International Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:41 am on 24th April 2008.

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

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.