Karen Garvin of ActionAid explains how the My Friend Needs A Teacher initiative helps students learn that they have the power to make the world a better place.

What is the issue with education?

  • Education is a human right – and one of the most effective routes out of poverty – yet more than 100 million children in the world receive no education.
  • The majority of these children are girls.
  • A single year of primary education will increase a woman’s wages by 20%.
  • Children who miss primary school are twice as likely to get HIV/AIDS.
  • Children born to mums who can read have a 50% better chance of surviving past the age of five.
  • Many sub-Saharan countries spend more in debt repayments to rich countries than they do on primary education.
  • World leaders from 182 countries signed up to an agreement to get all children in primary school by 2015.
  • At the current rate of progress this won’t happen for 150 years.

In 2005 more than 7,000 schools in the UK joined the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) in calling on world leaders to ‘Send My Friend to School’. Students were asked to create ‘buddies’, small colourful figures to represent a child in the world missing out on education. Over 1.5m ‘buddies’ were made in the UK alone and delivered to Downing Street by the thousand. As a result, British politicians were left in no doubt as to how young people in the UK expected them to act to ensure education for all of the 100m children who don’t go to school.

My Friend Needs a Teacher

Following excellent feedback from participating schools, the GCE decided to create a challenge to follow on from Send My Friend to School. Still focusing on the Millennium Development Goal of providing universal primary school education by 2015, My Friend Needs a Teacher takes a close look at the desperate shortage of teachers in the southern hemisphere.

Teachers in the developing world are under pressure – rising enrolments, the impact of HIV/AIDS, low salaries and poor living conditions all affect the supply and quality of teachers. In Zambia there is an average of 64 students to every primary teacher and in Uganda 50% of primary teachers have no formal training at all. It is estimated that 15m teachers are needed to give every child in the world a chance to learn in a decent-sized class. My Friend Needs a Teacher calls on thousands of students in the UK to take action and talk to their local politicians about this issue.

Driving forward this year’s campaign are two London school children, 12-year-old Jenade Sharma and 13-year-old Lily King Taylor, who joined Nelson Mandela in Mozambique last month to call on the chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, and other world leaders to keep their promise to achieve education for all and solve a global teacher crisis.

Jenade asked President Mandela, ‘What is the message that we should take home to Britain and what should we as children do to get every child into school?’

Mandela replied, ‘The message you should take back is that you can make a difference by your actions. You might think you are powerless, but if all the children of Britain act together you can be more powerful than any government. You can tell your parents and teachers and your school to join the campaign to ensure promises are kept school by school, child by child.

‘And I expect each of you to remind my friend chancellor Gordon Brown that you are expecting Britain to lead in the fight against poverty and to do everything in his power to ensure that every child can go to school.’

During the Make Poverty History campaign, UK schools called on G8 leaders to send their friends to school. Now, children will build on that effort to create a period of extraordinary activity over the coming months. They will unite in a children’s campaign to ensure that every child has a professionally-trained, adequately-paid and motivated teacher and can learn in a class of less than 40.

Teachers who participated in Send My Friend to School said:

‘As a PSHE coordinator teacher in a predominately white school, I felt this provided an invaluable opportunity for children to recognise that they have a voice and to understand the experience of other children around the world.’ ‘As an English teacher in a secondary school, my KS3/4 students enjoyed debating whether or not we should be involved in the project, so their debating skills were improved and it was great to see students become passionate about other young people in different parts of the world. From Years 7 to 11, both  the small and life-sized buddies were created with thought and enthusiasm and some of the messages were incredibly incisive.’

‘I work with students who have been excluded from mainstream school. The impact of these activities on them was truly amazing. The students were really absorbed by this project and amazed at how other children live. It is the first time I have seen them take an interest in others.’

Linking with the curriculum

My Friend Needs a Teacher has lessons plans and activity ideas that at secondary level not only link into PSHE and citizenship but also KS3 speaking and listening, English, geography and RE.

The important thing is to ensure that students understand the issues that the GCE is addressing and develop their understanding of why so many children across the world are engaging with politicians and political leaders to bring about positive change. A teacher wishing to develop political literacy as part of PSHE and citizenship, or an understanding of development issues in geography, will find plenty of material for a series of lessons.

The introductory activities included in the lesson plans explore attitudes towards education and introduce education as a human right. Children can take part in a values continuum where, working in a sports hall or outside, they are asked to place themselves along an imaginary line to show the extent to which they agree with a series of statements such as ‘Education is just as necessary for having a good quality of life as water or food’. In another activity, ‘the brainstorm’, students are first asked to reflect on the word ‘education’ and then record their thoughts in a mind map or a drawing. This can be continued by brainstorming on other matters, such as their skills and the benefits or ‘good things’ about going to school.

