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Schools Blog

Make Poverty History and your Local School

This year offers a unique opportunity for youth workers interested in issues of poverty and justice to bring the topic home to young people through their schools. The Make Poverty History campaign has a high profile in the media and a strong celebrity backing. I believe that young people will recognize the campaign and maybe even have some rough idea of its aims. However, if we want young people to engage with what lies at the heart of the campaign, to understand the issues and how changing the way we do things can change the way the world is for the poor, then we need an opportunity to explore the campaign in more depth. The school curriculum offers that opportunity.

The three main targets of the campaign; debt, trade rules and aid, all figure strongly in the schools curriculum. In Geography at both 11 to 14 year olds and GCSE all the topics are covered under the subject of development. Students are encouraged to not only study poverty in other countries but also its causes. The idea that our actions can have a global impact is recognised in all text books. If it can be shown that we, by our consumer choices can affect others around the world, it is only a short step to concluding that we can also improve matters through our decisions.

One of the main aims of the new Citizenship curriculum is to build awareness of our being global citizens. The curriculum is designed in such a way as to challenge students to think not only of their rights as human beings but also their responsibilities. The responsibilities of those living in richer countries may well be different from those living in poorer parts of the world. One responsibility, according to the Make Poverty History campaign, is to increase aid to allow countries to reach their millennium development goals. Make Poverty History is above anything else a citizenship topic, and as such a subject that according to government guidelines requires the participation of outside agencies.

One other subject area that I have found to be a fertile ground for the subject has been drama. The national drama strategy for 11 to 14 year olds states that students should ‘use a range of techniques, including work in role, to explore issues , ideas and meanings e.g by playing out hypotheses, by changing perspectives. Since the start of the campaign I have introduced a series of lessons into school drama lessons looking at poverty, suffering and the responses to them. Students have had an opportunity to look at photographs of people in poor situations around the world. They have improvised pieces that explore the two thoughts I feel and I need. Students have been encouraged to think beyond just the physical needs of hunger, thirst or sickness and instead have begun to look at issues of emotional and even spiritual need. The question is posed ‘how can we meet those needs?’ Improvisations are worked around what happens when those needs are or are not met. Over six weeks the students gain a unique perspective on the subject. Not only do they learn about the people, they become the people in their dramas. A sense of connection becomes a key to understanding. Connection is also the key to campaigning as there is a heightened sense of the injustices involved as to some extent they have begun to experience them for themselves, even if it is only within the confines of a drama studio. It is not just at key stage 3 that it is possible to explore the subject. GCSE and A/S level performing arts and drama also offer students the chance to develop performance pieces that deal with issues. You don’t have to be a great expert in drama to draw the possibilities out for students.

RE has for many years been the main entry point for Christian workers in schools. The topic of suffering remains on the curriculum and students are invited to investigate a Christian response to suffering around the world. Many text books give examples of the Christian response through the work of Aid agencies including CAFOD, Christian Aid and Tearfund. The Make Poverty History campaign is a great way of looking at a Christian response as well as looking at an example of cooperation. Often students studying Christianity are presented with a splintered and confused image of the church. In the campaign the picture is of a united body stirred by compassion, reflecting the character of Jesus.

If taking lessons fills you with some trepidation, then there is always the school assembly. Most schools have campaigns locked into their assembly time table. Comic relief, children in need, world aids day and so on are all covered. Why not suggest a series of assemblies so that a school gets the sense that this is an ongoing project. Why not offer creative campaigning opportunities for the schools starting with everyone getting a white band. The school assembly is a high profile high impact opportunity where you can get students excited about the possibilities of change. Check out the web site for useable assembly material.

Whichever way you look at it the campaign is one of the most important in history and we can reflect that in our approach to schools work. There is no reason at all why it shouldn’t figure in a maths lesson as the impact of debt and debt repayments are calculated. There is no reason why it can’t crop up in a history lesson that has a focus on other history making moments such as the abolition of the slave trade. There is no reason why English students can’t do creative writing pieces around the subject. Power-point presentations can be created for use in assemblies by students in IT classes. Whatever your strength is create an opportunity around it and present it to the futures change-makers. Mark the campaign with a fresh initiative in your schools work.

Submitted by Nigel Roberts at 12:04pm, 26th May 2005