Summit of ambition must reach higher

15th July 2005 at 01:00
Children are living through momentous times which offer them areal educational opportunity, says Ross Deuchar

The decision to re-run Live Aid 20 years after the original event, combined with Bob Geldof's attempts to contribute towards the fight against poverty in Africa, has caused quite a stir among politicians, councillors and the general public.

Whatever else people may think about Live 8, one cannot deny the capacity that Geldof still has to mobilise large numbers of young people to make a response to a humanitarian cause. Indeed, the teenagers of 2005 are probably even more inclined to listen to pop stars and celebrities ahead of politicians than their counterparts in 1985 were. And schools need to draw upon this influence to encourage pupils to reflect critically upon social and political developments in the media, as well as encouraging them to become involved in global issues.

In all of the schools I have visited recently, I have noticed many pupils wearing "Make Poverty History" wristbands and becoming actively engaged in fundraising campaigns for Africa. I have also noted their strong views about the need to wage a war against poverty, and the more reflective pupils have talked of the connection between this and the ongoing war against terrorism.

It is clear that figures such as Geldof, Bono and Midge Ure have been instrumental in heightening pupils' awareness of the moral issues behind the events.

In one secondary school I visited recently, members of the student council were keen to launch school-wide fundraising initiatives to contribute to debt relief for Africa, where 30,000 children die every day. The S56 pupils were also keen to establish a new project on Africa as part of their modern studies curriculum.

The senior management team helped pupils to plan a two-day fundraising event publicising the school's commitment towards the "Make Poverty History" campaign, as well as encouraging teachers to set up pilot studies on the social issues facing African people. In another school, pupils displayed an intense interest in the continued threat of terrorism and articulated their fears for the future of the world if it continued. These S1 pupils expressed their concern about the need for immediate debt relief for poorer countries, as a means of combating such terrorist acts along with global disease, war and famine.

However, while the "Make Poverty History" campaign was much respected, pupils were more sceptical about the possible underlying motives that some Live 8 participants may have for trying to revive their musical careers. As a strong advocate of the need for preparing pupils to become reflective and participating members of society through global citizenship education, these discussions were deeply insightful for me.

The pupils' comments illustrated the determination that they were showing in trying to understand international events. They also illustrated the concern that so many of our pupils have for social justice, and their growing commitment to the need for working towards change. It was clear that the teachers in these schools had been actively encouraging the expression of pupils' opinions on contemporary social issues, thus developing their ability to draw personal conclusions about evidence seen in the media. But, with all its good intentions, media evidence emerging recently suggests that there is also a darker side to the Live8 concert.

The ban on the sale of concert tickets on eBay led to press stories about individual young Scots attempting to tout tickets for vastly inflated prices.

Allegedly, one student involved in such an incident has defended his act as one of commercial common sense in a capitalist world. How might our pupils in secondary and even primary schools respond to this view? This could open up new areas of debate surrounding the balance between individual enterprise, personal rights, social responsibility, ethics and values.

My memories of Live Aid in 1985 are fond ones, but I also recall having no opportunity to engage in any form of discussion surrounding the social and political motivations underpinning the event during my final months at school. This time it must be different. Our pupils could be living through a period of social history in the making, and teachers need to have their fingers firmly on the media, celebrity and political buttons, so they can enable pupils to make responses to issues such as the G8 summit as they occur.

We must hope that the events this month in Edinburgh make a difference to the fight against worldwide poverty. But we must also draw upon the events as a real educational opportunity for encouraging pupils to share personal responses to political, community and moral issues. Preparing our young people to continue to be reflective, critical and responsive towards global social concerns may depend upon it.

Ross Deuchar is a lecturer in the education faculty at Strathclyde University.

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