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Mandela tells the children of Britain: Help us to change the world

01.01.70

AFRICA'S ELDER STATESMAN BACKS BROWN IN BID TO EDUCATE THE EARTH
By James Lyons In Maputo, Mozambique
NELSON Mandela came out of retirement yesterday to call on every British schoolkid to back Gordon Brown's crusade for education for all.

In what may be his final public appearance, the frail former South African president - now 87 - gave his blessing to the Chancellor's mission.

Brown joined him in Mozambique to kick off the campaign to give every child around the world schooling by 2015.

He has pledged 8.5billion - the UK's biggest ever aid project - and is calling on other nations to stump up 49billion more.

Speaking in the capital Maputo, Brown also announced an army of British teachers will be sent to Africa to help make his vision a reality.

Pupils as young as 15 will be recruited to help some of the world's poorest children learn to read and write.

Mandela stressed Britain's children could force world leaders to deliver on the 2015 pledge.

The prisoner-turned-statesman said: "You can make a difference by your actions.

"You might think you are powerless but if all the children of Britain act together you can be more powerful than any government.

"You can tell your parents and your teachers and your school to join the campaign to ensure promises are kept."

He added: "Promises made to children should never be broken."

Mandela warned he is "truly in retirement" and people should not expect him to back other campaigns because of this "special exception".

He said: "Helping to win the right of every child in the world to go to school is so important I had to make this exception."

Brown said in response that he was grateful for the support from his "very good personal friend".

The pair worked together to pave the way for the mammoth debt cancellation and aid deal agreed at last year's G8 summit at Gleneagles.

The Chancellor said: "He is truly an inspirational figure.

"I think someone of his stature showing that this is the next major concern that must be tackled by the whole world community, coming out of retirement to say that, sends a message that will reverberate around the world."

In Britain, Brown wants to create culture links, with 1500 schools across the country forging close relationships with those in Africa.

Aides hope the exchange scheme could even cut truancy by showing children the value placed on education abroad.

Around 4000 teachers will be sent on placements over the next three years.

A further 1500 youngsters will be given the chance to sample life in the continent in the 7.5million project. They will live with families in the same way that pupils currently do on exchange trips to Germany and France.

An aide said: "In Britain, kids think it is great if they bunk off school for a day. Here they are clamouring for education.

"It is not just them learning from us. It is us learning from them."

Earlier, Brown visited one school in Maputo set to take part in the scheme.

The Chancellor received a rapturous reception from pupils at the People's Liberation Forces primary school.

Youngsters presented him with armfuls of exotic flowers as classmates danced, sang and played the drums.

Brown was clearly moved as he toured the run-down school, where the children have no desks or chairs and are taught sitting on dusty floors.

Numerous holes in the roof mean those lucky enough to have books must leave them at home when it looks like rain to stop them getting wet.

Dorce Henriques took time out from teaching youngsters the alphabet to tell Brown the average class size was around 70.

Even then the shortage of qualified staff is so bad that children are taught in shifts, each learning for just three hours a day.

Power failures and broken light fittings regularly halt evening sessions. But the school's 4000 pupils are the lucky ones.

A million youngsters in Mozambique are among more than 100million worldwide who receive no education.

Their enthusiasm to learn, despite all the difficulties, delighted the Chancellor.

Eugenio Armando, 12, said he and classmates dreamed of having computers and a gym.

He said: "I know you will not be bringing a magic solution to our problems but we hope you will be able to mobilise the world to help us."

Brown said that despite the problems it was a "wonderful school".

He added: "There are dedicated teachers, there are determined and energetic pupils interested in learning."

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, travelling with Brown, also paid tribute to their spirit.

He said: "There is an incredible thirst for learning."

The Chancellor, whose wife Sarah grew up in Tanzania and is expecting another child in July, said becoming a father had influenced his thinking.

Brown said: "Every parent in the world would say looking at the situation, there is more we can do."

The Chancellor rounded off the trip by launching two green projects. Britain is investing in a joint project to turn sugar - a key crop in Mozambique - into fuel.

He also announced the creation of an environmental monitoring centre in southern Africa.

The Chancellor said Britain was doing its part to help the world's poor children and he expected other countries to follow our lead.

By funding 10-year plans, the UK Government will make it possible for countries to properly invest in teacher training and classrooms.

Brown compared it to the UK ending child labour in the 19th century.

He said: "This is a perfectly achievable goal, it is not something we can put down to dreamers or idealists.

"There is no scientific reason we can't do it, there is no technical reason it can't be done. There are limited excuses."

'Someone of Nelson Mandela's stature showing that this is the next major concern sends out a message that will reverberate around the world'

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