Citizenship: Comic turn for serious education

Comic Relief's mission is to tackle social injustuce and to engage young people in serious global issues
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The Independent Online

Everyday we hear how the world has become smaller, we can travel faster, communicate quicker and watch images from across the globe in our own living rooms within minutes of them occurring. Yet while we watch those images, do we really connect to those other people, to those other lifestyles, do we really connect to the people who live next door?

Everyday we hear how the world has become smaller, we can travel faster, communicate quicker and watch images from across the globe in our own living rooms within minutes of them occurring. Yet while we watch those images, do we really connect to those other people, to those other lifestyles, do we really connect to the people who live next door?

Last year, young people from a school in England campaigned to allow their classmates to be allowed to remain in their school in this country. Their friends were asylum-seekers who, having overcome the problems of living in a new country and the horrors of having been forced to leave their own, were now being threatened with being sent back. The classmates who campaigned to keep them here were young people who had connected on a very personal level, but more importantly they had understood that the issues within their community were part of a wider global society. It was a manifestation of good global citizenship.

The world is a more interconnected place and young people need to know the importance of that. Not just that their chocolate originates from a foreign country but who the people are that grow the original bean and what the conditions in that society are and what impact buying or selling that cocoa bean has on them.

As an adult, I've been faced with the images of horror and suffering in this country and abroad. Nobody had discussed this in school with me, in fact, people didn't generally talk about this kind of thing at all and no one was encouraging them to do so. I decided to learn more and to try to do something about it, and it wasn't easy, not as one person on my own. When I joined Comic Relief, I felt doubly lucky to be joining an organisation that was doing something about these things, and where I could make a contribution.

Comic Relief's mission is to tackle poverty and social injustice, and for over 16 years it has been doing just that through fundraising and awareness building. The British public has shown massive support for Comic Relief's mission, giving more than £228m since it was established.

But Comic Relief isn't just about the one day every couple of years that hits our televisions, it's about the long-term commitment to helping and educating people.

One of the largest groups of support for Red Nose Day has been schools. Approximately 60 per cent of schools in the UK take part, which is fantastic. That makes it one of the top charities in schools, and schools are one of its most important audiences.

Comic Relief has its own Education Department and its aim is to ensure that students and teachers who take part in Red Nose Day not only have fun and raise money, but also gain a deeper understanding of why Red Nose Day takes place and the issues that lie behind the nose. Through fun and innovative ways, Comic Relief hopes to engage young people in serious issues.

Education at Comic Relief isn't just about learning, it is also about doing and changing. A recent MORI poll of young people showed that an amazing 51 per cent felt that they had no power to change the world for the better. Comic Relief tried to ensure that young people not only make a difference by raising money on Red Nose Day, but that they also make a difference by acting for change in other areas of their lives too – whether that's buying fair-trade chocolate or challenging racism among their friends.

When I first heard about the introduction of citizenship education into the schools curriculum I really welcomed it. At last there was a strategic opportunity to address issues that young people need help with. I realised the incredible benefits it can give to young people and the whole of society. Citizenship education provides an opportunity through its strands of rights and responsibilities, community action and political literacy to help educate and engage young people in local and global issues.

A strong part of citizenship seemed to directly reflect the aims that Comic Relief had been promoting for years. Of course every school will interpret it differently – that's one of the strengths – but most importantly an opportunity to encourage young people to connect to the lives and conditions of people around them has been included into the heart of school life.

This approach to education encourages the skills and ideals that Comic Relief hoped students and teachers would embrace in order to make a real difference on poverty and social injustice through actions that they can then take into other areas of their lives beyond fundraising for Red Nose Day.

I know that teachers have many demands and pressures upon them, and that they need to be well supported for Citizenship if it is to be as successful as it can be. That is why Comic Relief has decided to be one of the supporters of the new citizenship curriculum and has worked in co-operation with others to support online schemes of work. Plus all the educational resources Comic Relief produces are free. For the next Red Nose Day (14 March 2003), a new top-quality Citizenship pack – Everybody Inc – will be available free for teachers so that they and their students can explore many different ways of being active global citizens, while tackling serious issues in a fun and interesting way.

A global society can produce global citizens if we all want to support it.

Kevin Cahill is Chief Executive of Comic Relief

Teachers can obtain their free copy of the Everybody Inc citizenship teaching pack online at www.comicrelief.com, or by post at Red Nose Day Schools Stuff, PO Box 56, Jarrow, NE32 3YW

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