International Education

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 24th April 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 24th April 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1768, in the name of Maureen Watt, on international education. I call Maureen Watt to speak to and move the motion in her name.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 10:01 am, 24th April 2008

I am delighted to be able to introduce this debate on international education. As members know, the Government is ambitious for Scotland's young people. Part of building a smarter Scotland and a thriving economy is giving our next generation the skills for learning, skills for work and skills for life to succeed in the globalised economy in which we now live. I am sure that that is something on which all members can agree.

One of our aims within the smarter Scotland objectives is to ensure that all our young people are outward looking and confident about themselves and their nation, and that they have a modern and enterprising world view. In order to achieve that aim, our education system needs to provide them with knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it—which is a thread that runs through the curriculum for excellence for all young people at all stages of their learning.

We must ensure that our young people understand, and can respond to, the challenges that are presented by globalisation. If the curriculum is to be excellent, it must incorporate an international perspective; if it does not, our society and economy will be poorer. The Government is, therefore, committed to ensuring that an international education is part of the experience for young people in all our schools.

We are taking action on three main fronts. First, we are changing learning and teaching. International education is not an add-on, and the curriculum for excellence is the ideal vehicle to deliver international education in schools and to equip young people with a modern and enterprising Scottish world view. The experiences and outcomes that are currently the subject of engagement and trialling in schools have been written such that they will provide ample opportunity for learning and teaching from an international perspective. For example, one of the draft social studies outcomes is that

"Having explored the globalisation of trade," the young person will be able to

"explain the interdependence of different parts of the world and assess the impacts for providers, consumers and the environment."

That provides opportunities galore to examine the scientific, ethical and human issues that are connected with global trade and sustainable development.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

My question is also relevant to the ministerial statement that we just heard. Part of studies for standard grade history is the international perspective and how Scotland fits in with it, especially in industry and the economy. Will the minister ensure that that continues, whatever the Government introduces as a successor to standard grades, so that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I am sure that the baby will not be thrown out with the bath water.

An understanding of linguistic diversity is an integral part of what we mean by an international education. It is not just about learning modern languages in a traditional sense although, as our commitment to the introduction of a Scottish baccalaureate in languages demonstrates, we want young Scottish people to be ambitious in that regard. If we do not prepare our young people to cope with linguistic diversity, they will be at a disadvantage if they want to make the positive transition to working in the international arena. I hope that the new curriculum will enthuse young people and teachers alike to explore the riches of languages and to use them as a tool to understand the world better.

On the reference in the Liberal Democrats' amendment to a national languages strategy, I hope that they see that language learning will be embedded as an outcome of the languages strategy. It will be up to schools to decide how best to develop teaching of languages. Last Friday, I attended the launch of the report on the effective provision of pre-school education project at Walker Road primary school in Torry. The lessons that have been learned from that project will be applied throughout Scotland.

Secondly, we are simplifying the institutional and policy landscape. We want to ensure that coherent and concise advice is provided to schools and teachers, instead of schools receiving myriad competing messages from different bodies, which causes confusion. We are making explicit the linkages between international education, education for sustainable development, citizenship and modern languages.

Thirdly, we want to see partnership working. Many bodies are involved in education: we want to ensure that they work together in partnership. The Government has charged Learning and Teaching Scotland with taking the lead on that. It has key responsibilities for developing and supporting the curriculum for excellence and it runs the Scottish continuing international professional development scheme. LTS works in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, as well as with the British Council and the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research, to deliver that vision.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

On that point, the minister will be aware that a scheme is in place in partnership with Voluntary Service Overseas to ensure that public funding is available in Scotland to pay the pension contributions of medical staff who volunteer overseas in a way that contributes to their work back in Scotland as well as to the country in which they volunteer, and that there was a plan to extend that scheme to education staff at all levels in Scotland, following the end of the pilot in March this year. Is that scheme still under consideration? The partnership with VSO can contribute to the knowledge that our teachers and lecturers have here, as well as contribute to countries in the developing world.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I assure Jack McConnell that we are aware of the concerns that he has raised already with my colleagues and that work is continuing on trying to come to a suitable arrangement.

On the Labour Party amendment that has been lodged by Ken Macintosh, I say to him that we are not completely clear that Scotland has received the Barnett consequentials to which he refers in his amendment. He will know that the curriculum in Scotland is not prescribed, as it is down south. It is the responsibility of each and every local authority and school to consider how study opportunities such as a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp—to which the Labour amendment refers—might contribute to meeting the agreed national outcomes. A number of schools have visited Auschwitz; last year, I was invited to join one such trip, but was unfortunately asked too late in the day and had other commitments. However, I have committed to going on any further trip to Auschwitz with school pupils that might be arranged.

No one can doubt the importance of China in today's world and I am pleased to say that Learning and Teaching Scotland recently signed an agreement with Hanban, the Office of Chinese Language Council International, which includes the setting up of eight Confucius classrooms or hubs, serving 14 local authorities. Those will enable Scottish pupils to gain a greater appreciation of Chinese heritage, language and culture, thereby enhancing their capacity to become international citizens.

Yester primary school in East Lothian has links with Kuvansin koulu primary school in central Finland. The pupils discuss health, eating, leisure and climate change through a blog and through discussions with their Finnish friends. In one particular case, a Yester pupil who has additional support needs was motivated to write long comments to the Finnish class, something that he would not have attempted before.

Grantown grammar school in the Highlands has started joint curriculum projects with Xinying middle school in Kunming, China. They have chosen to concentrate on music, art and English as those are subjects in which both schools have an interest, and it means that they do not rely too heavily on written communication.

Fintry primary school in Stirling has established a school link with the Gambia, and uses cross-curricular learning to enrich learning and teaching. When asked the difference between us and the African children, a primary 7 pupil responded that African children were

"rich in happiness but poor in money, whereas we are rich in money but poor in happiness."

I am sure that members are aware of many other inspiring examples of links and international education in schools in their constituencies. However, it is essential that that happens in all our schools; all young people deserve those opportunities, not just some of them. As Jack McConnell indicated, Scotland has prominent links with Malawi, and many Scottish schools—more than were expected—have taken up the challenge to link with schools in Malawi.

The world in which our young people are growing up is very different from the world when we were at school. It is essential that young people have opportunities to develop an international perspective in their education and to develop the cultural insight, confidence and linguistic skills that will help them to understand and respect other peoples, and to seize opportunities in a rapidly changing world.

We strongly believe that the curriculum for excellence is the ideal vehicle to enable teachers to use international education to enrich young people's learning. Pupils are inspired and interested in the issues: they are regarded as enjoyable, different, stimulating and cool. If they are engaged, they will be more likely to prosper and become the effective contributors, responsible citizens, confident individuals and successful learners that we want them to be.

We need that if we are to achieve a smarter Scotland. However, more important, young people deserve it for themselves in order to improve their self-esteem, life chances and opportunities in this globalised world.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the importance of preparing young people for life in today's increasingly globalised society; agrees that all our young people should have an international education with opportunities to develop a knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it; congratulates the many schools across Scotland that have made and continue to make links with schools across the world, and agrees that the Curriculum for Excellence is the ideal vehicle to deliver international education in schools and equip young people with an understanding of, and the skills for, the modern world.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 10:12 am, 24th April 2008

I find myself torn. One part of me warmly welcomes the debate and the opportunity that it offers us to reinforce our support for international education. Labour's record on this subject and on sustainable development generally is one that I am certainly proud of. I believe that few members will be unable to sign up to the motion. Given that level of support and apparent good will, why did most of us groan when we saw the motion? The answer is simple: I suspect that the motion is not so much an attempt to build consensus as it is an attempt to avoid difficult parliamentary discussion of more pressing education matters.

I do not want to shatter the minister's illusions, but I am not sure that any member actually believes that international education is top of her, or the Cabinet's, political agenda. Of course, many of the rest of us are asking ourselves why we are not discussing, for example, new school buildings. Given the evidence that has been heard by the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee over the past few weeks, why is the Scottish Government not commenting on a new school buildings strategy? Why is the minister not standing before members telling us exactly what she will do to ensure that our probationer teachers have a job to go to at the end of their induction year?

