| Singh: Willing
London, Sept. 15: Schoolchildren in India will be able to correspond electronically with fellow pupils in other countries and exchange information about their respective cultures and ways of life if a British offer to join the Global Gateway programme is taken up by the Indian government.
The ambitious and far-reaching plan was revealed to Arjun Singh, the human resource development minister, who met Charles Clarke, Britain's secretary of state for education and skills, in London earlier this week.
Since the meeting was more in the nature of a '20-30 minute courtesy call', India expressed enthusiasm for the project but asked for further information from Britain.
Another 'interesting suggestion' from Clarke, according to an Indian source, was for 'an exchange of teachers' between Britain and India so that the two sides could learn from each other.
A third idea floated by Clarke was for India to send representatives to a major educational conference to be held in London next month.
The Global Gateway 'is a new international website, enabling those involved in education across the world to engage in creative partnerships', said a British education official. 'It is a one-stop shop, providing quick access to comprehensive information on how to develop an international dimension to education.'
The Global Gateway programme, which was launched by Clarke in February, has been developed by the British Council and currently links schools in 25 countries. Clarke would ideally like all schools in Britain to be involved.
Under the scheme, a school in India, for example, will be able to exchange ideas electronically and cooperate on projects with a school in another country. As a world leader in IT, India's involvement in developing the programme would be warmly welcomed by Britain.
Examples of 'good activity in schools' under the programme include 15-year-olds at Tavistock College in Devon working with schools in Italy, Portugal and Finland to develop prototypes for new mobile phones. The joint design and technology project will be followed up by a visit to the Nokia factory in Helsinki this summer.
The Shepherd School in Nottingham brings an international element to its work with pupils aged 3 to 19 who have severe learning difficulties. They have the opportunity to learn two languages and correspond with pen pals in Finland.
According to the department of education, the Global Gateway site, www.globalgateway.org.uk, 'will enable pupils to learn more about different cultures and be a significant boost to raising standards in the classroom. It will see schools forming links with countries throughout the world'.
The statement added: 'Schools will have quick and easy access to a wealth of information on developing an international dimension to all aspects of education. The site also gives teachers the chance to exchange ideas with colleagues throughout the world.'
Clarke said: 'An international element to learning can dramatically improve the quality of education. There is a lot we can learn from other nations.'
Contradicting V.S. Naipaul's disparaging remarks about Britain's multicultural society, Clarke said: 'We live in a multicultural society with a global economy, so we must make sure children's minds are open to the world around them. That's why I am asking every school in the country to use the Global Gateway to set up a link with another country. The rewards for pupils and teachers will be countless, and it will bring an entirely new dimension to our pupils' education.'
Some British schools will no doubt want to 'talk' to counterparts in Muslim countries. If India and Pakistan come in, the potential for children-to-children chat could certainly be used to create better understanding, officials said.
David Green, the director-general of the British Council, said: 'Global Gateway marks a major advance in helping UK educational institutions forge international partnerships with other countries.'
He added: 'At a time when we urgently need greater mutual understanding across the world, it will help build up links between young people, and provide important impetus to the work we are already doing in challenging stereotypes internationally.'