International Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:58 am on 24th April 2008.

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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.