Earlier this morning, we heard a ministerial statement on qualifications and examinations, and the motion that is before us mentions the importance of the curriculum for excellence. However, I do not detect any feeling from either the earlier statement or this debate that we will get further clarification on the many questions that teachers and parents have about the structure and implementation of the new curriculum, particularly in the secondary school.

I believe that by holding this debate the Government runs the risk of demeaning the motion. Lodging a motion not because of its political importance but as an attempt to avoid more controversial subjects, damages the consensus. That is not the way to treat as important a subject as international education. The primacy of Parliament suddenly becomes less important when the Scottish National Party's agenda is under scrutiny.

In an attempt to give the debate more purpose, I have offered the Scottish Government the opportunity to address one aspect of international education and to put right what I hope it recognises is a serious misjudgment. The Scottish Government has been given funding to support visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau by senior school pupils, but it has not passed that on. The minister can set that right today.

On the broad subject of the motion, as I have said I am proud of my party's internationalism. As the minister said, we can all be proud of the Parliament's support for closer ties with Malawi, and of the local and national support for fair trade. We can be pleased that the political support that every party has given has moved international education up the academic pecking order. It is now taken more seriously by Learning and Teaching Scotland and enjoys a higher profile in teacher education.

There is consensus, but I am slightly worried by some of the language in the motion. The motion talks of the importance of links between schools in our country and in the developing world. Those links need to be set in context if they are to not reinforce negative stereotypes and are to allow us genuinely to reflect on our place in the world. It can be easy for all of us—young and old—to regard our relationship with poorer countries as charitable or paternalistic rather than as one through which all can learn. However, plenty of good practice exists—the minister referred to some examples—in which the relationship between schools here and abroad is one of mutual learning and understanding.

I hope that the minister agrees with that general point. Likewise, I have no difficulty in agreeing with her that the curriculum for excellence is an ideal vehicle for delivering the agenda. What will that mean in practice? Given how little clarity exists about the curriculum for excellence, I asked someone who works in the field what they would look for. She said that the impact should be measured not in exams—I think we all agree with that—but in international education's influence on a school's ethos. She said that the real indicator would be that barriers between subjects had been broken down.

Only a few weeks ago, the SNP Government lodged a motion on Scottish history. In that debate and after it, the minister went out of her way to emphasise not that barriers would be broken down, but that subject specialisms would remain—that history would be taught by history teachers and that the place of other subject specialists would be protected and secured. It is no wonder that people are confused about the new curriculum when the minister says that international education is vital and that we must have greater intersubject working, but also reassures history teachers by saying, "Don't worry—your subject will be all right and will in fact be promoted." Will she say in winding up which it is to be? Is it to be protection of subject specialists such as history teachers or greater intersubject working?

Anyway—that is enough consensus and praise for the Scottish Government's record on international education. I will now strike a more critical note. Labour's amendment is on the importance of Holocaust education and funded support for visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau. As members may know, my Westminster colleague for East Renfrewshire, Jim Murphy MP, and I organised our first visit for senior Scottish pupils to Auschwitz some years ago. I assure members that that visit made a tremendous impact on me and on the pupils.

On 4 February, the United Kingdom Government announced funding of £4.65 million over the next three years to allow senior pupils—two from each school throughout England—to visit Auschwitz. I will quote the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and I will give the minister the quotation, as it is available in Hansard. In reply to a question from Gordon Banks MP—the member for Ochil and South Perthshire—the secretary of state said:

"The £4.65 million for England clearly has Barnett consequentials in this area for the devolved countries. I hope and expect that they will ensure that such visits are available for all young people across the four constituent parts of the UK."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 4 February 2008; Vol 471, c 646.]

That we have been given that money could not be clearer. The United Kingdom £4.65 million over three years is roughly £1.5 million each year, which means about £150,000 a year for Scotland.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I have relatively recently returned from my first trip to Poland, where I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, which made a deep impact on me.

Does Ken Macintosh think that every time that England decides to act on something, we should be bound by a direct Barnett consequential? The amendment is well meant, but does it play politics with a serious matter?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Far from it. I whole-heartedly agree that we do not have to allocate money automatically; the decision is ours. I assure Bob Doris that I was awaiting an announcement from the Scottish Government—I assumed that it was only a matter of time. As he said, the matter is very important. We can make up our own mind on it. I hope that we will make the right decision.

I lodged a series of parliamentary questions about the trips to Auschwitz and the updating of Holocaust education materials. Fellow Opposition members will not be surprised to hear that the minister's replies did not answer my questions, so I wrote a letter to her. I was grateful for her reply to that, which—surprisingly—tackled the question. However, what is even more surprising is that she said:

"So the answer to your question is no".

That is unacceptable. Supporting those visits would cost the Executive a mere £150,000 a year.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Will the member accept that a visit to Auschwitz and other concentration camps by one or two pupils from a school is not the only way in which pupils can learn about the Holocaust, and that through the curriculum for excellence and various strands of the curriculum, more pupils can learn about the Holocaust's consequences? In their activities weeks, many schools provide trips to Germany that include visits to concentration camps, which also allow more pupils to learn about the Holocaust.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

It is clear that a visit is not the only way to learn about concentration camps, but the minister needs to make up her mind. I was quite impressed when she said that she wants to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She recognises the benefit of that for herself and others, but she is unwilling to extend that benefit to pupils.

The Scottish Government seems to say that it is okay for UK ministers and local authorities to decide to allocate funding to such trips, but that it is not okay for Scottish ministers. What is the minister's job? If she wants Scottish pupils to have the same choices as others have, she should commit to providing such funding today.

I will conclude with a quotation from a concentration camp survivor that is often used to stimulate discussion among teachers. His request to teachers was this:

"Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns."

If the minister fails to understand that injunction, that merely reveals the contrast between the warm words that are at the heart of the motion and real support, which is measured in action.

I move amendment S3M-1768.2, to insert after "across the world":

"; believes that Holocaust education, including visits to the Auschwitz concentration camp, is an important part of lessons on citizenship and international education; agrees that the Scottish Government should ensure that the Barnett consequentials of the £4.65 million in funding announced by the UK Government for visits to Auschwitz are used specifically to support Scottish pupils for this same purpose".

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 10:22 am, 24th April 2008

I was surprised that the minister did not, in relation to the international context, regale us with tales of the visit by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to China, but perhaps we can look forward to revisiting that, as we did with the First Minister's holiday stories from America.

I had been tempted to start my speech in Greek, but aside from terrifying the clerks to death, I realised that if recent claims that only 30 per cent of Scots have a firm grasp of a language other than English are accurate, not too many members would have been likely to understand. In fairness, given my poor command of the Greek language, I am not sure how well I would have done anyway.

It is regrettable that most people in Scotland have—to put it mildly—a poor command of foreign languages. I am sure that we have all seen the consequences of that failing. We shout slowly in English in the faint hope of being understood; smile bravely as the waiter serves a plate that is heaped with heaven knows what from a menu that did not have pictures; or struggle with the inane and patronising grin that belies our lack of comprehension as we try to refuse yet another blooming donkey.

We might smile in recognising that picture, but it generally reflects our national incompetence and—I suspect—our fear of language learning. We need to address that in a comprehensive and considered way. That is why the Liberal Democrats have lodged their amendment and why we welcome the opportunity that the debate provides to reflect on the ways in which we can ensure that our schools contribute to our understanding of and participation in global trade, culture and social exchanges.

I take note of the serious nature of Mr Macintosh's amendment. Although I am not sure that it fits tightly with the Government's motion, we do not oppose it.

We cannot afford to be complacent about the need to improve our engagement with the wider world. From an economic and social perspective, we ignore such a shortcoming at our peril. Members do not need to take my word for that. A number of sources are giving us clear warnings that things are not about to get better.

