The school where I carried out the research for my report is St Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic High School in Oldham. The pupils come from a wide variety of backgrounds including English and Irish working class, Pakistani, Indian, Black Caribbean, Black African, Travellers, Polish and pupils who are of mixed race. The religions I encountered included Roman Catholic, other Christian, Muslim and Hindu. Many of the Pupils at St Augustine’s have very limited experience of the outside world due to the poorer backgrounds that they come from.
This report is based on a series of four lessons I taught to a Year 11 Citizenship class. The topic of the lesson is the continent of Africa, problems within the continent, possible solutions to the problems and their complications. The purpose of the lessons is also to create a sense of empathy in the pupils, improve their research skills, and give them the opportunity to present their findings at the end of the unit.
In the first lesson, the pupils are given a map of Africa and a list of countries. They have to use the internet to find out where the countries are situated on the map. This provokes discussion over how countries in Africa were formed and how their borders were affected by Western Colonisation and the World Wars. The second part of the lesson involves a brief discussion over some of the well known problems in Africa such as Civil War, Corruption, HIV, Poverty and Famine after which the pupils will start their own powerpoint presentation describing these. The pupils are assisted in starting this with fact sheets on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on Corruption in Africa.
The second lesson focuses on Civil War in Africa. The pupils are given worksheets with the names of four countries that have faced Civil War, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Sierra Leone and questions on the impact of war in these countries. The pupils watch a trailer for the film Hotel Rwanda which focuses on the Rwandan Genocide. There is discussion on what they have seen, which expands into related topics such as refugees before they are allowed to go on the internet and research the answers to the questions for two of the countries. The second half of the lesson is spent working on the powerpoint presentations and adding some of the facts they have researched into their own presentation.
The third lesson focuses on Fairtrade in Africa. The pupils are given a worksheet asking questions about Fairtrade and shown a short video on the projector promoting and explaining what Fairtrade does for African producers. The pupils are directed to the Fairtrade website in order to answer any remaining questions on their sheet. The second half of the lesson is spent finishing off their powerpoint presentations and adding facts about Fairtrade.
In the fourth lesson, the pupils present their findings to the rest of the class and discuss the issues as a class, each having the opportunity to express their opinions on the topic and the different aspects they have covered.
The Focus Group
What did pupils learn from the lesson and how do they feel school prepares them to be part of an ethnically and religiously diverse society?
I chose 4 pupils to take part in my focus group, Jodie who was very opinionated, from a white, working class background; Priya, a Hindu, Indian girl who was more quiet but got caught up in the debate; John who is from a mixed Black Caribbean and White background; and Mlala, a boy from a West African background.
Jodie felt very resentful about being “forced to take Citizenship”. She felt it was a waste of time as there is no qualification or exam to sit in this subject. She felt it was a waste of time and she had very little interest in what happened in Africa, she felt it would be more relevant to study problems occurring in the UK during Citizenship lessons. During the class discussions she was unsympathetic to the plight of refugees and had strong feelings regarding their presence in the UK and on immigration as a whole. John was of a similar opinion, he thought that Africans should “sort out their own problems”.
Priya defended refugees and their need to come to this country pointing out that it is not always possible for refugees to go to the next nearest country as there may be trouble within that country as well and that if there are a lot of refugees coming from countries that are close to each other that one or two countries that are stable enough to accept refugees cannot take all of the refugees. Mlala also pointed out that some of the problems that occur in Africa are a direct result of European colonisation and war.
I understand why Priya and Mlala are more reluctant to get involved in the debate. To some extent they may feel that the comments are directed at them or their friends or families. They see the issues of developing countries from a different perspective. Mlala only came to the UK in the last year and has grown up in West Africa. He and his family are immigrants themselves, he dislikes the picture painted in the media but does not want to get into direct confrontation over it. Priya was born here but has strong roots in India; she has friends and family there who she visits and who have come to live in the UK more recently.
I also understand where these feelings are coming from in Jodie and John in the sense that they are growing up in working class, white households which are targeted in the media to feel that immigrants and refugees are coming to the UK and making life more difficult for them affecting housing, jobs, schooling the NHS and opinions within their families are being reflected through them.
Jodie and John did appear to enjoy having the opportunity to express their opinions about issues that are highlighted in the media and discussed at home. Priya and Mlala, were more reluctant to talk about the issue, I believe they may have felt uncomfortable at times about some of the issues raised and the strength of other peoples opinions, however as the debate went on they were motivated to speak to get across their own different points of view.
I felt at the end of the lessons and the focus group that something had been achieved in the sense that Jodie and John’s opinions appeared to soften and they had learned some facts that they were previously unaware of. Priya and Mlala, I hope came out of it mor confident for speaking their minds and making their opinions known.
I feel that the lessons were a success in the sense that they created a framework for debate and got the pupils thinking about these issues instead of just accepting what they read in the Tabloids and hear from the people around them.
When I prepared the lessons I had to stick within the framework of the the topic for problems within Africa but I feel it would be good to have the opportunity to use the topic of Africa to challenge peoples’ preconceptions of the continent and the people, perhaps by focussing on the more positive aspects of Africa in order to give the pupils a more balanced viewpoint.