Going global

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Every school has the responsibility to promote the importance of citizenship. John Dowler explains how the Save The Children World Marathon Challenge has made global citizenship relevant, accessible and most importantly, fun for all students.

In ever-diversifying classrooms, young people sit side by side with peers from around the world, with limited knowledge or experience of their contrasting backgrounds. In some schools, classmates can range from a child who has never set foot further than a three square mile invisible boundary, to a former Sudanese refugee. With such different backgrounds, getting pupils to relate and empathise with one another, let alone feel a sense of responsibility to the entire population, is not a straightforward task.

Every school now has the responsibility to help its students become active global citizens. Whether this is officially measured or merely complementing the curriculum, it is an increasingly important part of the ethos of many schools.

Encouraging young people to see beyond their own problems and look to help others while understandably absorbed in their trying pre-adolescent world can be tough, especially when the experiences they’re hearing about are so alien. How can an 11-year-old from inner city Hackney or rural Cheshire understand and value the concept of global citizenship?

Opportunities for global citizenship

In times of austerity, one of the main challenges headteachers are faced with is tightened budgets. Organising a school visit to a small village in the heart of rural Africa would be of great benefit to pupils, as they’d have the opportunity to see problems faced by some communities in developing countries first hand. With tighter school budgets and reduced family incomes in many families however, this is a luxury that many of us can’t afford. This means we need to find an effective way to teach the concept of global citizenship from our school grounds.

Understanding citizenship isn’t simply about helping other people.  It’s about enabling young people to develop the core skills needed to be able to relate effectively with the world and the people around them, with the hope that they in turn seek to live a more sustainable life and encourage others to do so.

With the recent curriculum changes placing greater emphasis on traditional subjects such as maths, science and English, finding time to teach moral, cultural and social education can be difficult. Yet providing students access to the broad range of opportunities that come hand-in-hand with these themes, not only helps them develop core life-skills, but also helps them to excel academically.

By providing opportunities for pupils to be able to build on communication and organisational skills in a less pressurised and academically measured environment, students have more space and time to breathe. Before they know it, their confidence and problem solving skills have increased, and we often see an increase in attainment across the board –in particular with students whose prior achievements may be more modest.

Sporting projects can have similar rewards. Those who may not be as confident in physical education can still have a role in the planning and logistics – and in most cases, on the day, everybody wants to get involved.

In 2006, our school, Helsby High School in Chester, was invited by George Bunner MBE to compete in the Deporte Divertido indoor athletics competition in Spain. He helped us arrange a sponsored marathon relay in order to raise funds for the trip. The event proved a huge success, but importantly, was popular with students – they enjoyed working together for a common goal.

The students helped organise the event and trained each other ahead of race day along with support from the PE department. They were responsible for fundraising – both as a team and as individuals and took pleasure in the fact that their efforts were going towards something that they would all have pride in. Not only did the group raise enough money to travel, but the idea of a marathon relay was taken by George Bunner and Save the Children and developed into what has become the world’s largest simultaneous children’s running event.

The Save the Children World Marathon Challenge is a relay in which teams of between 26 and 36 children across the globe race to complete the full marathon distance- by running 200m seven or eight times each. The money they raise will help save children's lives in the world’s poorest countries, with the aim of eradicating child deaths by preventable causes in the under-fives. Relay teams from not only the UK but as far afield as India, Canada and Kenya compete simultaneously to beat the world marathon record – and this was achieved last year.

All schools that sign up are given education resources, including ready-made lesson plans which provide the link between the fun sports activity and real problems faced by developing nations.  All World Marathon Challenge learning activities can be used for teaching citizenship, PSHE and humanities and are designed to teach students about why hunger affects so many and how they can help change this. You can find an example lesson plan and ‘Totaliser’ poster at the end of this article.

Taking part is easy. You can choose a date to suit your school or club between  the 16th and 23th October, or join teams from around the world for our 'global finale' race on Wednesday 23rd October 2013. Young people can track their progress against others in the online World Leader board, creating a global competition feel which adds to the excitement.

Forming friendships

Modern technology plays a key part in the build-up too. It is through social media, for example, that young people are able to form relationships with others taking place from all over the world. It gives the World Marathon Challenge a human face, the face of a friend even, without asking parents to foot the bill of an expensive phone call to Kenya.

While all schools would have had an ethos of promoting global citizenship in the past, it may have not been formalised in terms of it being a requirement in the curriculum, and it may not have been something that was as easy to achieve as it is now. When I started teaching in 1981, making links with schools in other countries was a far more labour-intensive approach. We had to twin officially, students became pen-pals, exchange trips were organised.

Social media provides challenges to schools but it also provides opportunities to develop international links. We live in an age where modern technology makes a global event easy to participate in and that is something that schools should take advantage of.

Through social media and electronic communication, many students keep in touch with other schools, and not just in Europe – all over the world. Our students share their training plans, chat about school work – but importantly the opportunities social media brings breaks down the stereotypes that traditional media may have built up over years.

The media is the main source from which many of us derive our social and cultural education. Young people in the UK, and in particular teenagers, have suffered, oftentimes unfairly as a result of negative media reports. The ‘hoodie culture’, borne from tabloid front pages, is not an accurate or fair representation of the vast majority of young people I have worked with (in five contrasting schools).

Through events like the World Marathon Challenge, Helsby pupils have stamped caring and considerate impressions on our overseas counterparts. It’s easy to think of children and young people in developing nations as wholly different to ourselves. What Save the Children’s World Marathon Challenge does, is provide them with faces, histories, personalities. It makes them both friends as well and keen competitors on the day.

A global community

The World Marathon Challenge presents an opportunity for young people to be able to feel a part of a global community. Since 2012, the World Marathon Challenge has become a sponsored event, encouraging young people to raise money for Save the Children, who will use the funds directly to make a difference to the lives of those who need it.

The race provides an opportunity for students to be able to contribute to improving the lives of their peers across the world in a tangible way. Their efforts will not only raise money and make a difference – it provides them with a sense of personal responsibility, a powerful tool in a time when young people feel they have little control over things.  This in turn develops into understanding and looking out for others in a classroom environment.

For us in our privileged communities in the heart of rural Cheshire, it has proven an invaluable experience for the children and young people that have taken part and we are looking forward to building on that success for the 2013 event in October.

We are proud that the World Marathon Challenge started at our school and has grown to become a global success. I urge all heads to take advantage of the opportunities that taking part can bring – not simply for the benefit of those to whom the raised money will go, but also to for the good of their school and pupils.

John Dowler is Headteacher at Helsby High School, Cheshire West and Chester. For more information or to register for the Save the Children World Marathon Challenge, see: www.savethechildren.org.uk/wmc.

Download the resource pack, Enough Food In The World, here. This pack includes: 

  • Activity 1: How hunger affects children
  • Activity 2: Why children go hungry
  • Activity 3: What's happening in Mozambique

Download the World Marathon Challenge Totaliser Poster here.

All resources are copyrighted to Save The Children World Marathon Challenge.

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