Back in 1976, there were almost 16,000 presentations in Scotland for the main modern languages: French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. In 2006, there were fewer than 7,000 presentations. That is a frighteningly serious decline. The number of undergraduates studying languages in Scottish universities is also apparently declining—the number fell from 2,425 in 2002-03 to 2,150 in 2005-06. A University and College Union study found that, from 1998 to 2007, the number of French language courses being taught at Scottish universities had dropped by 10 per cent, and the number of German courses being taught had decreased by 20 per cent.

The Scottish centre for information on language teaching and research has said that there is an urgent need to promote and develop provision for language learning across all sectors—indeed, the Scottish National Party's manifesto contains a commitment on that. The centre's director, Joanna McPake, has said:

"Scotland is not currently in a good position to take advantage of the economic, cultural, social and democratic opportunities which a greater national competence in languages other than English would bring".

That is a sad indictment.

Further figures show that, since the 1970s, the number of school pupils who take modern language highers has slumped by nearly 60 per cent.

Liberalism is a profoundly international philosophy, and Liberal Democrats believe that international education should be central to the Scottish curriculum. By learning more about others, we can better understand ourselves. Scotland has a proud tradition of, and reputation for, being international in outlook. We must consider how we embed that approach in our school framework in a consistent and strategic way.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I share many of the member's concerns about the decline in the numbers of Scottish pupils and students who study foreign languages. However, does he agree that there is perhaps an overemphasis on teaching French, which is a traditional language to teach, in our schools? Perhaps other languages such as Spanish and Mandarin, which might be more important in responding to future opportunities in the world, should be taught more.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Indeed. Mr Fraser makes a good point. I would have dealt with that matter in detail if I had enough time. Perhaps there is a superabundance of French language teachers. I think that the availability of those teachers drives the direction of the curriculum. That ties in with the point that I made about the decline in the teaching of other languages, including at universities.

We have no great issues with the tone and content of the Government's motion, but the truth is that, like many other debates and motions that the Government has brought to the chamber, it is so full of warm words and platitudes that it is difficult to take issue with any of it. Like many Government motions, it is as short on detail and delivery mechanisms as we have—sadly—come to expect. It is significant that it does not mention how such a vague set of aspirations will be delivered or, indeed, how teachers and schools will be expected to deliver. We need a plan of action from the Government and the minister that clearly addresses international education and ensures that we progress language teaching in Scotland's curriculum.

I move amendment S3M-1768.1, to insert at end:

"and calls for the Scottish Government to bring forward a comprehensive national languages strategy including a rolling programme to introduce a second language early into primary education and to secure economic benefit from the diverse language skills in a multicultural Scotland".

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 10:29 am, 24th April 2008

I suspect that many teachers and members of the public will be a little surprised by the SNP's insistence that there is a need to debate international education, given that there has always been, and always will be, a whole-hearted commitment in Scotland to international education.

I agree with Mr Macintosh, who said that those people will be a bit surprised and probably a bit irritated that good-quality parliamentary time is being devoted to a motion on which we can all agree—Mr O'Donnell mentioned that—when there are far more pressing educational issues on the agenda. I add school discipline to the topics to which Mr Macintosh referred. Perhaps the decision to hold this debate was to do with the fact that the Government has been taken to task via the Daily Mail by the Scottish Association of Teachers of History for apparently thinking that history teaching, with all its international aspects, is being taught in a rather boring, dry and old-fashioned manner. Who knows? However, I will say something constructive.

If there was a single reason why Scottish education made such an impact throughout the world in the days when it first established its reputation, it would be its concern for the international community and the role that Scotland had played in the economic, social, political and philosophical development of many nations around the world. The 18th century Scottish enlightenment was remarkable for its outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments, which rivalled those of any other nation at any time in history. It was made even more remarkable because it took place in a country that was considered to be one of the more backward nations in western Europe. The achievements in philosophy, economics, engineering, architecture, law and so on of people such as Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Robert Burns and Adam Ferguson speak for themselves.

The effects of the Scottish enlightenment went far beyond Scotland. It was one of the most important forces in ensuring that Scottish education has always been underpinned by a strong international commitment. That commitment, especially in respect of the breadth of interest, has always been a cornerstone of our education system, and there is no question but that it must be maintained and enhanced. If pupils are to become well-educated, rounded human beings, part of the process must be their acquisition of a full awareness and understanding of the global community, and tolerance and respect for the many and varied cultures around the world.

I turn to Mr Macintosh's amendment. One of the most moving presentations that I heard during my former career as a teacher was on Auschwitz. Many people think that educating youngsters about Auschwitz is extremely important. We have no problem in supporting that principle, but we have a problem with the Labour amendment, because we do not believe that it is up to any Government to decide to ring fence the money that is involved, and we think that it is up to headteachers to make decisions about best experiences. However, I repeat that educating youngsters about Auschwitz can play an important part in their education.

We have many opportunities to learn from experiences in other parts of the world, which can only be good, whether the Government says that we should learn from China, Malawi or France. Indeed, the Conservatives urge members of the Government to undertake their next international trip to Scandinavia. In Sweden, they will see what happens when headteachers and parents, rather than the Government, are put in control of schools, and in Finland, they might be able to study a system in which pupils start school at seven years old. Such an approach would end the headache that has resulted from dealing with P1 to P3 class sizes.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am not sure whether my remarks on the Labour amendment will help or hinder Mr Macintosh's argument, but my understanding is that it would have the effect of continuing Scottish funding to the educational trust to which schools can apply to fund visits. Schools would not be instructed in any way to make visits—the amendment would simply facilitate visits. That is not ring fencing; rather, schools would be given capacity to make visits. I hope that consensus exists in the chamber on such an approach.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I leave it to Mr Macintosh to defend his amendment. The key point is that it should be up to headteachers to decide the best extracurricular and core curricular items for their pupils.

On a day on which we have considered the Scottish qualifications system, the other key point of interest at this stage is consideration of a worthy debate on the baccalaureate system. Today, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning made a firm commitment on a Scottish baccalaureate; she will explain the details of what will happen in S5 and S6 later. Perhaps there could be a worthy debate on the international baccalaureate. Many of the things that underlie the principles behind the curriculum for excellence are developed in the examination system for that baccalaureate, which has clearly taken on board exactly what the Government is trying to say in this debate. The Government ought to consider that.

Internationalism has always been at the centre of Scottish education, and I am sure that no member hopes that it will not be in the future. We have no intention of opposing the Government's motion, but we object to the fact that it has taken time away from debating other, more pressing, educational issues. However, international education is important, so we will support the motion.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

To ensure that I am able to call all back benchers who wish to speak in the debate, I will reduce the time available for speeches to five and a half minutes. For the sake of fairness, Mr Bill Wilson will have six minutes. That will allow other members to get rid of 30 seconds from their speeches.

Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party 10:35 am, 24th April 2008

That is very fair.

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, that is not true—it was a dark but otherwise calm evening in Ecuador. A companion and I were trekking along a muddy track by a large river somewhere in one of the many blank areas on our map—[Interruption.] Give it time. It had been a long day's walk, and in the gathering gloom my trekking companion and I were seeking somewhere to pitch our tent. A figure loomed large on the road ahead of us. His clothes were simple, and he looked poor; we were wearing expensive boots and carrying rucksacks stuffed with clothes and equipment.

The man greeted us in a friendly way and engaged us in conversation. A little later, we were sitting in his home, which was sparsely furnished but clean and dry. His wife offered us food and drink, although the family clearly had little to spare. We were grateful for the hospitality of those extremely poor people and wanted to give them something in return. My friend reached into his rucksack and pulled out a small torch. He gave it to their young child, showing him how to use the torch. Later in the evening, when the boy was asleep, the father came up to us with the torch in his hand; he wanted to know whether it needed batteries. We realised that he was too poor to be able afford to purchase replacement batteries and that he was concerned about the great disappointment that the child would suffer when the batteries ran out.

