It will be many months before we will be able to gauge the full effects on education brought about by the government's decision to reorganise local government. This reorganisation has placed many curriculum advisers in a position where they now have responsibility for a number of often quite different subject areas. It is into this state of flux, and perhaps for some panic, that the new Centre for Commonwealth, United Nations and International Affairs has been projected.
The centre hopes to enable schools throughout Scotland to advance and promote the education of tomorrow's citizens in a global society. It will be run initially by a small team of director, education officer and information assistant, but it is hoped to include two education officers, one each for the secondary and primary sectors.
Support will be provided for all aspects of international affairs education, at 5-14, Standard grade and revised Higher, in geography and modern studies. The centre will respond to requests for assistance from schools and pupils seeking to meet the demands of the Standard grade investigation and the revised Higher special project, to name but two examples. It will also produce key curriculum materials aimed at aspects that focus on the Commonwealth, the United Nations or other aspects of international affairs, including the European Union.
This support will take the form of print-based materials, like fact packs produced recently on "The United Nations" and "Food and Famine" but the centre will also be developing computer-based multimedia curriculum products where pupils will be able to develop a knowledge and understanding of international affairs in a more interactive way.
These will be produced for both the Mac and PC platforms. Computers will play an increasing role in the way the centre works, reflecting the world that we live in. The centre already has a successful information service that is being expanded to utilise the ability to communicate with the rapidly expanding number of schools that are connected to the Internet. The centre will be enlarging this method of communication to provide an enhanced information service, sending material to schools in a form that can be quickly adapted by teachers to meet the needs of their particular pupils. This will include both still and moving images, in addition to sound clips.
The rapid development of computer-based communications will enable the centre to link together schools throughout the world. By making good use of such communication, schools in Scotland will be able to debate with, and ultimately see, pupils in schools in the Commonwealth and throughout the remainder of the world.
By enabling pupils to talk to their peers in other countries the centre will be taking positive steps towards developing a greater understanding of the world in which we live, thereby diminishing the major cause of conflict: ignorance of how others think and live.
The Commonwealth Institute, Scotland, has a proud 40-year history of providing conferences for pupils throughout Scotland. The former Scottish Educational Trust for United Nations and International Affairs organised simulated general assemblies for school pupils. These are key aspects of the role of the centre, for when human beings can talk and debate they can better understand.
All sectors of Scottish education will be catered for. While the emphasis will obviously be on the primary and secondary schools of Scotland, the library of the centre is one of a relative few in Scotland that house all publications of the United Nations and it is enlarging each day, encompassing the Commonwealth in addition to the European Union and other areas of international affairs.
Further education colleges are free to consult the resources held in the library as are universities. No longer will students and academics have to travel to London to consult resources, they will now be able to request and view these in Dundee.
The Centre for Commonwealth, United Nations and International Affairs is ready, waiting in the wings, to support education authorities as they strive to maintain quality with diminishing resources. It can provide advice to advisers, in addition to the services to schools, teachers and pupils outlined earlier. International affairs education need not be neglected as advisers work hard to consolidate the work that now falls within their varied and substantial responsibilities.
Teachers and pupils in schools can rely on a superb service that addresses all aspects of Commonwealth, United Nations and international affairs education in which the focus is very clearly the Scottish curriculum.
Robert Doig is director of the Centre for Commonwealth, United Nations and International Affairs, Northern College, Dundee.