International links between schools and visits abroad are helping pupils to grow confident in a multi-cultural world, writes Elizabeth Buie
As world leaders prepare to gather in Gleneagles for the three-day G8 summit next week, issues covered in many classroom lessons are coming to life on schools' doorsteps.
Protesters are preparing to camp out in Auchterarder, marchers are descending on Edinburgh to campaign against world poverty, and politicians from the most powerful nations are gearing up for talks on climate change and economic development.
Increasingly, schools are embedding international education in the core curriculum and recognising that it can motivate pupils to work with enthusiasm and purpose in areas of literacy, environmental sciences and investigations.
It can also tick various boxes in terms of national priorities in education: introducing pupils to the duties and responsibilities of international citizenship and helping to equip them with the skills and attitudes to prosper in a changing society.
Glasgow City Council, which is generally recognised to be at the forefront of international education, employs an international education officer, Edna Paterson, who has helped make it an integral part of the curriculum.
From February to June this year alone, the city received 27 overseas delegations to observe best practice on international education.
Mrs Paterson says: "What I am asking teachers and every school involved in international education to do is to look at every subject and factor in an international education strand to it. Even with subjects like maths, you can look at the euro and the currencies of the world. In science you can look at famous scientists. You can do it from pre-5 right up through secondary."
She believes that by fostering partnerships with schools all over the world, teachers can improve the communication, literacy and reading skills of their pupils.
That belief is borne out by the testimony of headteachers, teachers and pupils who have committed themselves to international education.
atalia Gormley and Gordon Horne, two S5 pupils at Govan High, were in a group of seven students who, through the school's culinary excellence course, went to study for a week at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. It is a private institution with a high reputation for its work in the hospitality industry.
The Govan High pupils joined American students in classes on Spanish, hotel management and beverage, and worked till 1am in the bakery, which supplies local shops and restaurants.
For Natalia it was "definitely the best", she says. "It was just a different atmosphere from school."
Gordon says: "She got to go to the bakery for two nights and I hated her for that because I wanted to go for two nights too."
For pupils who, in the past, might have lacked motivation and confidence, this experience has been a real transformation.
Their home economics teacher Margaret Finnie, who accompanied the group, along with their headteacher, Iain White, says the experience has given the 16-year-olds self-belief and the willingness to aim for perfection.
Recently, the culinary excellence class prepared a meal for guests, including director of education Ronnie O'Connor. When a pavlova did not turn out properly, one pupil's response was to stay on and make another one.
Mrs Finnie says: "That was a big thing for me. Before, when they had just started this programme, they would say: 'I can't do that'. Now, when they come across hiccups, they say: 'I can do it again and it will be all right.'
"It has given them an idea of standards and an idea of how big the world is."
The Kentucky trip has made the pupils more mature, more willing to take something on and a belief in themselves that they can produce good work, she says.
One of the Govan High boys had never stayed in a hotel before. In Kentucky they stayed in a Best Western near the college and were shown around the new five-star, 600-bedroom Marriott hotel, including its presidential suite.
Such was the enthusiasm for experiencing everything Louisville had to offer that the pupils were up every day at 6am, even after working late in the bakery.
ifteen S3 pupils from Shawlands Academy recently witnessed the hardship of pupils attending Realogile School in Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg, where up to half-a-million people live in an area covering a few square miles.
"There was a tremendous belief and commitment to education as a means of improving lives, building a society based on inclusion and of human rights," says the headteacher of Shawlands Academy, Ken Goodwin, who visited Realogile School with the pupils.
"We were so warmly received that everybody was moved and uplifted by the experience. So much so that when the pupils returned they immediately began a series of fund-raising activities to pay for the students from Realogile to come here in August. They need to raise thousands."
Shawlands Academy is also a participant in the Comenius project which links schools across Europe. It has exchanged practice on pupil democracy with schools in Norway, Austria, Spain and the Czech Republic, while students from Norway have addressed Shawlands' staff about how they evaluate teachers' performance.
"The great thing about these projects is that they are, to some extent, related to practice in the classroom. They provide additional motivation and promote the objectives of people working together in harmony and respect for each other," said Mr Goodwin.
"The world is becoming more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Scotland - our brave new Scotland - is going to become even more of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. International education has a huge role to play in that, not just in the promotion of relationships to supporting human rights and opposing racism."
It is ironic, then, that his school, where over 50 languages are spoken by the pupils, is losing Scottish Executive funding as a local centre of excellence in languages.
nother convert to Comenius is Balornock Primary, which is in an area of high deprivation in Glasgow's Springburn district.
Its appetite for international education was whetted in November 2002 when the headteacher, Phyllis Harley, attended a British Council meeting and decided to involve the school in a project born out of the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish governments.
This led to a two-year link with St Edward's National School in Ballytivnan, Sligo, in north-west Ireland, during which the Balornock pupils visited Sligo twice. The primary schools have similar catchments, although Balornock is non-denominational, while St Edward's is Catholic.
"We hoped to use this difference to overcome some of the sectarian barriers causing problems in Glasgow," says Mrs Harley, who received support from Glasgow's Sense over Sectarianism fund.
The project has brought professional development opportunities for three teachers and the depute headteacher, Mairi Campbell, and curricular development for pupils, who made a film about their city and benefited from a new focus for written work and communication. Mrs Harley is delighted about the closer parental links it has also created.
"The project had a big impact on the children's motivation for learning because of the relevance of the tasks they were being asked to do," says Mrs Harley.
"It helped their understanding of their locality and culture, while making them want to find out about the culture of others.
"It certainly made them look more positively at their learning, their school and, indeed, their teachers. My relationship with the children who went to Ireland improved.
"Their core skills - problem-solving, decision-making and taking appropriate action - have also improved."
At the beginning of next term, Balornock Primary hopes to embark on a three-year Comenius project with partners from Germany, Slovakia, Spain and Sicily, erhaps the most ambitious Glasgow schools has been Kelbourne, a special school for pupils with physical impairment.
Two years ago, with the encouragement of Monica McDougall, who trained to teach French at primary level, headteacher Margaret McIntosh agreed the P7 pupils could go to Paris instead of their residential stay in Scotland.
After raising pound;5,000, and with six adults in the party to support the three pupils, who not only had physical disabilities but could not communicate independently, their journey of a lifetime was undertaken. This year's three P7 pupils made a similar journey.
One of the pupils could only speak through a communication aid, but the daughter of a French assistant recorded her voice on to the aid so that the pupil was able to "speak" French in Paris with a French girl's voice.
"They got so much pleasure out of using the language and experiencing Paris and France," says Mrs McIntosh.
Not only did the pupils gain in confidence, but some of their parents have gained the confidence to plan trips abroad which previously they would not have contemplated. One family plans to visit Australia, and another Florida, in the wake of the Paris experience.