Education: No, Jacques Delors is not a footballer: Few children know anything about the EC. Diana Hinds reports on a scheme to educate a new generation of Europeans

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AT TOLL Bar First and Middle School in Doncaster, a class of 10- to 12-year-olds has been discussing the idea of boundaries between countries. It is a first step towards understanding the European Community as a trading organisation and a part of the crucial educational process needed to turn today's schoolchildren into responsible European citizens.

'If there is a boundary in the middle of two countries and one country has a product, the other country has a product and they want each other's product, they either join together or trade, but some countries at the moment are fighting,' wrote one boy, his contribution pinned to the classroom wall.

For the second half of the summer term the class worked on a wide-ranging project on Europe. On the basis on what they have learnt already, many of the pupils would have outshone the eight- to 12-year-olds surveyed recently by Shell.

The survey, in which 300 primary-school children answered multiple-choice questions on European current affairs, geography, culture and sport, found that 64 per cent had never heard of the European Community. It also revealed considerable confusion over European affairs, with Jacques Delors mistaken for a French footballer or the editor of the Sun, the ERM for a European Road Map and the ECU for a French taxi, by substantial numbers of children.

But apart from providing some colourful anomalies for the media, surveys of this sort test only a superficial level of general knowledge. The crucial questions, surely, are whether children are aware of their European neighbours, and how they can be encouraged to take more of an interest in them.

According to Ken Round, deputy head of Toll Bar, who has initiated the European project: 'Teaching children about Europe should be an awareness-raising thing, not cramming them full of factual knowledge . . . . Historically, this country has been very isolated. We need to educate youngsters to see that these barriers are artificial and that we are all citizens of the same place, who should share and work together. That will help them in the future. It will also possibly help this country.'

His class started out with its share of prejudices and stereotypes, 'thinking of foreigners as people who are rude and push to the front of queues, who dress strangely or have funny habits'. Europe was an abstract concept to many of them, he said, emphasising the importance of grounding project work in their own experiences. Holidays proved a good starting point: a number of his pupils had been to Spain and Greece and had small souvenirs they could show the class.

The children researched 'Europe in our every-day lives', looking at labels on food and clothes in their homes and listing where they came from. They made a large wall map of Europe - providing a basis for quizzes on the names of countries - and painted flags; they consulted books and wrote to embassies for information on national customs, wildlife and places of interest, and some cooked Italian or Greek dishes in the school kitchen.

'It was called something like 'orinoco', and we made it with tapioca and chicken Oxo from Tesco,' explained one pupil enthusiastically. 'It was nice - I've never had a Greek dish before and it was just like a soup with pasta in it.'

A teaching pack, Europe in the School: The School in Europe, to which Mr Round contributed, suggests a host of other activities involving maps, globes, dances and folk songs, designed to promote an understanding of European economic and environmental interdependence, an awareness of language, and a sense of Europe in a global context - all carefully adapted to relate to the national curriculum.

Gordon Bell, author of the project, said his own research work involving primary schools across Europe revealed that pupils did not usually see themselves as Europeans, nor recognise Europe as relevant to their own lives. They did find the subject interesting, but teachers needed a better range of resource material in order to stimulate them.

'We have found that pupils' opinions and beliefs about Europe are often simple and distorted, yet firmly formed and expressed. Their interest in the subject is closely related to the quantity and quality of personal contact they've had with both things and people 'European',' he said.

Mr Round said he was hoping in the future to establish a link with another European school. Meanwhile his 10- to 12-year-olds were full of enthusiasm for writing to pen-friends, learning their languages and visiting their countries. And they were even acquiring some European general knowledge along the way - not least the correct identity of Jacques Delors.

(Photograph omitted)