I recall a conversation that I once had with a teacher, who talked about the challenge of teaching the concept of time to her five-year olds. To them, granny is old and the Romans are old, and that’s it, she said.

To a certain extent we have a similar challenge - to teach about the concept of development and to bring this alive for a diverse range of students from the suburbs of Coventry. Students’ concepts of poverty take some challenging when, to them, it is not having the latest DVD/Rockports/season ticket to Highfield Road.

So, how do we create a sense of curiosity about places that are largely distant, alien and, in some cases, unheard of? How do you enable students to explore issues in their own locality in a global context? Enter the shock tactics! Have you come across the web-site www.globalrichlist.com? You enter an annual income and hit 'show me the money' and it shows your position on a continuum line from poorest to richest person in the world. It also tells you your position out of 6 billion people and how many are therefore poorer than you. It fascinates students to see how low a figure they have to put in to even get into the lower 50% of the population. There are also useful facts and figures in the corner, for example, '1.2 billion people get by on less than $1 per day'. The site should come with a health warning: it can seriously damage your lesson plan!!

A short, simple way to get across the 80/20 idea is this one tried in our department [but only if you can control a near riot!]. Buy a large chocolate bar; give 80% of the chocolate to 20% [about six students] in the class to share, and the remaining 20% to the other 24 or so students. It certainly makes a powerful point and promotes a great deal of discussion!

Many textbooks and GCSE examination papers now include world maps with the Brandt Line drawn on, but this does tend to promote the idea that a country is either ‘rich’ or ‘poor’. We prefer to use the analogy of the football league. Figures in the back of many atlases will enable students to pick out a ‘premier league’ of countries based on GDP or GNP, and to appreciate that there are several divisions before you reach the ‘conference’ level. The NICs or ‘tiger economies’ are simply the ‘Rushden and Diamonds’ of the league. It can also lead to a discussion about events and circumstances that might lead to a country being relegated.

Another useful exercise is one like that in David Waugh’s Key Geography ‘Places’, where students have to rank a selection of countries on a range of measures of development to decide which is the most developed or least developed. Not only does it ensure that they think about and discuss the pros and cons of different measures, but it brings in some numeracy as well. We have adapted this exercise for use at GCSE level using an ICT database of countries, and to get over the fact that measures can be social, economic or environmental. An excel spreadsheet makes ranking very quick when a large database is being used.

The Foundation Strand of the Key Stage 3 Strategy, with its emphasis on challenge and engagement strategies to improve learning, could have been written just for teaching and learning about development. A pack like Tide~’s ‘What is Development’, and other readily available resources, can be used to cover so many areas of the strand:

  • a cartoon, a photograph or one of the topological maps can make a stimulating starter exercise;
  • the development compass rose exercise based on one or more photographs lends itself to questioning and plenary work;
  • games such as the Trading Game or the Chocolate Game are excellent for engaging students, and good plenary work is essential;
  • there are plenty of thinking skills exercises linked to development;
  • a research project on the development level of an individual country makes good extended enquiry work.

Available from Tide~. See catalogue

To offer more challenges, in terms of Blooms taxonomy, photographs can be used for prediction, cartoons demand high-level interpretation skills, and design tasks could be given, from designing a simple well/machine, to designing a game like snakes and ladders. One of our year 8 students recently created a brilliant game based on Monopoly, but set in Brazil. Properties range from a shack in a favela to buying Copacabana beach. The possibilities are enormous. There is an exercise on 'Relationships between indicators of development' on the gifted and talented web-site

What of the difficulties involved in teaching about development? Firstly there is the problem of obtaining up-to-date statistics, especially if you do not have the time or technology to access various web-sites. The figures in most textbooks are out of date as soon as they are published, and if, like us, you can only afford to ‘top up’ sets of atlases you have the problem of the figures varying from edition to edition. Then you have to enable the learning process to challenge the preconceptions or stereotypical views that students may have already formed. Also, an understanding of development issues often requires a knowledge of historical British and European links, about which students know very little.

Another problem is that, with so many topics to fit into the curriculum, there is a danger that some very important issues connected with development will only be dealt with superficially. The concept of aid is enormous but a looming GCSE examination will only permit some very brief discussions!

At our school we have identified the need to support students in developing an empathy with and understanding of their role in a global community. How we enable this through our teaching and learning about development is a challenge, but one that we can't afford to neglect.