British children see continental concerns as happening to other people, study finds

Non-UK pupils more connected to Europe, with greater awareness of current events and economic climate

Creative Connections, a new study from UCL Institute of Education (IOE), has shown that children across Europe are voicing concerns about the economic downturn and their precarious living conditions. The only exception to this was those living in the UK.

The project used art and technology lessons to explore children’s expressions of their day-to-day lives as citizens within Europe, with students from the UK, Finland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Ireland taking part.

With the exception of children in the UK, all of the children taking part in the project showed a strong commitment to being European. These children also exhibited very little country-specific allegiance, while still being aware of major concerns within their home nations.

For instance, children in Finland and Czech Republic focused their art and discussions on the vulnerability to Russian invasion (Ukraine had been invaded during the project). Finnish children also saw their country as looking towards Europe for new models of welfare and education, while a Portuguese pupil saw the project as a vehicle for showing “what we think about our country and how Europe controls our money.”

Children across Europe examined their own cultures. Finnish children, for example, drew inspiration from the cultural and financial divide between the Finns and Sami peoples, and Spanish children looked at their unfinished school buildings as evidence of the economic crisis affecting their country.

In marked contrast, children in the UK ignored the current European economic crisis and the fiscal and living conditions in the UK, drawing their inspiration from US cultural artefacts, or consumer goods, labels and logos. The only references to Europe UK children made in their artworks and comments were centred on sporting celebrities and events.

Dr Mary Richardson, who led the study, said: “It was clear that English children saw the economic downturn and events in Europe as ‘happening to someone else’. It is possible that living on an island, with no recent history of invasion, has had an effect in reducing children’s anxiety about being affected by events happening outside this country. However, this does not fully explain their lack of interest in the politics or society happening around them.

“The study shows that children across Europe have a strong European identity and a belief in their ability as citizens to contribute to their society. Their anxiety about the future may have something to do with their willingness to engage with the wider problems that are currently affecting Europe. In contrast, children in the UK do not appear to exhibit strong citizenship values and this inhibits their ability to a make a critical analysis or comparison of the society around them. These findings are not suggestive of weak curriculum for citizenship in the UK rather they appear to indicate the strength of global advertising and media influences (especially the strong anti-European narratives in the British press) in their lives.”