Appreciating teachers!

This campaign is probably the first time students have ever been asked to look at the qualities of a teacher and the consequences of not having one. There is a range of activities to help children explore this subject, such as asking the students to help write an advert for a teaching vacancy at their school.

First of all, working in groups, one of the students lies on a sheet of white paper and the others draw around their figure. The figure represents the ‘ideal teacher’. Students will then be asked to talk about any teachers who have been special to them and why. The group will then be asked to write down a teacher’s special qualities within the outline of the ‘ideal teacher’. Students will be asked to identify which of these qualities are ‘natural qualities’ and which are ‘trained qualities’. The students can then debate whether ‘natural’ qualities are enough to become a good teacher, why training is important and why there is a shortage of teachers.

How do we make change happen?

One of the aims of this campaign is to get students to understand what factors bring about positive change and to work out who might be able to help us make change happen. Activities to communicate this include ‘Change your world!’ where students are asked to work in groups to decide what they would like to change about their school or local community and then vote for the one they want the class to campaign for.

Another activity involves brainstorming the word ‘campaign’ and looking at the difference between advertising campaigns and political campaigns. This will help students to understand the processes and the changes that these campaigns are trying to  bring about and what makes a campaign successful. Other activities are designed to discuss the difference between influence and power and what gives people the power to make change.

The action: making a cut-out teacher

My Friend Needs a Teacher challenges students to create cut-out teachers that represent the millions of missing teachers desperately needed in the southern hemisphere. The free packs are available at the address below right and include full instructions and templates for making the cut-out teachers.

After taking part in some of the activities mentioned above (which involve thinking about the qualities of a good teacher), children can then decorate the paper   teacher using words, collage and colour. Once the cut-out teachers are assembled, schools are required to take action by inviting a local MP into their school to hear about the issue – and to accept the symbolic teachers and deliver them to the prime minister on the students’ behalf.

Putting your case to MPs

Before students can tell their MP that My Friend Needs a Teacher it is important that they find out who their MP is, what they do and how they can help. Teachers can discuss with students their knowledge of what an MP does and ask their pupils to research this further. Guidance is also provided on how to put together a formal briefing to a politician.

According to the ‘MP counter’ on www.sendmyfriend.org, 20% of all MPs asked back to school by students have accepted their invitation.

For younger children, ‘Speaking out on education’, is a fun activity, involving sketching portraits of each other and inserting what they want to say in speech bubbles. These portraits can be sent to local or national politicians.

The success in inviting MPs back to school in previous years has largely been due to the fact that the both the initiative and invitation were seen to come from young people. Politicians have stated that they were impressed with students’ interest in development issues and their knowledge of education matters.

Involving students in campaigns now will make them feel connected to world events and show them that they too have an extremely important part to play in shaping the future.

An issue that engages young people

The great thing about the Global Campaign for Education is the fact that young people really want to get involved. In the light of recent reports suggesting that citizenship is badly taught and failing to inspire students or engage them in matters relevant to their lives, here is an issue that grabs the attention of children and young people all over the world and unites them in action. This interest can easily be exploited by citizenship teachers.

Education is an excellent topic for citizenship lessons because students can relate directly to it. However, this is not only an opportunity to learn about a very important issue, it’s a chance for children and young people to discuss what education means for them, find out how to take responsible action and link up with other young people around the world.

The GCE has worked closely with schools for several years now. In 2003, more than 2m people in over 70 countries took part in the record-breaking Biggest Ever Lesson. In towns, villages and cities all over the world students took part in the same lesson, which looked at why children, particularly girls, don’t attend school and how this will affect their future. In the 2004 World’s Biggest Lobby, children in 117 countries spoke directly to politicians.

In the UK, MPs were invited back to school for the day to learn about education issues; 1,600 schools took part and 100,000 students and 485 MPs were involved. Partly as a result of this campaign, the minister of state for international development, Hilary Benn, announced £12m to be spent on education for all. This gave students a chance to see how their action could result in real change.

The Global Campaign for Education involves students in two important opportunities:

  • Learning ways of holding democratically-elected leaders accountable. World leaders have pledged to achieve primary education for all children by 2015 but are a long way off target.
  • Understanding global issues, how they can be tackled and the importance of education.

Further information

For a free My Friend Needs A Teacher pack, visit www.sendmyfriend.org or call ActionAid’s schools team on Tel 01460 238000.
ActionAid is a founder member of the Global Campaign for Education www.campaignforeducation.org and www.actionaid.org.uk
Karen Garvin is  Schools Communications Manager at ActionAid