Education Quandary

'What British values should I teach my tutor group of children from 11 countries, some newly arrived here?'
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Hilary's advice

Your students need knowledge that will get them up and running quickly in a society that may have very different norms from the one they have grown up in. A young Ghanaian man, now a student at London University, vividly remembers arriving here, aged 13, and being shouted at in a park for relieving himself behind some bushes. "It didn't even come into my mind that it was wrong. At home it was just natural."

So apart from all those big things - fairness, equality, tolerance, justice - that we like to think our country still stands for, teach them some practicalities of daily life. Discuss language and body language, airing the fact that there can be big cultural differences in things such as how loudly people hold conversations and how close they like to stand when doing so.

In Britain, we tend to talk relatively quietly and cherish our personal space. There can be differences in gesture, too. Two male friends holding hands is normal in many Middle Eastern countries, but is generally considered a sexual statement here. Talk, too, about how young people can best handle themselves when talking to teachers and other adults. Many students come from countries where they have been taught deep respect for their elders. But what is respectful there, can come over as sullen muttering here. Smiling, looking people in the eye and speaking up are all things that will serve them well in their new life.

Talk about relationships between the sexes and how, although they may appear very free and equal here, there are still boundaries to be observed, even though they are based on mutual respect more than hard and fast tradition.

Then there's the overwhelming importance of good English. Talk about how any effort they put in here will reap big dividends later. It will increase their confidence, gain them respect and open up much wider job and study opportunities.

Readers' advice

In my classes we often discuss the aspects of British life my students find baffling. More than anything, they are shocked at how rude children here can be to their parents, older relatives and older people generally. In many countries, respect for older people is still a basic rule of the culture and children can be really confused when they find that isn't the case here.
Lee Barnet, London SE1

They could learn the British values I see every weekend in our town - drinking, breaking things, writing on walls, peeing in corners, throwing takeaway boxes in gutters, swearing at motorists, having sex in shop doorways and spitting.
Stuart Gilleard, Gloucestershire

Teach them history - the Bill of Rights, the abolition of the slave trade, what happened during the Second World War. If we want new arrivals to this country to understand why we so value things such as concern for individual rights and respect for the rule of law, we need to instruct them about the forces that have, over centuries, shaped our view of what is the most civilised way to live our lives.
Jane Rowley, Lancashire

Next week's quandary

My daughter can't wait to finish school and has said that once she doesn't have to read books for exams she wants to spend the summer reading for pleasure. I am sure this will mean undiluted chick-lit. What else can I guide her towards that will encourage her to love good books, and not turn her off literature for ever?

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack