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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Educating for a better world

By Denise Wrathall

Held annually, International Development Week (February 3–9, 2008) raises awareness of Canada’s role in the international development community. This year the BC Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) would like to highlight the vital connections between education and international development—part of the push for a better world. BCCIC is a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGO) operating locally and globally, to achieve sustainable human development. The council is committed to international co-operation in two ways: by supporting the work of our membership and by promoting and mobilizing British Columbians as active global citizens. As with our sister councils across Canada, our work is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

For many Canadians, their first thoughts of education and international development are of projects overseas. Globally, only 5% of the average national budget is spent on education, compared to 13% for health and 11% for military; 115 million children of primary-school age worldwide do not attend school. This makes collaboration between schools and not-for-profits essential.

HOPE International Development Agency, one of BCCIC’s larger member organizations, provides assistance—from school fees, to meals, to teacher training—to ensure that Indigenous children in rural Philippines can attend school and as adults, have the opportunity to choose an occupation that will provide self-reliance and freedom from extreme poverty. The Maria-Helena Foundation, a small family foundation, supports education for children of poor families in Pakistan through both informal schools in homes and community centres, and by building schools, which are run by local partners. The foundation is an excellent example of a Canadian immigrant giving back. "As a student, I benefited from outside support for my education, and I am happy to be able to give back", says Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Maria-Helena’s founder. ACCES—the African Canadian Continuing Education System—supports primary education for impoverished youth in Kenya, who are unable to enter the public school system because they are heads of households, AIDS orphans, or living in extreme poverty. High-achieving children have the opportunity to continue their education. Over the last few years, ACCES, which was founded in the Lower Mainland, has shifted from an organization run entirely by volunteers, to one with 1.5 staff. These three BCCIC members work closely with the local school system, using government curriculum in private schools, or supporting children to attend government schools.

Canadians enjoy excellent quality and access to education, but a 2006 youth opinion poll indicated that while most Canadian youth feel that they can make a difference in the world, 40 to 50% are not familiar with developing world debt, are unable to name a country where human rights abuses take place, or cannot name an NGO that is active in addressing global issues. To address this gap, NGOs and the schools collaborate on global education, to ensure that Canadians can take on their responsibilities as global citizens.

The Social Justice Group at Okanagan Mission Secondary School (OKM) in Kelowna is one example of such collaboration. This group meets after school and during lunch hour, exploring global and humanitarian issues led by teacher sponsor Katie Wilson.

The group first focussed their efforts toward the children of Northern Uganda, organizing Kelowna’s first GULU Walk (named after a town in Northern Uganda) to raise awareness (and over $3,800) of children in Uganda at risk of becoming child soldiers. The group has raised over $25,000 in the last 14 months for the GULU Walk, Spread the Net, and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Their next effort will be a musical school sleepover, called "Keep the Beat" in support of War Child Canada, including music from the school’s Fine Arts Department and local bands.

The group will also be competing in the district-wide Millennium Development Scholarship Challenge in March, where they will present a development proposal addressing one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, for a chance to win $1,000 to begin their project. Thanks to groups like the one at OKM and their adult allies, enthusiasm for global education in Kelowna has grown into this new district-wide initiative.

VIDEA (Victoria International Development Education Association) has been working with groups like the one at OKM and teachers like Wilson for 30 years, creating teacher-friendly resources and animating them with interactive workshops in the Victoria area.

VIDEA’s newest project, called Education for all? Global Citizenship and Tools for Schools, will provide an interactive learning resource to explore the importance of education in international development. The resource will draw on the experience of their Africa Program and ongoing partnerships in Western Zambia.

This International Development Week, let’s remember all the folks—teachers, students, NGO partners, and funders—both in Canada and abroad, who make this work possible. Basic education is a cornerstone of sustainable development. For sustainable development to be a reality, we need both universal primary education, and Canadians who understand global issues.

Denise Wrathall, BC Council for International Cooperation.

Look for activities across BC during International Development Week, February 3–9, 2008.

Web links for all BCCIC member organizations are atwww.bccic.ca.

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