Cover image: Answering international development questions from primary pupils

Answering international development questions from primary pupils

This article 'Ask a grown-up: why are so many African people poor?', published in The Guardian on 22nd June 2013 has helped Amy West to reflect upon the challenge of answering complex international development questions from primary school pupils. The ‘Ask a grown-up’ series from The Guardian gives young people a platform to have their questions answered by an expert. On this occasion the response to six-year-old Thea’s question ‘Why are so many African people poor?’ was written by Barbara Stocking, former CEO of Oxfam. Barbara is an expert in international development and had time to give a thoughtful written response to Thea. As teachers, we do not always have as much time (or as much expertise) to consider our responses. As teachers we often have to think on our feet. We can be caught at the end of break-time by a curious question in the playground, or pursued by a keen pupil as we pack up our classroom at the end of the day. So how do we make sure that we feel equipped to answer some of these hugely complex questions from our pupils? How would you respond to six-year-old Thea? What would we say if a pupil asked us ‘why are there so many wars in the world?’ or ‘why do people always tell us to buy fair trade bananas?’ These are a few simple thoughts for us to reflect upon:
  • Don’t feel that you have to know all of the answers
  • Acknowledge that the situation is often complicated
  • Encourage the student to think critically about their own question
  • Keep a class question book, and encourage ongoing enquiry in the classroom
  • Be committed to reading about international development issues (using some of the suggested ideas below) to help you to feel more confident when speaking with your pupils.
Resources, training and ideas for teachers:
  • 80:20 Development in an Unequal World – this is a useful resource for teachers to read. It gives you an overview of international development themes and issues, and some interactive activities that could be useful for a staff CPD session.
  • Why Poverty? An international documentary season that’s using film to get people talking about hunger and poverty. Some useful films to show your pupils.
  • Philosophy for Children – this is a useful teaching methodology that encourages questioning and critical thinking with your students
  • Use the support of NGOs who work with schools such as Oxfam, or ActionAid. These organisations are experts in the field and are always willing to help you. Or find your local Development Education Centre via our local support page.
Think Global offers e-learning modules on ‘developing a global learning school’. These give teachers an opportunity to reflect upon teaching about international development and global issues in their classroom. To register your interest email Do you feel confident enough to answer six-year-old Thea’s question? Do you have any examples from your own classroom experience that you can share with us? Please write your thoughts in the comments box below.

Amy West taught music at the Castle School in South Gloucestershire and now works as a Programme Manager at Think Global.