Wiltshire goes to the Gambia

16th October 1998 at 01:00
ISATOU, CHLOE AND YOU
Books 1 and 2, video and audio tapes and colour photopack
#163;32 including video

EXPLORING ISLAM IN GUNJUR
Booklet #163;6.

THE NEW MOON RISES
By Sam Woodhouse. Pupil's book and teacher's book #163;8
Wiltshire World Studies Centre, Marlborough Brandt Group, 1a London Road, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 1PH

Outsiders sometimes say Yorkshire people are mean. Yorkshire folk prefer to see themselves as careful with money. A Yorkshire pub that offered beer at 1940s prices, for instance, remained empty, until the landlord realised locals were waiting for the happy hour.

This gag shows how cultures can be sensitive areas within which stereotyping is easy and jokes can sometimes lead to fights. Presenting people fairly is no easy task. Within the world scene of cultural difference, against which UK variations are puny, development education is not an easy ride.

Lessons can become no more than an extended geography tour, a displaced social studies exercise or a personal and social education "let's get to know our neighbours" idea that can easily sink into patronising language. Worse, it can be simplistic: "Today we've done Africa". In any comparative study, when one neighbour is rich and the other is poor, it can be difficult to proceed at all, as the desire to avoid offence can mean avoiding anything of significance.

The Marlborough Brandt Group of the Wiltshire World Studies Centre draws inspiration from the Brandt Report (1980). It has established several development projects, including health education, women's literacy, a small loans scheme and a clean water project. The group's educational publications for UK schools, therefore, speak with authority and experience. They show that looking at others carefully allows us to look at ourselves - our assumptions, beliefs, customs and way of life.

Isatou lives in Gunjur, a Gambian village of 11,000 with which the Wiltshire centre has had social and economic links, including exchange visits, since 1982. Chloe lives in Marlborough, a Wiltshire town of 7,000. The "you" in the stories is the key stage 2 UK reader. The two books adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, with photocopy masters supplied for classroom use.

The later booklet on Islam was produced by a joint working group from Marlborough and Gunjur, and carries the imprimatur of the imam of Gunjur. It provides informative background to one element of life - religion - that the West finds hard to handle but which is an integral part of Gunjur's daily life. It would be a useful resource for secondary students who want to glimpse Islam in an African setting rather than the Middle East or UK settings more commonly taught.

The New Moon Rises has eight stories for key stage 2 showing Islam in daily life. The writer describes the book as an attempt to get behind the stereotypes of Islam into a child's experience. The stories are too short to develop plot or character, but for Islamic background made easy, they are effective.

Good development education raises questions it cannot solve - about inequality, priorities, about what we take seriously: life expectancy in Gunjur is 46, in Marlborough it is 76. But there is much to commend about development education packs such as these, which avoid getting bogged down,are prepared to emphasise the importance of religion rather than play it down to suit western stereotypes, and which provide clear resources for teachers and pupils. As a Yorkshireman, I have to say the packs represent jolly good value for money. Or am I being mean?

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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