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Forum Debate

A summary

Alexia Stainer

31 May 2007

This is the summary of the discussion that took place on the private forum that is part of the Global Classroom Initiative project. The exchanges were around the two themes of the project this year: Food and Education.

Several questions were asked as part of the food forum, covering regional and traditional foods in the different countries, how breastfeeding is considered, what school food is like and what its costs are, how being fair trade affects the choice to buy a product, and the pros and cons of organic food and farming.

The starting post in the forum was from the Philippines, talking about traditional foods, and including a picture of the Pilipino street food ‘balut’. Other contributions to this discussion were a mouthwatering description of cheesecake and other foods from the United States as well as specialties from the ‘Drôme’ region in France.

In response to the question of what effect a product being fair trade would have on their choice to buy, a student answered that they principally bought food on the criteria of whether they liked it or not.

A thread on breastfeeding, asking whether mothers actually breastfed their babies until they are two years of age as it is sometimes advised, drew a response that highlighted the approach of the Philippines media and advertising pressure which frames bottle feeding as more ‘modern’ and has resulted in many mothers bottle-feeding their babies.

The most active discussion around the themes of organic food and agriculture; in particular whether they are better than conventionally farmed produce. One position that emerged within this thread identified organic food as a positive thing with the following advantages: it is healthier to eat as there are no chemical residues in the food; it is free of artificial additives (an example given is that certain artificial sweeteners can cause cancers); and its cultivation is more respecting of the environment.
Adding chemicals to make things grow larger, look better, and produce more are not healthy to be consumed.’
There were also views expressed to the end that organic is not the answer to everything. This view identified as a priority that we need to have the right intake of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, and that science can be used to this end:
If we have the ability to easily get the nutrients we need with little or no side effects, I see great benefit in using science to enhance our diet.

The discussion around education was equally wide ranging, covering the financing of school in the United States, different aspects of school life, and what subjects are taught at school. A cross over subject with food was covered: how the diet can affect schoolwork.

To the question of ‘to what effect does nutrition affect the student’s ability to learn?’ the responses were that lack of food adversely affected the ability to concentrate, as did eating too much junk food, though another contributor also pointed out that eating too much can also affect the ability to concentrate by making you want to sleep, as can eating too much turkey, apparently!

One of the discussion threads covered what subjects are taught in schools participating from the different countries, and what they learn about each other. As for the less subject based part of school life, a question to the United States about what school is like (teachers, grading, social life and school) got the response that relations between students and teachers were usually good, though some teachers were less likely to bond socially with students, and some are harder markers than others. Regarding the cross-over between school and private life, responses were that relationships in school are tolerated as long as there are no public displays of affection; and students are encouraged to visit a school counselor or talk to teachers if they have problems out side of school, for example in family life.

Another part of the education forum addressed the subject of how school is financed. The answering explanation was that in the United States public school is free, as long as the student goes to the public school that is in their district. Otherwise tuition fees may need to be paid. The school loans textbooks when they are needed, and items such as pens and exercise books are provided by the students. There are also private schools, often funded by churches or other religious institutions, in these schools the students usually have to pay tuition fees.