Some members—including, perhaps, Hugh O'Donnell—are wondering why I have started my speech with an anecdote that is apparently unrelated to the motion. I have had the enormous privilege of travelling extensively and meeting people the world over. My travels have left me with the conviction that humans—wherever they are, regardless of colour, religion or culture—are all fundamentally the same. They have the same basic needs, hopes and fears. They love their children and want them to grow up healthy and happy. They are capable, however poor, of the greatest kindness and consideration. The human species, for all its flaws, is a wonderful thing.

The appreciation that we are all the same—one species, out of Africa—is essential if we are to build a better world. Will people care about the effects of global warming and the misery and despair that are caused by the resultant floods and droughts if they regard those who suffer as being apart from them—as being different? Can we challenge unfair trade policies and relieve the misery of exploitation if we cannot imagine ourselves in the place of the exploited? How can we find the energy to struggle against war and tyranny if we place a lower value on the lives of those who are being gassed or drugged and dropped from aeroplanes? To make the world a better place, we must understand that we are all the same under the skin.

How do we reach such an understanding? We can reach it through travel, but if we do not have the time or means to travel, we can reach it through education. That is why international education is vital. Without it, we cannot build the compassion, tolerance and understanding that should lie at the very heart of any civilised society. With the interconnectedness of the world highlighted only yesterday by the coverage in The Scotsman of the biofuels issue, it is clear that international education should not be an optional add-on—it can and should be central to what goes on in our schools. It is an excellent vehicle for teaching languages, the arts, the sciences and, not least, ethics. It also fits naturally within the curriculum for excellence framework. I shall attempt to illustrate that.

The curriculum for excellence website reports that the curriculum review group has stated:

"One of the prime purposes of education is to make our young people aware of the values on which Scottish society is based and so help them to establish their own stances on matters of social justice and personal and collective responsibility. Young people therefore need to learn about and develop these values. The curriculum is an important means through which this personal development should be encouraged."

The website further states:

"Wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity are the words inscribed on the mace of the Scottish Parliament. These words have helped to define values for Scottish society."

What better way for young people in Scotland to develop compassion than for them to learn about and interact with people in other countries? If they do that, a sense of justice will surely be encouraged. Research has shown that learning is most effective when it engages the emotions. Caring passionately about other people—their pain, hopes, fears, dilemmas and joys—will surely encourage youngsters to acquire further knowledge and understanding, which are the building blocks of wisdom. Furthermore, learning about the connectedness of things in general and of people specifically, and caring about those people, can only promote personal integrity. Thus we have wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity.

The curriculum for excellence seeks to encourage more learning through experience and to build four capacities: successful learning, confidence, responsible citizenship and effective contribution. An excellent way of doing that is to foster the interaction of Scottish pupils with youngsters in other countries. In Renfrewshire, global citizenship projects partner local schools with schools overseas. Trinity high school works with the Association of People with Disability in India. Another good example is the pairing of Rashielea primary school with Tianjin experimental primary school in China. The two schools have agreed to develop long-term education programmes through exchange visits, curriculum enrichment for language learning, electronic communication and the sharing of best practice.

I will visit Rashielea primary school on Friday and look forward to hearing the stories behind the pupils' China-inspired letters and artwork. I hope to learn more about the Scotland-China education network pupil conference, at which Rashielea pupils presented a talk describing their links with the school in Tianjin. Although during my visit I shall not raise the issue of human rights abuses in China, I am confident that, throughout their lives, the pupils will take a real interest in the wellbeing of the people of that country. That alone justifies our supporting the motion.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 10:41 am, 24th April 2008

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this morning's debate on a subject that is important not just to Scotland but across the world. Scottish Labour has always rejected narrow nationalism. We have a proud internationalist record and a long-lasting commitment to international solidarity.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

Will the member explain what she means by "narrow nationalism"?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

I mean that we are an internationalist party and that, when we were in government, we delivered on that aspiration in all that we did.

The previous Government promoted internationalist values, introducing numerous initiatives to promote international education in Scotland's schools, including co-operation agreements between Scotland and France, Malawi and China. In an increasingly global society, fostering international links between children is vital to our future peace and security, as is encouraging greater understanding of different cultures and the different lives that children lead across the world. Scotland has been successful at doing that. In particular, I highlight the successful promotion of partnership with schools in developing countries through the global teachers programme.

The programme is part of Link Community Development and its aim is to improve the educational opportunities that are available to children in developing rural communities in five African countries. Since 2003, 68 Scottish teachers and headteachers have taken part in the programme, which has taken them on working placements to Malawi, Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. It has been a life-changing experience for those involved and has made a valuable and long-lasting contribution to the lives of thousands of young people both here in Scotland and in the countries concerned, encouraging a real sense of global citizenship and solidarity.

In January, a group of 16 Scottish teachers who had worked in Malawi as part of the programme were awarded professional recognition in global education by the General Teaching Council for Scotland. I am sure that all members congratulate those teachers on their hard work and commitment and on the value that they have added to their schools back in Scotland.

One of the teachers who received an award was Sharon MacDonald, who is the assistant or deputy principal of Clarkston primary school in my constituency. I have been able not only to discuss her experiences with her but to see first hand how her participation in the scheme has impacted on children at Clarkston primary and on school life. The school now has firm links with Kapiri primary in Malawi and is involved in shared curricular projects. There have been school assemblies and specific projects on life in Malawi. People at Kapiri primary believe that the attendance and punctuality of teachers and other staff have improved, along with the confidence and self-esteem of pupils. Staff at the school believe that that is due in no small part to the skills that Sharon MacDonald imparted and to the co-operative learning and group work assessment techniques that she discussed and taught when she visited Malawi. I am sure that everyone in the chamber supports those initiatives.

In our debates on the future of our education system in Scotland, we often lose sight of the fact that about 72 million children throughout the world still do not have access to primary education. We need only consider countries such as Malawi—where life expectancy is only 37 and children who are lucky enough to be at school are taught in classes of 100 to 200—to see the stark contrast that exists in the life chances of children throughout the world. That is why the international education links that Scotland is forging and developing with such countries are so important. The curriculum for excellence is a valuable tool to help achieve that goal. It will instil a global sense of community in our young people and equip them with the knowledge, skills and understanding that they need to play an active part in the global economy.

However, international education is about more than exchanges and cultural awareness activities. It needs to be mainstreamed throughout the curriculum and backed up not just by words of support but by practical action. The Scottish Government claims to support the curriculum for excellence, but I wonder whether we needed this debate or whether it would have been better to talk about whether HMIE will acknowledge schools' work on international education in its inspection reports. When I visit schools, headteachers express to me the fear that HMIE will not recognise that work.

Perhaps it would have been better for ministers to show the leadership that they talk about rather than to allow policy drift. Ministers should confirm to schools that resources will be available to allow full implementation of the curriculum for excellence.

We can agree about much in Scottish education, particularly in relation to global education. However, the Parliament has missed an opportunity to discuss the real issues that face Scottish education—in particular, school buildings and class sizes. We need to discuss those issues more urgently than we need to discuss international education.

Photo of Bashir Ahmad Bashir Ahmad Scottish National Party 10:47 am, 24th April 2008

When I came to this country more than four decades ago, I came with minimal education. At that time, the important thing was not education but financial security for loved ones back home. Times have changed, and today, the importance of education is recognised.

At the moment, Scotland is home to just under 15,000 students from India and China, and we host almost 17,000 students from the European Union. Scotland is a welcoming and flexible country. Our universities and colleges have worldwide reputations for excellence. That is why overseas students are willing to invest not only their time but their money in our higher education institutions. There is no doubt that Scotland has gained considerably from the fresh ideas and new thinking that students from all continents have brought with them.

The economic advantages of being open and flexible cannot be ignored. The economic benefits are gained not only from students but from their visiting families. That is evident in relation to students who come here to study from the far east and the subcontinent, whose families often visit Scotland more than once. Their positive impact is felt in local businesses and services and in our tourism industry. It is clear that international students benefit not just the institutions but the country in which they study.

