International Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:09 am on 24th April 2008.

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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.