Viva Socrates!

27th February 1998 at 00:00
How has a Greek philosopher changed Scottish playground games? The answer is an organisation that helps foster understanding between nations, writes Gerald Haigh

Pass the village primary school in Kinloch Rannoch, near Pitlochry in Perthshire, and you may just see the children playing the Italian playground game "Strega comanda colori".

Kinloch Rannoch is one of many British schools which has links with European counterparts under the auspices of Comenius, part of the European Union's 850 million ecu education and training programme, Socrates.

Comenius is the branch of Socrates that encourages and funds links between groups of schools. It is run in the United Kingdom by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges.

The bureau's work, which goes back to the days immediately after the Second World War, is bewildering in its variety but the core purpose is the fostering of understanding between nations at the level of individual students,teachers and pupils.

In this sense the Kinloch Rannoch experience is typical. It started two years ago when the Central Bureau found partner schools for Kinloch Rannoch - La Scuola Elementare in Poggio, Italy, and the Langhundra Skola in Sweden.

Janette Munro, headteacher of Kinloch Rannoch, is filled with enthusiasm for the project. "We have had visits from the Swedish and the Italian teachers, and we have made visits there," she says. The teachers worked as a team to look for projects which the children in the three countries could do together.

"We decided it would have to be relevant to children's interests and we came up with the idea of playground games. Each school contributed three or four different games and these were collected together in a pack and a video which was distributed to the schools."

Even parents, it seems, became interested mainly because of their own memories of playground games. A subsequent project consists of the making of a calendar.

"Each school contributed art work illustrating four months of the year. We've sold the finished calendar to parents and friends and it has been very successful." The schools also exchange newsletters written by the pupils, and many of the children have individual penfriends in partner schools.

"The children have gained so much," says Mrs Munro. "They have become so very much more aware of other cultures and learned how children in other countries think and feel about things."

So far, there have been no actual pupil visits between the schools, "but this year we hope that the Swedish school will be bringing some pupils to our village."

The teacher exchanges that are part of these Comenius projects are much appreciated. Robert Jelley, a Warwickshire headteacher, has links with a Danish head; they have visited each other and each has taught in the other's school for a short time.

"It has had a lasting effect on my thinking," he says, explaining that to see different styles of teaching andcurriculum traditions is to be reminded that we ought always to be ready to challenge our own cherished beliefs and practices.

"For example, in Danish primary schools, subjects are taught by specialists and seeing that system working has removed any doubt from my mind that it'sa possibility for our school."

s To play Strega comanda colori ("Colours ordered by the witch")One child is the witch. He or she shouts out a colour, and the other playershave to run to touch an object of that colour. As they run, the witch tries to catch them before they succeed.A player who is caught becomes the witch next time.

s Central Bureau for EducationalVisits and Exchanges, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN.Tel: 0171 389 4114. Stand K52

* THE CENTRAL BUREAU for educational visits and exchanges: What it does

* Organises teacher exchanges within Europe and the United States.

* Is the British agentfor parts of Socrates - Comenius for multilateral schoolpartnerships, Lingua for language development and Arion for multilateral study visits by educational decision-makers.

* Organises a progamme where foreign language assistants from European countries are placed in UK schools.

* Runs a European resource centre,providing access toliterature and information about Europe, in 10 UK regions and Wales.

* Runs around 40projects - such as pen- friend exchanges - which link individuals and schools andcolleges across Europe.

* Runs a range of courses, seminarsand training programmes. These include courses inother European countries. In 1998 there will be courses forteachers of French inLa Rochelle, of German in Hamburg andKassel, of Italian in Venice and Imperia, and of Spanish in Valencia.

* This year, the bureau plans to introduce The International School Award, to recognise those schools which demonstrate good practice in incorporating the international dimension into the curriculum.

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