Overseas students also contribute to the success of our higher education institutions. Research shows that, on average, students from abroad who study in our universities finish with higher level degrees. That undoubtedly motivates Scottish students to compete at the same level.

Having said that, Scotland has one of the worst records in Europe for sending students overseas. The benefits of sending students abroad are, for some, more difficult to understand, but students who have experienced a truly international education testify to that extraordinary experience. When we send our students overseas, many of them return with fresh thinking and new skills that enhance society and benefit us all.

We cannot underestimate the importance of forging worldwide cultural ties. That is why I am delighted that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning spent time in China to strengthen our educational exchange there. The challenge is for us to continue to welcome and accommodate our international students while encouraging Scottish students to reap the benefits of an international education. I am delighted that the Government has taken up the challenge and is working towards an even smarter and more skilled Scotland.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 10:52 am, 24th April 2008

I recognise the concerns that members have expressed about whether the subject of this debate is the priority issue in the education sector and the one that we should be debating, but the subject is important and I welcome the opportunity to discuss it. It would be better if we had a bit more discussion than we have had so far about the content of international education and what we want to get from it. Perhaps the minister will tell us when she sums up what the Government thinks we should be doing in international education.

Internationalism should be at the heart of our moving forward in the third millennium. That is why I welcome the international education project in our schools. Internationalism is about looking forward and outward, breaking down barriers and increasing understanding and mutual respect, which we hope will lead to a much more peaceful, prosperous and fair global society. It is important that we in Scotland do those things. We have a reputation as an outward-looking country, and it is important that we continue to look outward rather than look at the inward nationalism of the past centuries.

International education is a crucial part of the curriculum for excellence. It encapsulates just about everything that the curriculum for excellence is about. International education is about developing successful learners who think creatively and independently; confident individuals who develop and communicate their beliefs and their view of the world; responsible citizens who develop their knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it; and effective contributors who can apply critical thinking in new contexts. Those are all key principles and purposes of the curriculum for excellence and they are all part of what international education is about.

We have to be careful, though, because there is a danger that we will fall into the trap of doing what we think is right in development education even though it is not right. The sustainable development education policy network's policy briefing warns that

"school links, exchanges and visits with economically-favoured nations and charitable links with poor nations do not necessarily make for good quality International Education as they can reinforce stereotypical images of poorer nations" and

"leave unquestioned the sustainability of our own lifestyles".

It is important that we acknowledge that fact.

There are well-intentioned schemes to link schools, as part of which a school might send its old computers to a school in a developing country, without realising that that school might not have a reliable power source and that, even if it did, it might not have a computer engineer who could make the computers work. We must ensure that whatever we do is sustainable. Even sending pencils and jotters to schools in developing countries might not be the right thing to do because, by doing so, we will not help to sustain the industries that produce pencils and jotters in those countries. We must ensure that the work that we do is not only well intentioned but produces the right results.

However, a number of valuable development schemes already operate in our schools, two of which I will highlight. The first is the eco-schools project, which schools in my constituency of North East Fife have been at the forefront of for many years. In fact, there are now so many eco-schools in my constituency that I do not have time to name them all. One nursery, 25 primary schools and one secondary school have received eco-awards. Pittenweem primary school and Guardbridge primary school have received a third green flag, and Dunino primary school, which was at the forefront of the programme's development, has gained a permanent green flag.

The eco-schools programme is about developing children's understanding of their wider place in the world. The children who participate do not consider only environmental issues—an important element of the programme is that they are involved in developing the projects that they pursue. There is an international aspect to the work that is done as part of the eco-schools programme, which deserves continuing support.

I turn to the second scheme. Recently, I had the opportunity to go with the minister's colleague Adam Ingram to Westfield nursery school and St Columba's primary school in Cupar in my constituency, which are involved in the United Nations Children's Fund's extremely valuable rights respecting school programme, a key aspect of which is that it develops children's understanding not just of their rights but of their responsibilities.

Two important principles of the programme are:

"If every child, regardless of their sex, ethnic origin, social status, language, age, nationality or religion has these rights, then they also have a responsibility to respect each other" and

"If children have a right to be protected from conflict, cruelty, exploitation and neglect, then they also have a responsibility not to bully or harm each other."

Those are important aspects of internationalism and international education. We sometimes underestimate the ability of children to take on concepts such as justice, fairness and responsibility. At St Columba's primary school, I saw a fantastic presentation on UNICEF's rights respecting school programme, which showed that the children understand the idea of rights and responsibilities not just in an international context but in the context of their own lives and situations.

The eco-schools project and UNICEF's rights respecting school programme are extremely valuable and I hope that the Scottish Government will continue to support them.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 10:58 am, 24th April 2008

As I listened to the minister talk about the impact of globalisation on the curriculum and the need for international education, I began to think that what was missing from the motion and the debate was how we should handle the most obvious impact of globalisation on education in Scotland—the presence in our schools of numerous children from other countries, who come from different cultures and use different languages. Given that those pupils carry with them their own understandings, family experiences and distinct cultural identities, they are a valuable resource as we seek to develop the process of international education and integration in Scotland.

My two boys went to Hillhead high school, the entrants to which are among the most diverse in Scotland in terms of the number of countries from which they come and the different languages that they use. In that school and in primary school, my sons not only learned about those other languages, customs and cultures but gained an appreciation of the richness of that cultural diversity and of the contribution that the families of those other pupils made to Scotland.

Hillhead high school placed a strong emphasis on tolerance. Not just in cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow but all over Scotland, schools are becoming increasingly diverse. In many parts of the country, pupils come from backgrounds and cultures that were not represented 10 or 15 years ago. How we resource our education system and think about the curriculum must change if we are to adapt to the new diversity. I hope that that will be acknowledged by the Scottish Government and by all the professional bodies that provide teacher education, support teachers in schools and develop the various educational materials that are used. That has an important resource implication, because it costs more to provide specialist language teaching—whether in the Chinese languages, Urdu, other Asian languages or the increasingly important eastern European languages—and to provide the additional cultural support that is often required for early integration of pupils from such backgrounds and their families into the education system.

Education can provide an extremely important route for drawing in families who come here from other countries, many of whom are keen for their children to get on and succeed through the education system. Parents in those families devote a great deal of attention to supporting their sons and daughters through the education system, which can be a valuable resource not just for the pupil but from the point of view of integration and drawing in the contribution that such families can make to our society. It is important that we focus on what the experience and values of those families can contribute to the process, rather than just view international education as being about us teaching pupils about what goes on in other societies.

That said, a hugely valuable role can be played not just by teachers in schools but by many of the organisations that are actively engaged in international development activities. I am thinking of organisations such as Oxfam and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, which have produced fantastic materials and can make fantastic inputs by drawing in people who have active experience of what is going on in developing countries. I am not sure that we make adequate use of what organisations such as SCIAF and Oxfam have to offer, which could make an even greater contribution than they are already making.

Organisations such as the International Development Education Association of Scotland have helped with curriculum development by providing packages that teachers can use. I would like more of such work to be done and more resources to be provided for it. We need to draw in experience and understanding of what is happening in developing countries, but let us not forget the contribution that those people who come to Scotland can make to the process. We need to be a richer society, and we will be a richer society when we recognise and embrace the diversity that exists here.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party 11:03 am, 24th April 2008

The topic of international education should unite everyone in the Parliament as we grow to realise that Scotland has an important international role to play in the global arena and that, in a fast-changing and interdependent world, education can help young people to meet the challenges that they will confront now and in the future. I welcome the Government's commitment to ensuring that Scotland's children are equipped to understand the world around them.

