Clocks all around the world are set according to the time at Greenwich, but only countries due south of here have the same high noon as us. George Cole reports on a millennium project celebrating people who live at zero degrees longitude The prime meridian, which marks zero degrees longitude, starts at the North Pole and runs down through England, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina, Togo, Ghana, near a South African base in Antarctica and on to the South Pole. And it is the basis for the world's time zones.
Now, Oxfam, Channel 4 and the World Wide Fund for Nature-UK are using the prime meridian as the basis for an ambitious programme for the millennium that aims to celebrate the lives of people who live along it.
The On the Line project aims to celebrate "a rich mix of countries, places and people", says Gillian Temple, its educational advisor, through a variety of activities and projects. The objective is to raise awareness about issues such as sustainable development and global citizenship.
If you think this means worthy but dull, think again. On the Line plans to use song, dance, sport, story-telling, information and communications technology and more to get these messages across to pupils.
"The decision-makers of tomorrow are in classrooms today," says Ms Temple. "The issues of the world are big, but we can focus on those affecting the people living on the line."
The programme is not aimed only at schools whose town or city is on the prime meridian itself, but rather all the countries it straddles. "Schools throughout the UK may well wonder what Greenwich has to do with them, but a rural school in Devon will share commonexperiences with a rural schoolin Ghana," says Ms Temple.
The schools programme offers various activities and resource packs which will be available from September. The primary schools pack will include A4 photocards, a poster and photocopiable classroom materials. The secondary schools pack will be on CD-Rom and include activities that enable students to practise their ICT skills. A website, being launched at the Education Show, will include avirtual tour of countries that are on the line, as well as ideas for different subject areas. There are also plans to publish a newsletterto keep schools informed ofdevelopments.
A linking programme, which aims to bring together schools participating in On the Line, is being organised by the Central Bureau for Educational Exchanges and Visits. Eight schools in Greenwich have already taken part in a pilot project involving Ghanaian story-teller Amoafi Kwapong. She has visited the schools and helped children to find new ways of telling their life stories.
Last month Ms Kwapong took back some of the stories for retelling to Ghanaian schools. She also helped Ghanaian students to create their own stories, which will in turn get taken to Greenwich.
World Voices for Education, part of Voluntary Service Overseas is organising artists from prime meridian countries to visit schools. The On the Line organisers are also sponsoring a number of local projects, with funding of up to pound;5,000. "There are a lot of great ideas out there and we're looking for inspirational projects that have a global spin," says Ms Temple.
Bids from individual schools, clusters of schools and communities have been received. At the Education Show, Channel 4 newsreader and reporter Jon Snow, who came up with the On the Line concept, will be announcing the projects that have won funding. About 30 projects, which involve up to 100 schools, are expected to succeed.
Over the coming months, other countries on the prime meridian are expected to add their contributions to the programme. Many resources will be translated into French and Spanish. As we approach the third millennium, this is a good opportunity to discover what life is like for people far away who experience the same midday as we do.
* On the Line hotline 0870 606 1405 Website: www.ontheline.org.uk
* Organisations involved in On the Line will be at the Education Show: Channel 4 Schools stand R18
Oxfam stand PV 326
WWF-UK stand PV206
VSO stand PV 45
Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges stand Q19
* Channel 4 will be broadcasting a season of On the Line programmes that will enable whole communities to take part, starting next January