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Towards a better future

In Afghanistan children are flooding back to schools - or the desolate sites where they once stood - in the hope of being offered some education. The TES is launching Children Helping Children, a campaign that will enable British teachers and pupils to follow the plight of their Afghan counterparts in their first term back at school and to support Unicef's efforts to rebuild their lives. Ted Wragg (above) invites you to join this journey and help children towards a better future.

I have written the teaching notes for nearly 200 Big Pictures in TES Friday magazine. Some images are intriguing, others bizarre. The most memorable burn themselves into the visual cortex and stay there.

One picture has haunted me. It showed some 40 Afghan children around a rusty abandoned tank near a sandy refugee camp. Most appear slightly apprehensive, a few smile faintly, but hands over mouths and tight faces betray their uncertainty. What on earth have these eyes seen in their short lives? Resignation, fear, desperation, are etched on what should be joyous, hopeful young faces.

When I first saw thepicture I tried to envisage their childhood. I remember as a baby in Sheffield cowering in a cellar with my mother while the city was blitzed. She tells me it was terrifying. On the last day of the war in 1945 my favourite relative was killed by a sniper. He was a lovely man who played the accordion, so I worshipped him.

Yet my experience of suffering was nothing compared with what these children have lived through. Afghanistan has been ravaged by war for more than 20 years: 400,000 children have been killed. No wonder the poor little beggars look haunted. They are.

In the picture (reprinted above) you can see one group of four children standing to the left of the tank. A young girl, grim and angst-ridden, clutches her baby brother. The image of these two chewed me to pieces and made me determined to do something about it. They are all children from a class we might have taught ourselves, except that they have probably never been to school.

Education may well be a fundamental human right, but half the boys and nearly all the girls in Afghanistan have had no formal schooling at all. Imagine: the 21st century dawns and the next generation cannot read or write, has no access to, or even idea of the rich harvest of knowledge and skill that might one day rescue it from poverty and despair.

So what on earth can teachers and children in Britain actually do? We could turn our backs and walk away, try to wipe the haunting image out of our minds, or wring our hands in frustration. But with8 million children in 24,000 UK primary and secondary schools, couldn't we actually achieve something positive between us?

This campaign is a unique attempt to harness the energy and immense goodwill of our pupils to raise money for their poor Afghan brothers and sisters. British children, however frisky on a wet afternoon, are the kindest on the planet when it comes to helping someone in need.

Think of what they will learn in the process. They can practise real citizenship, not the bookish version, become global citizens, refusing to let their needy fellows face oblivion. They can organise events, use their imagination, write about what they do, look at the geography and climate of Afghanistan. Motivation is a great teacher.

CHILDREN HELPING CHILDREN can help shape the future of people just like themselves. Taking part in it is something that they and their teachers will remember all their lives.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter university and a regular TES columnist.

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