University of Edinburgh
 

Newsletter No 13: Spring 2002

Raising Awareness of Europe Through a Multilateral Education Project

by Rob Jones, Royal Blind School

Introduction

When this project was being conceived at a preparatory meeting in February 1998, each of the 3 nations involved were in the process of undergoing major changes to their political landscape. The Czech Republic had undergone the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and Scotland had decided to devolve power away from Westminster. East and West Germany were, on the other hand, continuing to reconstruct a unified country. The theme of the cultural heritage that underpinned these changes became the focus of our project and which would be explored primarily through the Expressive Arts curriculum, though all areas of the school would be encouraged to become involved.

Partner Schools

The Royal Blind School’s partners in the project were the Landesschule Für Blinde und Sehbehinderte located in Neukloster, a small town in the region of Mecklenburg in the north of Germany, and the High School for Visually Impaired Students, Prague.

Project Activities

Year One (1998-1999)

The first year of the project saw activities designed to engage the enthusiasm of pupils and staff. The aim was to spread ownership of the project across as much of the school as possible in order to generate the momentum necessary to carry it across its 3-year life. To encourage communication between the 3 schools, it was decided to write a Tri Nation Recipe Book and to establish a penpal network. Once these activities were running, staff were encouraged to suggest topics of work which they could deliver both at home and in one of the partner schools.

The Art and Drama teachers at the Royal Blind School chose to investigate the use of puppets in Czech storytelling. The Art teacher, Mrs Margaret Simpson, constructed puppets with her pupils whilst the Drama teacher, Miss Áine Murphy used the puppets to explore the tales themselves.

The work undertaken by Margaret and Áine at the Royal Blind School meant that they were given an opportunity to visit and teach in Prague. Work in Art was inspired by the Hebridean folktale ‘The Blue Men of the Minch’ whilst Drama took ‘MacBeth’.

Inclusion of Pupils with Multiple Disabilities and Visual Impairment (MDVI)

Both The Royal Blind School and the Germany school have pupils with profound and complex disabilities. It was realised at an early stage that the staff working in this specialised field had a wonderful opportunity to meet and exchange ideas of good practice through this project. Gerda Lenk and Andreas Kakenmeister write of their visit to the Royal Blind School, "Becoming acquainted with The Royal Blind School and Canaan MDVI unit has been an important and enriching experience for the organisation and planning of our MDVI unit and our daily work."

Year Two (1999-2000)

At the beginning of the second year it was agreed that legends would provide the focus for the remainder of the project and that a suitable climax was required. It was decided that the culmination of the project would be a show featuring a legend from each country performed simultaneously at Christmas 2001. It was also decided that the successful series of teacher visits would continue and that the establishment of a Web-based chatroom would expand the pupil penpal scheme.

As a direct result of the project, though not funded by it, a pupil exchange was organised between Prague and The Royal Blind School. In June 2000, a group of pupils and teachers spent one week in Prague, attending classes with the host pupils as well as visiting the city. The pupils also performed a small unit of Scottish folktales and music.

Year Three (2000-2001)

At the beginning of the third year of the project The Royal Blind School hosted a visit by pupils and staff from Prague. Libuse Smejkalova writes, "Saturday was a day of full excitement. Our pupils visited some very interesting exhibitions: Dynamic Earth and Deep Sea World where we could touch models and feel living animals too. Our students also attended some lessons. They cooked shortbread which all of them took home to show their families. They took part in Expressive Arts lessons where they performed their programme of Czech legends and songs.

Personal contacts among young people of different nations improve understanding of different cultures and various ways of life. This is especially important for the blind, who have difficulties in obtaining information. This is why we hope that co-operation between our schools will go on".

Conclusions

The opportunity for staff to visit and work in partner schools has been essential to the success of the project. Staff working in a special school environment need opportunities to visit other similar schools to discuss and share good practice. Teaching in a partner school challenges teachers to reassess their teaching style and resources to suit a different learning environment. Experiences gained teaching and observing in a different school can then be used to improve the quality of lessons delivered back home.

The visits by pupils have also greatly enhanced the project. The opportunity to visit another European school and city provides valuable real-life learning experiences for pupils as does meeting other people with a visual impairment.

The project has also inspired other work, incidental to that taking place to achieve the goals of the project. Pupils have been keen to explore issues such as the effect Europe has on our everyday lives and the arguments for and against the Euro.

It is also important not to overlook the friendship that has developed between all the partner schools involved in this project.

Rob Jones
Royal Blind School, Edinburgh