Young people are instinctively concerned about global development issues. We must take more seriously the question of how best to bring development into the work and life of schools.
The issue I want to discuss today is not new to many of you. Given what may seem like an endless process of change for teachers, that may be a relief!
But it is a theme which is of fundamental importance for all of us, and not least young people. As the structure of our economic, environmental and political relations are being transformed in front of our eyes, the next generation is entitled to understand this changing world which will shape their future.
I want to look at how we can help bring international development issues more fully into the work and life of schools, in a way which prepares young people to understand and feel able to shape the globalising and increasingly interdependent world which they will inherit.
Development is part of young people’s lives in a way it never was for previous generations. Television, video, the internet and international sport all bring other countries into our daily lives. And, of course, vastly more school leavers and holidaymakers now travel to developing countries than ever did before.
It is clear that young people are increasingly concerned about the plight of those less well off than themselves – as their response to events such as Red Nose Day and the Blue Peter appeal for Mozambique demonstrate. Arid in a recent survey of middle and secondary school pupils, four out of five said they believed that it was important to learn about global issues at school, and that young people needed to understand global matters in order to make choices about how they want to lead their lives.
We live – as you will know – in a world where one in four people live in absolute poverty – without access to basic healthcare, education and clean water, and with little or no prospect of improving their condition. 27% of the adult population of the world arc illiterate. Two thirds of these are women. One hundred million children never go to school.
Ii. can be tempting, when faced with current levels of poverty and population growth, to feel demoralised about prospects for progress. In fact, it is a little known statistic that more people have climbed out of poverty in the last 50 years than in the previous 500. We have learned major lessons in the last 20 years. We know what works in development and which policies reduce poverty. And we have all agreed – in the great UN conferences of the last decade – a set of international development targets to achieve substantial poverty reduction. The core target is to halve the proportion of people living in absolute poverty by 2015; and there are associated targets, including basic healthcare provision and universal access to primary education by the same date.
These are very ambitious goals. But they have been re-affirmed by the Development Committee of the OECD as affordable and achievable. The question is whether we can mobilise sufficient international political will to implement the targets. The level of public knowledge is key to this.
People are increasingly clear about why we cannot turn our back on global poverty levels. The moral arguments are strong in themselves. There are also fundamental reasons of self interest for seeking a more equitable world order. In areas as diverse as the economy, jobs, labour standards, the environment, health and migration, interdependence is a growing reality. The positive benefits are threatened by the instability which poverty brings. We ignore high levels of poverty at our peril.
We all have a role to play in delivering the international targets, not least Governments in North and South. For our part we are re-focusing all our spending on the reduction of poverty. We have also fulfilled our pledge to reverse the long-term decline in UK spending on development assistance as a proportion of GNP – which fell from 0.52% in 1979 to 0.26% in 1997. In the Comprehensive Spending Review led by Gordon Brown last summer, the biggest percentage increase across Whitehall was in the development assistance budget – adding an extra £1.6 billion over the next three years.
Poverty elimination is obviously a long-term task. The targets commit us to a 20 year time-scale. We need committed and consistent public support to maintain our commitment to the targets. Opinion polls in the UK have shown a consistently high level of support for the idea that the UK should help developing countries. But they also show low levels of knowledge and understanding, and often a sense of powerlessness.
In our 1997 White Paper on International Development we committed ourselves to work for increased public understanding of global interdependence and the need for international development. We also called for every child to be educated about development issues, so that they can understand the key global considerations which will shape their lives. This is an area largely neglected by Government – though not by many among you – over the last 20 years. We have spent the last year developing, with the help of educationalists and others, including John Sutton, your former General Secretary, a new strategy in this area. I am delighted to launch this strategy here today.
Central to the strategy is work with the formal education system, and in particular with schools. In saying this, I am very aware of the sense of initiative overload felt by many teachers. My own view is that teaching remains the noblest of our professions and that – as with so much of the public sector – we will come to realise the short-sightedness of much of its poor treatment in recent years. Yet I also feel passionately that the challenge of poverty elimination is the single greatest challenge of the new Millennium, and that its more systematic incorporation into the life and work of schools need be neither a burden nor an added extra.
I would like to talk first about the curriculum.
It is important to be clear about the educational case for teaching international development issues, and what we mean by this term. My own perception is that international development spans the interrelationship between rich and poor countries, whether economic, social or environmental. Its educational significance lies, as I said earlier, in its importance to the lives of young people, both now and in their future.
Within this, there are specific areas of knowledge and understanding which are important. These include recognition of the economic and social disparities that exist, and understanding the reasons for these – as well as their consequences. It is also important to understand something of our responsibilities, from local to national and international level, and how individuals, governments and others respond to these.
However, the development of values and skills is also inherent. Greater understanding of development issues can make a real contribution to developing personal and social responsibility, as well as building the confidence and understanding to tackle problems and situations from different perspectives.
There is, of course, already a foundation in current curriculum provision for bringing development issues into teaching. Geography is the main carrier, along with the Modern Studies Course in Scotland. Geography in particular has come a long way since I was at school – and its current popularity is a testament to its relevance to modern lives. However, there are also pegs in other subjects, such as the use of developing country texts in English and Modern Languages, and in Modern History.
