Schools have many duties to their students. One obligation would be to help them understand the lives of other human beings in different places and in different cultures across the world. Supporting international charities, and highlighting the lifestyles and problems experienced by other people, is one way of achieving this. There is, however, a danger, familiar to most big charities, of inducing a sense of hopelessness and fatigue in their donors through emphasising the size of the problems and over-active campaigning. Some days we are bombarded by images of devastated natural environments, starving children and injured people escaping from war zones and challenged by mind-numbing statistics suggesting yet further disasters. The cumulative effect of all this woe can easily backfire, persuading people that the problems are so huge that there is no point in them even trying to influence the outcome rather than motivating them to action.
This issue is very familiar to teachers and students; if a student really believes that a subject or topic is truly beyond their understanding or abilities then there is little incentive for them to invest the time and effort needed to try to make progress. Part of the role of the teacher is to offer encouragement and support and to break down a demanding topic into smaller achievable chunks so that the student receives some positive reward of attaining success at an early stage and their motivation for further effort is increased. Ultimately the student must trust that the teacher is capable of helping them make progress through their skill and experience in explanation and in constructing sequences of learning activities which will work for that student. The quality of the relationship between teacher and student is a crucial determinant of educational success.
As I write this a large group of Birkdale students and members of staff are visiting Nepal, the fourteenth such annual expedition. The students will enjoy some trekking in the Himalayas, a view of the jungle and then have the opportunity to teach in some of the Nepalese schools in the Kathmandu area. The initiative has been overseen throughout by a member of staff at Birkdale who has tirelessly fundraised to help establish and support these schools as well as leading the expeditions to give Birkdale students and others a life-changing experience. (The selfless and extremely effective commitment of the member of staff was recognised through the award of an MBE last year.) Inspired by this leadership, many students, members of staff, parents and others connected with the school community have also been involved and have benefitted from learning about Nepal through their fundraising. Crucially, they have had the opportunity to see how lives can be transformed through relatively small amounts of money over a period of time. The main school supported by Birkdale, the Peace Garden School, pictured above, has been recognised by the Prime Minister of Nepal for its success in producing excellent examination results and allowing its students to progress with their education and potentially to escape from a life of poverty and deprivation. It is hard to think of a more positive message for students at Birkdale to take away as they contemplate their attitude to people in other parts of the world.