Don Harrison describes three ways to explore issues of global poverty through a new resource from Save the Children.

The ‘Crick Report’ on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools advocated learning to:

know about the world as a global community, and that people around the world live in communities as we do; understand that there are similarities and differences between communities in terms of social, economic, cultural, political and environmental circumstances; also understand the meaning of terms such as poverty, famine, disease, charity, aid, human rights (QCA, 1998, 48).

This became simplified in the programme of study for citizenship at KS3 to state that students should be taught about:

the world as a global community, and the political, economic, environmental and social implications of this, and the role of the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations (QCA, 1999, 184-1i).

Learning about global poverty

Understanding poverty is an important dimension of economic awareness. So understanding global poverty should be an important dimension of global awareness. There are at least three learning approaches to this task, each of which challenges narrow media representations of poverty. Save the Children resource Young Lives, Global Goals can help understanding of these approaches.

1. Changing poverty

This year’s Make Poverty History campaigns have had a large impact on public and school awareness. The non-government agencies leading the campaigns have a strong belief that effective citizen action on governments can reduce conditions of economic deprivation in the world.

 The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provide a framework for this kind of action. They aim to reduce poverty and conditions exacerbated by it like lack of access to education – particularly for girls – disease and environmental degradation. The Young Lives, Global Goals pack has a large colour poster outlining the eight MDGs and a range of learning ideas for citizenship and geography.

2. Contextualising poverty

To challenge media images of the world’s more deprived children and communities requires a good understanding of the causes and effects of poverty in specific situations. Just as famines are different, so poverty is different in different circumstances – even if we can point to universal causes. The  pack provides video views of eight young people from the Young Lives project who are growing up in conditions of poverty. The Young Lives project is a longitudinal study following the lives of 8,000 children over 15 years to examine causes and effects of child poverty in four developing countries: Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam.

To watch, listen and compare the lives of Gezahegn in rural Ethiopia and Elene in the capital city is to learn much about the specifics of poverty. Elene describes her urban neighbourhood as ‘rich’ with CDs and sofas, while she sees her own family circumstances as relatively ‘poor’. This localised, child-level approach provides teachers with resources to show the realities of childhood poverty that can usefully complement UK media images.

3. Comparing poverty

An alternative route into learning about global poverty issues is via poverty nearer home. Although the Young Lives, Global Goals pack does not extend to this dimension, it can be complemented with other Save the Children resources for schools that include child studies from the UK (the Families and Working Children Worldwide picture packs). This is a sensitive learning area, but in the right circumstances there is a strong case for making the concept more meaningful and relevant by applying it to familiar settings. It is valuable to ask students how they see poverty in the UK in relation to poverty in other countries. The MDGs apply to all communities, everywhere in the world, so they can provide a standard for class discussion about how ‘we’ relate to ‘others’. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also affirms universally accepted principles for the world’s children. The governments of Ethiopia, India, Peru, Vietnam and the UK – and all others except the USA and Somalia – have signed up to the UN Convention. Article 27.1 of the Convention declares that:

States Parties recognise the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

Therefore, both the MDGs and the UN Convention can be used by citizenship teachers to challenge and broaden their students’ understanding of what causes poverty, what harm it causes (especially to children) and what steps active members of the ‘global community’ can take to reduce and eliminate it.

Economic awareness in citizenship education

The current programme of study for citizenship at KS3 outlines learning about financial issues in relation to ‘central and local government services’ (1c) and ‘the world community’ (1i). At KS4 this expands to cover ‘how the economy functions’ (1e) and ‘the rights and responsibilities of consumers’ (1h). Economic awareness can also draw on incomes and expenditures in the work of ‘voluntary groups’, locally, nationally and internationally (both KS3 and 4, 1f) and the large non-government development organisations should no doubt produce more resources for schools containing financial information. The term ‘poverty’ may not be always in evidence but it is always implicit, especially in learning about the world community.

This article has drawn on the Young Lives, Global Goals resource to lay down some learning guidelines in order to make issues of poverty explicit.

Further information

Young Lives, Global Goals: Children, Poverty and the UN Millennium Development Goals. A resource pack for geography, environmental studies and citizenship for 11- to 14-year-olds. Price: £22.50, from Save the Children Publications, c/o NBN International, Estover Road, Plymouth PL6 7PY. T. 01752 202301
Resources for schools
Young Lives project
Millennium Development Goals guide from the BBC World Service

Don Harrison is schools project manager at Save the Children Education Unit, Save the Children UK, tel: 020-7012-6461.

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