I want to concentrate on the benefits of school linking. I have been amazed by the results that such a simple exercise seems to have on the kids who take part in it. The school links that I have learned about and seen at first hand show that the process helps to build a degree of confidence, self-esteem, wellbeing, knowledge and understanding that might not be attained through the use of text books alone. That is in line with the Government's key objective of making our country smarter and fairer, and with the curriculum for excellence's aims of making children confident individuals, successful learners and effective contributors, and of building capacity so that they can develop their critical thinking.

Learning about the world and Scotland's place in it by linking in partnership with schools across the globe is not just about learning the geography or the poverty statistics of countries in the developing world; it can be fun. Importantly, international education should be about respecting different cultures, traditions and languages, and it should be made relevant to all areas of the curriculum and all ages and abilities, not taught as an additional subject for teachers to tutor. It should also be about sustainability, with the premise being that the school is in a partnership and that learning from each other is a reciprocal process. In short, international education should be part of the school's ethos.

My parliamentary assistant spent a year working in Malawi. As I said in a previous debate on Malawi, he told me that when young Malawians come to Scotland or young Scots go to Malawi, the remarkable thing is that they notice not the material differences in their lives but the similarities of their experience. Typically, we say that youngsters do not like doing homework or are on the lookout for romance. From that, we know that genuine partnership and understanding can work both ways, and that young Scots will come to realise that, regardless of where someone comes from in the world, when we scratch the surface we are not that different one from the other.

What makes a good school link? According to Oxfam, it means educating children about

"social justice ... diversity ... interdependence ... peace and conflict ...critical thinking ... respect" and the "Ability to challenge injustice", and about having

"empathy ... Commitment to social justice and equity ... Concern for the environment."

I will share a couple of anecdotes to highlight good examples of school linking. The first concerns my first encounter of school linking, which was at the Scottish Storytelling Centre up the road on the Royal Mile. I attended an event that was co-hosted by the British Council, where stalls were laid out by schools that were involved in a partnership. I visited each one and was particularly taken by one stall. The pupils were so eager to tell me about what they were learning that they dragged me over to it, their eyes glistening. Their work was outstanding.

I told their teacher that they were a credit to their school. She went on to tell me of one wee boy who had brought to school the bull marble from his marble set. He told her that he wanted to send it as a present to a political prisoner whom he had been learning about because his father was in prison and he knew what prison was like. The story sums up everything that is good about school linking. The young boy's thought processes had led him to feel tremendous empathy and respect for someone who was fighting for justice thousands of miles away. I found it incredible that, all by himself, the boy had made a link between the political prisoner's situation and his personal circumstances.

The second anecdote concerns a visit to the Parliament of a South African school that is linked to a Scottish school and which I hosted. The pupils were members of a choir and were so pleased to share their traditional song that they gave an impromptu performance for us in the chamber. For me, that proved the tremendous cultural benefit to all the pupils and teachers involved.

Those are fine examples of school links. If the Government is to increase the roll-out of such links, I urge it to ensure that that is the type of school linking that Scotland follows.

In the briefings that we received for the debate, charities such as Oxfam, SCIAF, IDEAS and the sustainable development education policy network highlighted examples of poor school linkings that do nothing to broaden young people's horizons or promote understanding between them. If those concerns are prevalent, the topic is worthy of debate today. As Kenneth Macintosh and Iain Smith said, schools—admittedly with the best of intentions—can believe their role to be that of fundraiser and donor, which serves only to perpetrate and reinforce the stereotypical myth that the role of the developed world is to fundraise for the poor and for charity.

We need to ensure that school links are partnerships that are based on equality. As a country, we must understand that we do not know it all and we have much to learn from those around us. However, teachers need support for that. They need guidance on how to achieve the best for their school and students and how to ensure that the children who leave their school and care grow into adults who know the difference between justice and injustice and right and wrong, and participate in the wider community to make it a fairer and equitable place—one that respects diversity.

That approach raises challenges. I believe that the principles of being a good citizen and a good global citizen should be embedded at every opportunity in the curriculum for excellence. The new curriculum provides a good opportunity to ensure that we in Scotland get global citizenship right. We all agree that Scotland has a great role to play in the world, albeit that we may not agree on the level at which we should play it. However, we must all work together to ensure that today's children and students are well equipped to make them confident and able to go forward into work. We must ensure that they realise that co-operation and respect should triumph over prejudice and stereotyping.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 11:09 am, 24th April 2008

Students from Eastbank academy in my constituency are in the public gallery and I welcome them to the debate. My dilemma in welcoming them is that they are here by sheer coincidence, not because of any fantastic planning on my part. Part of their role as future citizens of Scotland, the UK, Europe and the world is to make a contribution, first in their school environment and then as young adults as they make their way through the journey of life. I hope that they listen to the debate, reflect on some of the speeches and benefit from the discussion.

As we have heard, members are concerned that other pressing Scottish education issues have not been brought to the chamber, although that is not to diminish the importance of international education. The quality of the speeches has indicated the passion that members feel about the subject and, importantly, that they have thought critically about how we should contribute.

Labour members have a slightly different starting point to that of members on the Government benches. In contrast to those who prefer Scotland not to be part of the United Kingdom, we believe that Scots can make just as valuable a contribution as part of the United Kingdom. Those different views are honestly held, but our common agenda should be to ensure that people accept our mutual obligations.

Whether or not schools get it right in fundraising and other activities, the nugget of the debate is the fundamental belief that the individual can make a genuine difference to the world. Thinking about the global consequences of what we do as we live our lives is as important as ensuring that we give assistance where appropriate.

Only a matter of weeks ago, we heard a fantastic time for reflection contribution from young Claire Martin. Claire attends another school in my constituency, Holyrood secondary school on the south side of Glasgow. I taught in that school, which increasingly reflects the ethnic diversity of the south side of Glasgow. I am talking not only of the historic legacy of the Irish and Asian communities. Today, the area is home to Polish, Slovakian and Romanian communities, and to others who now form part of the school community. In that regard, I welcome Des McNulty's contribution.

Holyrood secondary school raises a considerable amount of money. It also works in partnership with schools in Malawi where—incredibly—a small school can have 2,500 pupils and a high school 6,500 pupils. Recently, the minister paid a visit to Holyrood secondary. I could not manage along that morning, but I think that she was impressed by the school's commitment. What is important about the school, as with Eastbank and other schools in my constituency, is the contribution that they make in their fundraising activities and generosity of commitment. Embedded in the curriculum at Holyrood is a commitment to address the fundamental issue of an unequal world—of a rich north and a poor south. More critically, importantly and effectively, pupils are learning how to make a difference at our end by way of partnerships, through which they learn how people in other parts of the world want their concerns to be addressed. That is important.

My colleague Kenneth Macintosh has touched on an important issue in his amendment. I hope that the minister will say how the Government will ensure that youngsters experience the challenge of Auschwitz, if they want to and can do it. Youngsters should be able to experience how an advanced European nation can volte-face and assume a different identity. I say that even though it was a minority of folk who ensured a Nazi victory in the early 1930s, thereby diminishing that great nation for a period in history. I welcome the Government saying how it will use some of the UK Government's resource allocation to bring about that experience.

Fourteen years ago, I took a group of youngsters from Easterhouse and Craigmillar to Los Angeles. One of our key visits was to the Holocaust museum. The youngsters were not politically aware, but the journey that they took in the hour that they spent there was emotional and life changing. They were confronted by the reality of what can happen to people's life experience.

I ask the Government to say how it will address the Labour amendment. Also, and more important in terms of the curriculum, how will it track how well we do in terms of international development, sustainable development and young people's awareness of those issues? If we do well, Scotland and Britain will be a better nation. We need to tackle the issue of our co-responsibility. We need to ensure that we have a nation where people feel comfortable in their own skin, whatever the colour.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 11:14 am, 24th April 2008

When the Minister for Schools and Skills talked about children in Gambia considering the difference between children in Scotland and Africa, I recalled that, when the former Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen visited a school in India, the children remarked that the main difference that they saw was that he talked like Shrek. I think that the kids in Gambia are a little more profound than those in that school in India.

