International Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:35 am on 24th April 2008.

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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.