This activity presents pupils with a series of statements about a child’s life in an unnamed country. Pupils then draw where they think the child lives, and what they think the future holds for him. Then they discuss their pictures in groups and mark on a blank map the country, region or continent where they think he lives.
I trialled the activity at a Vocational Secondary school in the Czech Republic, which prepares students for a future in for example the armed forces or administration. Global topics are present in curricula in Literature, Citizenship, Law and Social politics.
I did this activity in a high-ability Year 9 (age 14–16) language class. 16 students (8 boys, 8 girls) were present. I thought students would locate the place in a developing country. I wanted to know how they imagined it, and if they could become aware of the ways in which stereotypes and uncritical thinking influence us.
Students were initially embarrassed about the idea of drawing the place. Their pictures usually showed a small house, children, farm animals and long roads to school. One student simply wrote the word Chánov (a socially excluded locality in the Czech Republic), saying this was what he instantly thought of.
One student located the place in Slovakia, suggesting that in Slovakia things were distant from each other and that, for example there were no shops. One decided it was a village anywhere in the world. People work there and kids help their parents, another said, so it could be anywhere: she had three siblings and helped out at home. Another suggested it was the Šluknov area (socially excluded area known because of anti-Roma protests) where children often help their parents collect metal after school.
When asked whether an hour is a long time for getting to school, students eventually decided that in the Czech Republic it was about average. Discussion revealed they thought the journey was longer in Russia, Japan, Norway and Sweden where there was a lot of forest and isolated houses. After a while, someone suggested such places existed everywhere. In respect of farm animals, only one student said her family kept chickens; others, even from countryside houses, had none.
Students were then divided into four groups. Those who located the place in a developing country (4 students) listed attributes of developing countries. The other 12 worked in groups of four, listing typical characteristics of developed countries.
Attributes listed for developing countries were:
- children help out at home
- electricity is scarce
- light provided by fire or the sun
- fewer career opportunities
- poor social security
- healthcare difficult to access
- low standard of living
- high birth and death rate
- animals contribute to work and are also a source of nutrition.
For developed countries, students listed the following:
- children often badly behaved
- children play computer games
- fewer responsibilities
- a low birth rate because people are career-orientated
- there is no famine or poverty
- people have enough drinking water, work, internet access, electricity, education and healthcare
- in these countries there is democracy. a free market and functioning public transport.
Summary of first audit
Students’ drawings showed a place where people lived simply (open fires for heat and cooking), in a small space, and were often hungry. In discussion however students realised the descriptions could refer to places with less extreme living conditions.
My goal was to acquaint students with global topics, including the issue of virtual water. One student had never before considered such matters and felt it terrible that water is used for stupid things.
Throughout our lessons, students came to realise that the description used in the activity could concern anyone (anyone can have more than one sibling, have to help at home after school or experience a power cut) and that poverty was not exclusive to developing countries or rural areas.
Final audit of the activity
As before, the 13 students were uncomfortable drawing. Some of their pictures looked idyllic but most showed a little house, where candles were burning, a sign saying SCHOOL 20 km, and a long road to the town, where there was a hospital, factories, and prefabricated houses.
The students decided the place was in a forest and that there was no work there, no medicine and ill-equipped doctors. This time, perhaps because of the teaching interlude, all students agreed the place was in a developing country. They insisted it was located somewhere in Africa, in Slovakia or the Czech Republic, with some students contradicting themselves.
Asked to describe a developing country, students said there was no electricity, many siblings poor education, little job choice, bad healthcare, rural poverty and long journeys to school. One said that the power failed at their house sometimes, that she had three siblings, and only two daily buses a day to the city at weekends. This surprised those who took the city’s public transport for granted. Another student from a village said that there they cultivate the fields with horses. All agreed that electricity sometimes goes off in cities.
The discussion turned to education. The students believed that in villages and in developing countries more people are uneducated and do not feel the need to be better educated. Asked if education is necessary, two said that it was not, others believing that one cannot get far without education. When it came to having children, students felt 2-3 children was ideal.
Asked again Where does such a place exist? students proposed Slovakia. They believed there was high unemployment there, no shops and gypsies who steal and have lots of kids in order to claim social benefits. One student pointed out that Košice (an eastern Slovakian city) was European City of Culture 2012, so Slovakia could not be a developing country. Asked if they felt the place could only exist in Slovakia, students cited places fitting the description in the Czech Republic.
Asked to describe a developed country, students responded that life is safer, drinking water and food is plentiful and healthcare is good. In a developing country there was not enough food, drinking water, worse medical facilities, censorship of the internet and television and worse security. Conversely, people appreciated more what they had and families stayed together.
During the initial audit students mentioned the term democracy and during the final audit they talked about safety. They valued free access to information and believed it was important to think critically. It was also important to live in safety, and have enough to eat and drink. It became clear that students understood that things were not as clear-cut as may at first seem. Even though they did not think the Czech Republic was a developing country, they appreciated significant differences between urban and rural life, and between social groups.
It was initially easier for students to believe that the place was in a developing country, but they began to re-evaluate this position during the discussion, realising they knew people living this way in their own country. They did not so much reveal their prejudices about developing or developed countries, but more their prejudices against Czech minorities. Unfortunately the students’ attitudes are quite entrenched.