Jordan: cultural heritage provides the ideal introduction

A new partnership between Jordan and Darlington was given the perfect start by helping young people to understand the meaning of identity.

Gurney Pease Academy is a small primary school in Darlington, County Durham. With only 183 pupils, including nursery, and 16 members of teaching staff, the school caters for a small community in the North East of England. Over the past few years they have readily embraced international learning, attaining the International School Award and establishing relationships with schools in Poland, Uganda, France, Georgia and Turkey. All of this work has been part of a wider effort to broaden their horizons and expand the boundaries of the school. Even so, the contrast between Gurney Pease Academy and their Connecting Classrooms partner school could not be more pronounced.

The Islamic Educational Scientific College School (IESC) is a girls school located in Jabal Amman, one of the seven hills that originally made up Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The IESC describes itself as balancing the new with the old, modernity with heritage, as they seek to develop responsible, internationally minded students who are proud of their past and mindful of their futures.

Understanding other cultures

Though school partnerships were nothing new to Gurney Pease, the challenge in their new relationship with IESC was establishing an understanding between the two sets of pupils. This required answering central questions around what life is like for young people in Jabal Amman and Darlington respectively, and how economic and social factors impacted the two towns over the years.

With art acting as a common passion between the two sets of pupils, they decided to create murals that would help each visualise the other’s culture. The murals were a way of introducing the idea that the two places were so markedly different, and demonstrating how identity is developed.

Following on from this, each school created an exhibition designed to explain something integral about their identity and what makes where they live special.

In Amman pupils included examples of Jordanian folk costumes and tools used in ancient times. Jordan has such a rich heritage, spanning so many eras, that highlighting the country’s development from the beginning of civilisation to now was seen as integral to Gurney Pease’s students understanding of Jordan and its people.

Meanwhile in Darlington pupils used their railway heritage as a way of explaining how their identity came to be what it is. Darlington is notable for being the location of the first ever passenger railway terminus. The town is intrinsically linked to the birth of the railways and the industrial revolution.

The contrast between the influence of the ancient and the impact of modernisation was stark when Gurney Pease and IESC pupils began to explore the exhibitions over Skype.

‘The young people from both schools learned a great deal in the way of global citizenship,’ said partnership coordinator Maureen Hobbs. ‘Through discussion and observation they were able to share their cultural experiences and our visits allowed them to explore and appreciate the similarities and differences between our two cultures.’

Building the partnership

With their initial link up a success, Gurney Pease and IESC are now looking to focus on other Connecting Classrooms themes, specifically sustainability and the environment. Over the coming months they will undertake projects on the importance of water, exploring the effects of droughts in Jordan and flooding in the North East of England.

Both schools note that none of the work they have done together would have been possible without the reciprocal visits, funded by Connecting Classrooms. Having a visiting Jordanian teacher excited the Darlington students in a way that can only happen with a face-to-face connection. And the professional development encouraged by the programme gave teachers the skills base and confidence to undertake the projects that elicited such a strong early relationship.

‘It was a very enriching experience for everyone involved,’ said Maureen. ‘We said goodbye to our visitors from Jordan this week but not before they had given our Year 5 children a crash course in Arabic. The pupils were writing and speaking the new language within an hour!’