I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about my siblings on my blog in the past, and today I’m going to hand you over to my very talented eldest sister. Jenny is mum to my 11 year old nephew, and with her husband, they have been living in Cyprus for 9 years, but will be relocating to the UK in June.
The reason I have asked Jenny to feature on my blog is because she’s launching a really exciting project which I think will appeal to all you parents of older primary school children, and primary school teachers. Jenny, over to you….
Some time ago I was watching a series of news stories on television, all of which seemed to involve problems with people of different religions and cultures in conflict with each other. It all seemed so depressing and it got me thinking about why these conflicts occur.
My 11 year old son currently attends an international school in Cyprus, full of a whole range of different nationalities and cultures, these conflicts on the news can seem far away, but it got me thinking. At my son’s school there is no racism, there are not cultural misunderstandings. These children embrace their differences and learn from them. I particularly remember one December, J being invited to a friend’s house to learn about Hanukkah. He came back excitedly telling me about everything he had learned and played with the dreidel his friend’s mum gave him for years.
I started thinking about the way our children learn about other cultures – do they do it in a positive way or do they have adult prejudices pushed on them? If children grow up accepting and understanding other children’s lifestyles and cultures, then perhaps some of the conflicts that we see daily on our TVs can be avoided.
This got me to thinking about how it could be achieved? It’s easy in an international school environment where children are surrounded by diversity every day, but not so easy in a predominantly white middle class school in the Home Counties for example.
Diversity is part of the National Curriculum but teaching something in theory is very different from putting it into practice, which gave me an idea….leading to the creation of The Space2…
Learning about diversity
I spoke to a number of parent friends in Cyprus, and they all agreed that our children have benefitted from their exposure to other nationalities and religions, and that to be able to give other children that opportunity would be fantastic. This is where The Space2… comes in, so that children everywhere can have the same opportunities to become friends and learn from their contemporaries in other religions and cultures.
I wanted to create this as a website along social media lines but, being a mother myself, was concerned about the safety aspect of this. Children are very vulnerable online and the last thing I wanted was to expose them to any negative influences. So how to do it? I decided that the safest way to do it would be through schools. By making it the school who sign up for the website, the child is not the one creating an account and control can be more easily and safely maintained, also taking away the chances of people signing up who are not who they say they are.
What functions will The Space2… have?
We now have a website www.thespace2.com – and there were a number of functions I wanted it to have:
- Connect individual children from different schools, both in the UK and overseas, so that they can message each other online and share stories and information about their lives. (Language will always be a barrier, but Google Translate can help overcome this to a certain extent.)
- Connect classes from different schools together so that they can learn about schooling in other areas or countries, share information via scrapbooks and work on projects together.
- Allow classes to write blogs about their lives and their work at school – with each child having an opportunity to write their own blog post.
- Give teachers the opportunity to connect with other teachers, arrange school trips and even exchange trips and work together.
- Allow students to set up fundraising schemes to help other children less fortunate than themselves, work with their friends in other schools and raise money (or provide more practical assistance) together.
Giving something back
These areas were just the start of what I could imagine the site could do, there was so much more – but I needed to start small! One thing I was very sure about – whilst this would have to be a commercial venture, due to the costs involved, and schools would eventually pay a subscription to use the site, a percentage of all profits would be set aside for funding aid for children in deprived areas of the world. If I was going to set up something to help children learn about each other, I wanted to help children in other ways too.
Having spoken to a number of business advisors, it seemed that what I needed to do first was create a beta version of the website to get a few schools using it and start building up some momentum. And that brings us to the present day.
What is on the beta version?
The cut down beta version of The Space2… is now live (although quite basic looking), and whilst it is not the full site there is a good amount of functionality that will make it an interesting and useful site for students to use. They can connect to students in other schools (and also to their class mates if they wish), message them online and learn about their lives.
The class profile includes a scrapbook that can be filled with anything interesting that the class would like to share and the blog facility is live, allowing each class to share their activities and stories with other classes and schools.
What about safety?
Safety is our number one priority as it will be on the main site. The site is only available to schools themselves, not individual children. The headteacher signs the school up (this beta version is free of charge), then accounts are created for individual teachers and students. There are facilities to report misuse throughout the site and teachers have full access to everything students do. Accounts are logged out after a few minutes of inactivity so that others cannot come along and use someone else’s account. Visitors to the site cannot access any areas without registering, and they cannot register unless they are the headteacher of a school.
What is the next step?
What I need now are schools who would like to take part in this initial, free, beta version of the site. I just need one class from each school, probably around Year 5. The site is very basic at the moment while we get things working, and test various aspects, so I need some activity and feedback on the site to make sure that the full site works as well as it possibly can, and also to include any additional functionality that may be requested. This is a very exciting project to be at the start of, and it will be great to share this beginning with a few schools, who can see the opportunities to help children grow up with a better level of acceptance, and understanding, of people from all religions and cultures.
What can you do now?
Whether you are a parent or a teacher, if you would like your school to be involved please email Jenny at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will get in touch about next steps.