Another day, another depressing headline. Yet another international league that Britain is at the bottom of:
"UK children aged 11 to 16 have the lowest international awareness among their age group in 10 countries, a British Council survey says."
The British Council receives £195,352,000 per year in government funding supposedly needed to "build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries and to increase appreciation of the UK’s creative ideas and achievements."
In order to do this they've come up with a study that shows us falling behind in our awareness of the world around us:
"British Council chief executive Martin Davidson said: "Our school children cannot afford to fall behind the rest of the world.
"For the UK to compete in a global economy, it is vital that we encourage our young people to have an interest in and engagement with the world around them."
Doees the evidence he has produced at all back that statement up?
Take a quick look at the ranking they've produced:
- Nigeria 5.15
- India 4.86
- Brazil 4.53
- Saudi Arabia 3.74
- Spain 3.29
- Germany 3.24
- China 2.97
- Czech Republic 2.51
- USA 2.22
- UK 2.19
To compete we apparently need to become more like Nigeria or India and less like the USA, Germany or China. Let's compare the British Council's index to a few key development indicators (click to expand any of these graphs, data is from the Economist World in Figures 2005):
So, more globally aware countries are poorer.
They're also less, economically, free. The economic freedom index gives more free economies a lower score.
Finally, they perform worse on the broad measure of the Human Development Index.
How can this be? Well, one of the questions asked gives a flavour of what the study was really getting at:
"Asked whether they saw themselves as citizens of the world or their own country, most saw themselves as global citizens - except in the UK, USA and the Czech Republic."
A genuine measure of international awareness would include measures like number of foreign holidays or ask questions about foreign customs, faiths and politics. On that measure the UK might do a lot better. However, this study isn't looking for that. The closest it comes is a question about whether people think they keep themselves aware of current events. Instead, it is looking for countries whose people do not consider themselves a distinct nation - it is looking for transnationalism.
Successful nations are built on a strong sense of national identity among their people. Thankfully - and despite the efforts of people like the British Council - we still have that in the UK. That national identity encourages co-operation, compromise and trust . Those describing themselves as international citizens probably don't feel any more attached to the people of the world than we do. They just don't feel a special attachment to each other. In Nigeria inter-ethnic wars show the horrible extremes such a process can reach when an absent national identity is replaced by other group loyalities such as tribe and religion.
Let's hope that unnaccountable quangocrats like those at the British Council don't succeed in convincing Britons that patriotism is some kind of sin.