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What if... we couldn't go to school?

Children of all abilities can use their imaginations in the campaign to aid education in Afghanistan, says Ted Wragg

Differentiation, that's the name of the game nowadays, as teachers try to get smarter aboutmatching tasks and assignments more closely to different children's abilities and competence. This particular professional skill was one of the most favoured areas of focus when all teachers were first formally appraised in the 1990s.

Children's ability to understand the predicament of their fellows in Afghanistan who have had no education, or their ability to dream up ideas to raise funds to help them, will vary considerably according to age, prior experience, ability and individual disposition.

For teachers taking part in The TES-UNICEF campaign Children Helping Children, assessing what various groups and individuals might do is an important feature of their professional armoury.

What can Year 3 take on, compared with Year 6 in a primary school? What about bright and cheerful young people in Year 7 who are keen to join in anything, and the more reluctant teenagers in Year 11, for whom a raised eyebrow may be the most energetic gesture of the day?

Talk to children of different ages, as I have done, and their responses are straight out of a child development textbook.

A question that invites an answer in the abstract usually attracts concrete examples from younger pupils, not dictionary definitions. "What does the word 'poverty' mean?" asked of younger pupils produces such personalised responses as "You can't afford to buy any food", rather than "Lack of money".

Even sophisticated adults like concrete examples, and these can give younger children an intuitive understanding of complex moral and ethical issues, even before they are ready, in theory, for such abstract thinking. "What if...?" and "Just imagine..." questions about poverty or lack of educational opportunities invite children to think themselves inside situations, so they can better understand.

As with all forms of empathy they need to base their intuitions on evidence, not fantasy, so the fact-based stories about children in Afghanistan by Deborah Ellis, which were published in The TES (they can be found on the website at www.tes.co.ukafghanistanted_wraggs_tips.asp?id=12919), are very helpful.

Fundraising activities also need to vary with age and ability. Older pupils can act more autonomously, in some cases running their own campaign (now there's a challenge!), while younger ones are often more comfortable in a group, though they too can display individual initiative, given a chance.

The involvement of pupils themselves is vital here. What can individuals and small groups actually do to raise money? Issue the challenge and the replies may be a pleasant surprise.

For more teaching ideas and suggestions for fundraising activities for the appeal, visit www.tes.co.ukafghanistanIf you don't have access to the web, ask for copies of the ideas from UNICEF, tel: 0870 606 3377Ideas from children or teachers can be sent to email: afghanappeal@tes.co.uk or to Ted Wragg, Children Helping Children, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Fax: 0207 7782 3205 Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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