MIRON KUMAR BHOWMIK and DOMINIC REGESTER wrote about Connecting Classrooms
The globalised nature of today’s world has created the opportunity for school students to explore other societies, make friends and work with young people from different backgrounds to find solutions to global problems. By building international school partnerships, British Council’s Connecting Classrooms Project is strenghthening global trust and creating a safer and more connected world for the future. Connecting Classrooms project has linked 90 Bangladeshi schools in 18 clusters of 5 schools with clusters of schools from across the UK. The schools are working together to prepare young people for life and work and to help them play an active role in their communities.
The projects that students work on together is giving them the skills and confidence to seek more opportunities and choices in their lives. Activities under Connecting Classrooms project are divided into five major components. Two of these, International Curriculum Projects and Social Action Projects, were mainly conducted in both Bangladeshi schools and UK schools. International Curriculum Projects allow students to get acquainted with their partner schools and engage students in international projects, while Social Action Projects encourage students to get involved in the community and state their concerns about global issues. Here are some case studies of different schools and their experience in participating in the Connecting Classrooms projects:
Celebrating Cultural Diversity with a particular focus on Pollution and the environment (Barisal and Swansea Schools)
The students from Barisal could barely control their excitement as the box filled with goodies arrived at their school. Maps, school mascots, artwork, photos, recipes, traditional games, CDs of music, each item had something to reflect the culture and heritage of their partnered schoolmates. The box was posted from Wales as part of their “Cultural Diversity in a Box” presentation. The result was indeed outstanding; students from both Wales and Barisal stated that they had a comprehensive exposure to the other country and a deeper appreciation of the differences and similarities between the two cultures.
A group of teachers from both Barisal and Swansea visited their partnered country. This provided the opportunity for face-to-face planning and communication. Swansea teachers taught a science and geography lesson to Barisal students as Barisal teachers observed. Colleagues discussed different teaching methodologies, techniques and resources. The visit has helped to raise awareness and improve knowledge and understanding of both education systems. Swansea teachers have set up a website for the project. Both schools were able to exchange work and share insights through this website.
In addition, the students from both schools focused on environmental issues and recycling. Keeping their project theme in mind, students looked at the waste that their schools produce each month and decided what could be recycled and what recycling initiatives were available in their communities. Barisal schools arranged workshops and seminars to raise awareness among the students of environmental issues. Following the workshop an eco-team was formed in all the schools in Barisal cluster to keep the school environment clean and make other students aware of the 4 Rs – Replace; Reuse; Reduce; Recycle.
Making Connections: Our endeavour to become global citizens (Sylhet and Wakefield Schools)
The notion of Fair Trade was rather new to the students in the Sylhet schools. When the teachers announced that the students were about to take part in it, it did not make much sense to them. However, as 25 teachers held workshops and presentation in the classrooms, the idea of Fair Trade created a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity among the students. Followed by the workshop, a series of meeting and interview sessions were held by the Vice President of Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and Industries and two other renowned business person that explained the concept of Fair Trade to the students and how they could be involved directly in mainstream social work.
The aim of the project was to raise awareness of Fair Trade projects throughout the world, particularly focusing on those in Sylhet, and products sold in the UK such as strawberry from UK and tea from Sylhet. Students looked at the benefits that this brings to the communities where Fair Trade producers operate. They also had the opportunity to learn about everyday lives and backgrounds of producer families across the world. This enabled pupils to explore similarities and differences and exchange information with partnered schools. Students also held human chains and rallies across Sylhet to inform people about this project and increase the involvement of the community.
Students from Wakefield also looked at global issues including poverty, religion and food and exchanged their findings with students in Bangladesh via letters. They also produced a PowerPoint presentation comparing and contrasting the UK and Bangladesh. It was aimed to raise awareness of global issues and to make them as real as possible to students, enabling them to become better global citizens.
Breaking the taboo of our society (Dhaka and Durham Schools)
“Indeed it was an eye opening experience for both me and my friends. I never knew that spending time with children of our age who are physically impaired would be so much fun,” expressed a student of Maple Leaf International School after visiting a local charitable organisation that supports people with disabilities (PWD). She couldn’t understand why people with disabilities were separated from society. Many students from the School had similar questions in their minds and they were keen to work towards breaking the status quo of the society.
As part of the Social Action Project, Dhaka and Durham schools jointly explored the perception of disability in both countries. They focused particularly on the stigmatisation of disabilities or ‘taboo’ aspects of their communities concerning this issue.
Both schools worked closely with local organisations and on completion of the visits, students organized a short awareness campaign at the school campus showing what they had learned to other students, teachers, parents and general visitors. Workshops were also conducted by some local organisations which helped the students gain an in-depth insight into the existing disability situation in the country and understand it better. It also opened an opportunity for the students to create awareness and tolerance of disability among other students and to learn how to deal with disability. In addition, students designed posters, leaflets, press releases and videos for other awareness campaigns in which local community and media were invited to spread their message.
Why the Connecting Classrooms project is helpful to the schools?
It brought a new perspective to both local and global issues by giving pupils and teachers an opportunity to share their views and opinions. Also helped pupils form real friendships through linking with contemporaries in other countries; therefore, challenging stereotypes, widening horizons and changing attitudes and values. The activities provided new opportunities for the professional development of teachers and school staff and motivated teachers in the development of skills to deal with complex global issues. It assisted the schools to become more international in outlook and ethos and contributed to the enrichment and diversity of the local community as well as reinvigorating an awareness and interest in culture, tradition and foreign languages.
Writers: Head of Schools and Sport, British Council Bangladesh, and Regional Schools Project Manager, British Council Central and South Asia