The Liberal Democrats disagree with nothing in the minister's speech. However, we are disappointed that the Government will not embrace our constructive addendum on a comprehensive Scottish strategy for languages. The reason that the Government has given for opposing that shows an unfortunate lack of ambition from the SNP. The minister said that there is no need for a strategy because the modern languages outcomes in the curriculum for excellence will suffice. The draft outcomes, which are good, state:

"At early and at first levels, children will be developing generic skills in their first language. These include taking part in conversation, developing listening, reading and writing skills and knowledge about language. All of these are relevant to learning other languages.

An early start to language learning should be a positive, stimulating experience that motivates pupils through exciting contexts and meaningful, accessible content."

That is all to be welcomed, but we want to go much further. An early start should be made in schools, but we want the process to continue through to college, university and our business economy, which should all be part of a co- ordinated approach to language skills to allow us to improve and build on the current situation.

Hugh O'Donnell talked about the long-term decline in the number of presentations for language qualifications in Scotland under many Governments. That highlights the need for reforms. We now have a more complex world economic environment and a more multicultural Scotland, as Des McNulty and Frank McAveety highlighted. Those aspects can potentially benefit Scotland, but our approach should be co-ordinated. We hope that the Government does not have a closed mind and will consider our proposals further.

When I was in India two years ago, I met representatives of chambers of commerce who have no doubt that they want an economy that is more open, just, and transparent than China's, and larger. They see skills in English as critical. They respect our education system and our approach to justice, the rule of law and human rights. They wish their economy to be the largest part of the world economy, and English is a critical part of that. We must consider Scotland's role in a much bigger world trading environment and the languages that our young people and businesses can exploit.

The Minister for Schools and Skills said nothing about China. When I saw the subject of the debate, I thought that it was on the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning's visit to China during the Easter recess. I am disappointed that we have not had a chance to debate that visit, its consequences and our relationship with China, which is of huge significance to Scotland. I thought that the timing of the visit was wrong.

Pupils in Scotland do not only want to learn about other countries; they want to get to know people from other countries and understand their cultures and political systems. Projects such as the outstanding international programme in Peebles high school in my constituency are involved with just that issue—getting to know and understand other cultures. We cannot separate politics from learning about other countries, so human rights and civil liberties issues are relevant. The actions of Government ministers in meeting other officials—even when those ministers raise human rights issues—and the timing of visits at a time of international concern are relevant issues. Young people are receptive to such issues. So whether we talk about views on the war in Iraq or ministers' visits at a time of concern about human rights abuses against citizens in Tibet, those are relevant issues.

The people of Tibet are citizens of the world. Liz Smith and Iain Smith rightly commented that Scots have always been citizens of the world, and a Government motion today will not make that any more or less the case. For three years, I have chaired the launch of the Peebles high school international programme for S4 pupils in the Scottish Parliament, together with the consular corps in Edinburgh. The pupils set the agenda on how they want to understand, work with and get to know young people from other countries. They are at the centre of best practice in international studying.

The ability to communicate and understand is universal. If we do not take a more co-ordinated and better approach to developing that ability, we will fall back, which is not the best way of giving our young people the opportunities in the world environment that we all want them to have.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 11:20 am, 24th April 2008

During the debate, we have been from Ecuador to the Gambia and from Malawi to India, but I am surprised that Poland has not been mentioned more, except in the context of Auschwitz. On Friday, I visited St Columba's high school in Perth, which is a Roman Catholic secondary school that has a large complement of Polish students as a result of the major influx of people from eastern Europe to Scotland. That has enriched the school and presented challenges. If we are considering international education and countries with which we can develop links, surely Poland should be high on the agenda, given the large Polish population not only in Perth, but in other parts of Scotland.

I have a great deal of sympathy with Ken Macintosh's comments and with the wording of his amendment. I think that we all agree on the importance of Holocaust education. I have not visited Poland or Auschwitz, but friends who were there recently came away deeply moved by the experience. I have no doubt that young people's educational experience would be enriched by going there, so I have no difficulty with the first part of Mr Macintosh's amendment, but I am slightly concerned about the implications of the suggestion in the second part that just because the UK Government comes up with an initiative in a devolved area and commits funding, that procedure should be followed automatically in Scotland. I am concerned that a precedent might be set.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Does the minister accept—sorry, the member is not one yet. Will the member accept my reassurance that I worded the amendment specifically to allow as much flexibility as possible for the minister to earmark the money in whatever way she wishes? As Mr Purvis pointed out, the UK Government gives the money to the Holocaust Education Trust, which organises the trips and makes them available. It is certainly not compulsory for anybody to use the service.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I shall reflect on Mr Macintosh's point, but I say to him as gently as I can that his party was in office in Scotland for 10 years and, while it was in power in the devolved Parliament, held the education brief, so it had time to introduce such a measure if it thought that it was important, but it did not.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. The member cannot intervene unless Murdo Fraser accepts an intervention.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Previously, the money was available and was not ring fenced for England, or at least the matter was rather unclear. The Holocaust Education Trust has been used to support trips from Scotland before. The tranche of money that I mention in my amendment has been earmarked for the purpose.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The argument is getting rather tortuous. My point is that the substantial education budget in previous years could have been used to fund such trips if it was so important to Mr Macintosh and his colleagues. However, on the general point, I endorse much of what Mr Macintosh said.

On the Liberal Democrat amendment, I have sympathy with Hugh O'Donnell's points and his arguments on the need to improve the teaching of second languages in secondary and primary schools. However, the Conservatives have a difficulty with talk of a national strategy. As I am sure Mr O'Donnell will know, we prefer local decision making and we do not like top-down national strategies. In that respect, I welcome the minister's comments on the amendment.

On the motion, we all accept that, as the curriculum for excellence says, pupils should have an understanding of the world and that international education is important for that reason. There is nothing particularly new in that. I remember being at school many years ago when we were all encouraged to have pen-pals in exotic locations such as France and the Netherlands. Pupils today have much wider horizons than we had. A group of pupils from Blairgowrie high school in my constituency recently went on a trip to Malawi, as many other pupils from throughout Scotland have done. Clearly, the world has got a lot smaller in the past 30 or so years. There are huge advantages in promoting such trips.

Through co-operation agreements, the Scottish Government has encouraged links with countries such as France, Malawi and China. We have much to learn from those countries, particularly China. Like Jeremy Purvis, I am sorry that we have not heard more about the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning's trip to China. I would be interested to hear what she made of the Chinese education system, particularly its emphasis on vocational education, which I feel we should echo.

I agree with Ken Macintosh and Elizabeth Smith about the subject matter for today's debate on education. I find it hard to believe that this is the burning issue in education. We could have debated one of many other key areas of concern. We are told this week that a third of 14-year-olds are failing the basic standard in reading and numeracy, and that half are failing the basic standard in writing. Surely there are other, more vital areas that we could be debating. Nevertheless, I end on a note of consensus by saying that international education is important and that the Conservatives will support the rather bland motion.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 11:25 am, 24th April 2008

I support international education. As a member of the Labour Party, I have always been proud of my party's strong international traditions. Education has a clear role to play in equipping children and young people to understand the world we live in and prepare them for work in a global economy. However, like Mr Fraser, I sense real frustration that because there is so much agreement, the debate was unnecessary.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that the debate has been one of a series on the curriculum for excellence? Given the sea change that we want the curriculum for excellence to bring about in our education system, it is vital that all of us become ambassadors for the curriculum for excellence, including its international aspect.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

It is a series of debates that we perhaps could have done without.

The cabinet secretary has a wide-ranging portfolio, and many issues needed to be explored, some of which have been mentioned this morning. For example, is the minister aware that after almost 12 months of the new session of Parliament, we still have not had a debate on social work? Have all the challenges for our social work services been resolved?