As you know, David Blunkett will soon be making proposals on the new curriculum for England, and it would be wrong for me to anticipate them. But it is no secret that one of the objectives set for the curriculum review was to establish more explicit and coherent provision in the areas of citizenship and in personal, social and health education. The work of the groups on citizenship, and on sustainable development education, have made important contributions to the review process, and have proposed specific learning outcomes covering development issues.
I welcome this. I believe it is right that the curriculum should contain clear provision that young people should achieve a basic understanding of development issues. However, it is important that this is not seen as a burden on an already heavily laden curriculum. Indeed, the power of development issues is their ability to facilitate and enliven teaching in many areas.
We are working with Action Aid, for example, to develop a new series of developing country texts for use in the Literacy Hour. Arid I learned recently of a teacher who was using the experience of Kenyan women fetching and carrying water each day to deliver basic numeracy. There will be countless similar examples from your schools.
We will be working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority over the coming months to seek to ensure that the guidance which accompanies the new curriculum gives useful advice in these areas. We are following this up with similar work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But what is also crucially important is that teachers feel confident in teaching from an international perspective.
Where there is curriculum provision, there is clearly a responsibility for initial teacher education to address these issues. We have begun a process of consultation with the Teacher Training Agency and Teacher Training Establishments across the UK to see what support may be necessary.
It is equally important to deliver effective continuing professional development. This gives an opportunity not only to engage with teachers more widely, but also to explore the scope to bring development perspectives into a wider range of subjects. We are ready to expand our current work in this area to collaborate with subject associations, LEAs and others in designing suitable in-service training and providing financial support, both for the delivery of courses and to facilitate teachers’ participation.
In this same context, we need also to look at the question of resources, materials and support. I want to pay tribute here to the work of the 50 or so Development Education Centres spread across the UK. Often run on a shoestring, they have delivered both materials and expertise to many schools. In my own city of Birmingham, the DEC has developed a productive partnership with the LEA, as well as with local businesses and community groups. The result is known as the Forward Thinking initiative. It provides opportunities for teachers, schools and groups to engage in creative curriculum work with a global development perspective.
But DECs would be the first to admit that their reach and resources are limited. We have increased our support for their work but we also need to look strategically at this area. So we are now undertaking, with the involvement of teacher, LEA and development education representatives and educational publishers, a UK-wide audit of what is available and how it matches curriculum provision. Once we have the results we will consult on whether there is a need to commission or produce new material.
Equally importantly, we are committed to supporting the establishment of a national network of resource centres which will be available to every LEA and school in the UK.
Of course, however well resources are prepared or delivered, it can still be difficult to bring issues to life. Some of the most exciting development education work in schools results from links with schools in developing countries. Linking is an area which needs great care. I am not interested in links which are one-sided, or which are based simply on charity because they do not create mutual respect and learning. But where links are based on equality and mutual learning, and on a genuine commitment from both sides, the results can be remarkable.
For example, Haydon Bridge School in Northumberland has had a partnership with a secondary school in Dodoma in Tanzania since 1991 and they have collaborated on a number of projects. The teachers have worked together to produce resources for the teaching of geography in Haydon Bridge and HIV/AIDS prevention in Tanzania. The geography materials are supported by a video produced when Haydon Bridge teachers visited Tanzania. Teachers from Tanzania came to Britain to study innovative methods to deliver health education more effectively, and have shared the resources produced with other schools in the Dodoma region.
I want every school in the country to have the opportunity to develop a link with a school in the South. We know that there are already several hundred which have links and several hundred more arc interested in developing one.
We already work with the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges in supporting linking. I can announce today a doubling of our support for its work. As part of this we will provide help to get a link started, and ensure ongoing advice and the spreading of good practice.
An aspect of linking, and indeed of learning, which none of us, especially the next generation, can afford to ignore is the internet. I launched last year a unique internet link-up project between schools in Birmingham and the South African province of Gauteng, which includes Soweto. The project encourages young people to use the internet as a medium for learning and communication, and is bridging cultural divides. More generally, we are looking to work with The National Grid for Learning to facilitate work in this area.
I talked earlier about achieving long-term attitude change, and it would be wrong to see schools as the only channel for this. The influences on young people come from many sources, not least the media. In the opinion poll I referred to earlier, over 80% of pupils cited television as their primary source of information about development issues. School was close behind, followed by newspapers, and finally parents!
So the strategy I am launching today looks much more widely at how to achieve attitude change across society. We are working, for example, with the major television companies to examine the coverage of developing country issues through television.
Within the development community we want to explore the images and issues we use in our work with the public and the media. We also want to work with business and the trade unions, with the churches and all our other faiths. We also recognise the importance of non-formal and adult education. We cannot make progress on all these issues equally at the same time. But we will systematically address them as our work develops.
We will, of course, measure our success. This year we are starting a long-term process of public attitude monitoring designed to assess both levels of knowledge and concern about development, and the extent to which people feel able to make a difference. We are also developing much more rigorous methods for measuring the impact of individual activities which we support.
The educational case for paying more attention to global and development issues is increasingly recognised as a strong one. Young people are instinctively concerned about and interested in these issues. But we need to tackle seriously the question of how best to bring development into the work and life of schools. Ultimately, you are the people that matter in this. And I want to consider how best we can work with you. I have set out today our plans for taking this forward. But I would be delighted to hear your views.