school has no heating, so the children have to wear coats, hats and scarves in the classroom," says Shona Richardson, a P1 teacher at Juniper Green. "The photographs shocked our pupils."
But that is one of the benefits of the close link which has existed between Isago and Juniper Green for more than four years. It makes life in South Africa more than academic to the pupils at Juniper Green and vice versa for the children in Galeshewe.
"When someone stands up and tells you something, rather than just reading about it in a book, then that gives it meaning and gives us new ideas," says Lynsey Pearson, 12.
"It makes it a realistic experience," adds classmate Claire Saville.
Both girls joined their teachers recently at a reception held by insurance company Standard Life, where the two schools received a global citizen award for the work done to bolster links between them.
Karen Noble, Juniper Green's headteacher, displays the trophy proudly. "It is a bit smeared," she apologises. "It should be a tactile experience; the children should be able to touch it. It is a joint award with Isago and we are trying to get a similar trophy to send out to Africa, but we may have to do with a certificate."
The link with Isago was set up in 2004, when Joan Nadeau, a Juniper Green teacher who has since retired, embarked upon the Africa Link programme. It quickly became embedded in the curriculum, strengthened by annual teacher exchanges paid for through fund-raising and a grant from the British Council.
Children at both schools meet and question visiting teachers, while environmental studies at Juniper Green is enlivened by frequent references to South Africa. When P1 looks at the people who are important to them, they exchange letters and pictures with the youngest children in Isago to compare.
P3 pupils have corresponded with their counterparts in Galeshewe about what sort of toys they have. "We found out how they make toys from recycled materials or games using stones," says Lynsey.
P5 children have shared their findings from a project on water and have studied the issue of water as a valuable resource in Africa, while P7s have learnt about apartheid alongside understanding Scottish government. "The latter can be a bit dry," says Mr Ewing. "So studying apartheid, when the children feel so close to the school in Galeshewe, makes it more interesting. I often make references in assemblies to what happened in South Africa to discuss issues of injustice."
The link between the schools is very much a two-way relationship, as Mrs Richardson emphasises: "Our children learn such a lot from the Isago connection, who learn from ours. They are way ahead of us on eco-schools and are able to teach us."
At Juniper Green there is a parents' committee and members have given up their time to broaden the experiences of visiting teachers from Isago. Many parents add postcards to the termly packages sent to South Africa. Such encouragement has consolidated the link further. The school has one more year of funding from the British Council but Mrs Noble and staff are confident the close relationship and visits will continue.