I will try to concentrate on the debate, although given that there is so much agreement, it is difficult not to repeat what other members have said. The minister is correct to say that the curriculum for excellence will be a sound vehicle to deliver a comprehensive international education. On 19 March this year, members debated the curriculum for excellence. Although there was much agreement, there were concerns. I heard that progress may be stalling. There were concerns about how much information was available. There was a clear demand for the Scottish National Party Government to show leadership and to ensure that stakeholders such as teachers, pupils and parents—to name but three—are fully informed and signed up. Is the minister saying that all those concerns have gone away? Maybe she would like to update us in her closing statement.

The motion encourages young people to develop knowledge and understanding of the world. Members will have received a helpful briefing for today's debate from IDEAS for global citizenship and the sustainable development education policy network. I thank them for their briefing. I agree with them that international education should include measures to ensure that schools move beyond cultural awareness activities, links and study visits to ensure that all learning opportunities develop young people's understanding of the world and its complexities. That approach has been supported by many members today, particularly Karen Whitefield.

Like other members, I take the opportunity to recognise the work of schools in my constituency to develop their international education. St Kentigern's academy and its feeder primary have developed a strong link with a village in Malawi. The pupils fundraised to contribute to a new school but, probably more important, they learned about the lives of the Malawian children and their families and built strong, long-distance relationships with them. Some of the teachers took part in exchanges to Malawi and on their return were able to share their experiences with their pupils. I am sure that all of us would want to support that and the many other such examples that we have heard about today.

In her opening speech, the minister spoke of how we should be promoting languages. I hope that that means that she will support Hugh O'Donnell's amendment, as Labour members will. Mr O'Donnell's speech ably supported his amendment, which stressed the importance of learning a language. A couple of years back, I opened a conference in West Lothian for senior pupils, aimed at encouraging them to choose to study languages. At the conference, one of the issues raised was how we teach languages, which does not seem to have changed that much over the past 20 or more years. Do we spend enough time giving children and young people the confidence to speak a foreign language? We are often very timid about doing that. Do we spend too much time stressing the technical skills? Maybe the minister has a view on that and will share it with us later.

To respond to the comments on my colleague Ken Macintosh's amendment, I understand that members may not want slavishly to follow decisions taken in another place, but I suggest that neither should we disregard those opportunities just because they are being taken up in another place. I hope that members will feel able to support Ken Macintosh's amendment. I reassure Mr Fraser that visits to places such as Auschwitz did take place before—in fact Ken Macintosh took part in one just last year. It is not a case of the Labour Party coming late to this—such visits were taking place when the Labour Party held the education portfolio.

Although the debate has been consensual, the minister missed an opportunity to give us concrete examples of how the Government will encourage international education and increase the learning of foreign languages. In her statement this morning on national qualifications, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning followed Labour's lead in stressing the importance of literacy and numeracy. On the basis that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suggest that the SNP Government may like to take up another couple of suggestions from Labour's manifesto: first, the promise that language tuition would commence from primary 3 onwards—that was referred to by Jeremy Purvis; and secondly, that 500 extra modern language teachers and assistants would be made available. Yes, Mr Fraser, those languages should include Spanish and Mandarin. Minister, the time for warm words has passed. MSPs want to hear concrete proposals.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 11:32 am, 24th April 2008

We sat here for eight years waiting for concrete proposals. There have been far more in the past year than anyone expected.

This morning we have discussed how essential it is in today's world that our young people develop an international outlook. We have heard about how the Government is taking forward international education through the curriculum for excellence, by simplifying the landscape and promoting partnership working. We have also heard about excellent examples—too many to mention—of international education throughout the country. Frank McAveety, in his usual style, beat us all by ensuring that there were some school pupils in the gallery during his speech.

In addition to ensuring that our young people have an international education and outlook, the Government is determined to be outward looking in everything that it does. We regularly look at the rest of the world to see what is excellent out there—ideas that could be good for us too, and for the aspirations that we have for modern Scotland. Elizabeth Smith has obviously been doing a bit of that as well, when she considered the Scandinavian models of education. In doing that, we are determined to take the opportunity to promote what we are good at to others. We want to promote our vision of a smarter Scotland—as a place to learn as well as to live, visit, work, do business and invest. Telling Scotland's story and letting people know what we are good at is central to delivering the Government's economic strategy. That is why the international framework that the Scottish Government published on Tuesday identifies how our activities contribute to meeting targets on population growth and closing the gross domestic product gap by attracting inward investment and promoting international business.

Working in partnership is crucial. Building links and exchanges is a key part of delivering our policies. For example, the Scottish Qualifications Authority promotes Scottish qualifications and products and supports Scottish universities and colleges to attract overseas students to our excellent institutions. Learning and Teaching Scotland's approach to Confucius classrooms was promoted to Hanban, which described the initiative as world leading and a model for others to follow. The Chinese authorities will be visiting Scotland next month to learn more about those developments. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning will be delighted to hear that Mr Jeremy Purvis and Mr Murdo Fraser are looking forward to hearing all about her recent trip to China.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

"With photographs," says Mr Hugh O'Donnell. The cabinet secretary will be even more pleased now. In the next few days, the Government will be publishing the China plan, as part of the strategic international framework, and it has been very much informed by the cabinet secretary's experiences in China.

There has been discussion of language education, which is the subject of Hugh O'Donnell's amendment. An understanding of linguistic diversity is an integral part of what we mean by international education. It is not just about learning modern languages in the traditional sense—although, as our commitment to introducing a Scottish baccalaureate in languages demonstrates, we want Scottish young people to be ambitious in that regard. That ties in with what Bashir Ahmad was saying about how few pupils over the years have been able to go on to work in Europe—and indeed further afield—and to benefit from the advantages of being part of the European Union. Such ambitions are important to us, and we are moving ahead in that regard. Mr Ahmad was absolutely right in what he said.

Understandably, there has been a lot of discussion about the Labour amendment, in the name of Mr Ken Macintosh, and about how important Holocaust education is. I do not believe that anyone in the chamber doubts that. It forms part of European and world history. Elizabeth Smith emphasised Scottish history, which she was keen for us not to leave out of the equation, referring to the Scottish enlightenment in particular, but pupils can have many experiences to inform them about all those things and to give them a greater understanding, and Holocaust education is one of those. The fact is that the £152,000 came over as a Barnett consequential in 2006-07, when the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats were in power. I point out to Mr Macintosh that they did not hand that money over to any trust. They simply said that the money went into the Scottish block. It is for Scottish ministers to decide how to spend Barnett consequentials.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

May I intervene to clarify the matter?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

No. Just like it wants to be prescriptive and to ring fence everything going to local authorities, the Labour Party seems to think that Westminster should ring fence and be prescriptive about everything that comes to us. That will not happen under this Government. It is the responsibility of each local authority and school to consider the contribution that study opportunities, such as visits to Auschwitz, might make to meeting the agreed national outcomes. That is as it should be.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The reason for the change is that Scotland was getting the money twice. The UK Government was funding the Holocaust Education Trust, which was supporting trips from Scotland; in addition, we were getting the Barnett consequential. The matter has been clarified. It is up to us to give the money through whatever mechanism—but, through the Holocaust Education Trust—

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Could we hear a question, please?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

It is up to us to make a decision.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Exactly: it is up to us to make the decisions, and we have faith in our education authorities and teachers to make the best decisions for our pupils.

Presiding Officer, the world in which our young people are growing up is very different from the one when you and I were at school. As Des McNulty suggested, it is essential that we recognise, learn from and capitalise on the opportunities that are brought by the diversity of cultures in our schools now.

It is essential for education to contain an international perspective to inform every aspect of life. We strongly believe that the curriculum for excellence is the ideal vehicle to enable teachers to use international education to enrich young people's learning. As we have all seen on school visits in our constituencies, pupils are inspired by and interested in international issues, which can be enjoyable, different and stimulating. If pupils are engaged in international education, they are more likely to prosper and to become effective and confident.

I will finish by responding to some comments that were made earlier about nationalism and internationalism. I leave members with this: how on earth can someone be an internationalist without first being a nationalist? One is part of the other.