The Comenius programme sees schools across Europe making
connections and building friendships as students learn about different cultures and develop skills together. With Comenius Week approaching, Alison Thomas finds out more
eTwinning, assistantships and professional development are all part of the rich mix. Many thousands of schools and several million pupils have already taken part and new ones come on board every day. Abundant reports and case studies bear testimony to
the power of its impact on the quality of teaching and learning, as Simon Williams, head of EU programmes at the British Council, which manages the Comenius programme in the UK, explained. “The evidence shows that Comenius can add a
whole new dimension to the curriculum by motivating pupils and engaging them in learning. It gives them the confidence, ability and openness to reach out to other people and to understand difference. That is a key message that comes across again and again.” It also equips young people with qualities that are
becoming increasingly prized in the workplace. Mr Williams continued: “People tend to think of the cultural benefits, and these are, of course,
OMENIUS IS part of the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Programme. It brings together schools and colleges from across Europe to enable students and teachers to build friendships and learn from each other. School partnerships,
tremendously important. But that is only one part of the picture. Team-working, planning, negotiating, problem- solving, communicating, creativity, learning to learn – a Comenius project helps students develop important lifeskills for their personal development and success in their future careers.” If Comenius has the capacity to motivate students,
its effect on teachers is equally profound. Whether they embark on a study trip, a job-shadowing experience or a school partnership visit, they invariably return refreshed, reinvigorated and brimming with ideas they have gleaned from their colleagues abroad. These might relate to the delivery of a specific subject, or they might involve wider issues, such as behaviour management or integrating newly arrived migrants into a busy classroom. Many of the problems that face UK schools today are shared by our neighbours across the Channel. One unique aspect of Comenius is that in-service
training is not the preserve of teaching staff. Classroom assistants, administration staff, caretakers and kitchen staff are all welcome to participate. Inclusivity is a natural part of the Comenius ethos. This is why schools are encouraged to prepare projects that will involve as many people as possible,
both within and beyond the school walls. The British Council also recommends that Comenius activities are integrated into a cohesive international strategy firmly grounded in the school development plan. One of the strengths of the scheme is its ability to complement other international links, or indeed to inspire them. Many schools find that a successful relationship with European partners gives them the confidence to engage with countries much further afield. Perhaps the best way to understand what Comenius
is all about is to read the experiences of students and teachers who have already taken part. The excitement and enthusiasm, surprises and discoveries. The feelings of initial trepidation followed by a great sense of achievement when challenges are overcome. Take Paul, for example, who was persuaded to
make a presentation to his local community following a four-nation project for young people with physical disabilities and learning difficulties. “I was so nervous about talking to a large audience because I have never been in that kind of situation before, so it was one of the proudest things I have ever done,” he reported.
SecEd • Alison Thomas is a freelance education journalist. Comenius Partnerships and funding
If you are a newcomer to Comenius, the eTwinning programme makes a good introduction. The eTwinning website and the British Council’s team provides all the tools and support you need to find partners, set up curricular projects, share ideas and exchange best practice online. From here you can progress to a funded school partnership, which falls into two categories. The first is multilateral partnerships. A
minimum of three schools from three different countries work together on a cross-curricular project with a tangible outcome, such as a CD, website or dramatic production. Graded funding ranges from €10,000 to €25,000, depending on the size of the project and the number of visits, which may or may not include pupils. The second is bilateral partnerships. Two
schools from two countries collaborate on a project, which has a strong focus on language learning and includes a reciprocal exchange for students at secondary level. Funding ranges from €20,000 to €25,000. In both cases an initial grant is available to
cover travel costs for a face-to-face meeting to establish relationships and begin planning the project proposal. If you are looking for new partners, contact seminars take place in locations throughout Europe. These too are eligible for a modest grant. In-service training receives funding of up €3,000. The Comenius website provides a host of information, including details on funding structures and how to apply. You can also download the Comenius handbook, which provides an overview of the scheme and case studies.
Comenius Week takes place from May 2 to 9. The British Council is running a prize draw in the lead up to the week. In the coming weeks, SecEd will be carrying case studies of the work of Comenius schools in the UK.
For more information on Comenius, visit www.britishcouncil.org/comenius
, email email@example.com
, or telephone 0161 957 7755. For more on eTwinning, visit www.britishcouncil.org/etwinning
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SecEd • March 17 2011
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