Secretary-General Kofi Annan wasn't there - but there was still plenty of serious debate when 150 delegates recently descended on Kingston University for a United Nations conference with a difference.
Budding diplomats from nine Hounslow schools wasted no time getting to grips with the task of discussing the major issues affecting Africa. The return of the Benin Bronzes, compensation for the slave trade and genetically-modified crops were all on the agenda for the Year 9 and 10 pupils, who teamed up with the University's Politics staff and students for a series of debates.
The conference got off the ground after the University's Politics field leader Terry Sullivan was approached by representatives from Hounslow's Excellence in Cities Programme. "We wanted the pupils to learn more about issues affecting Africa and the third world and decided to model an event around the way the United Nations conducts its business," he said. "Pupils were assigned a country to represent and a topic to research while the University's Politics students chaired debates and oversaw votes.
Everyone involved learned a lot." The conference also had another important spin-off. "Events like this are a great way of getting pupils in and showing them what University is all about," Terry said.
Second-year Kingston student Ifran Parvez, who chaired one of the debates, believes the pupils went home with increased self-confidence. "They learned how to speak up and contribute to the debates," he said. "I noticed a real improvement as the day went on and even the shyest children began to voice their opinions."
Reuben Moore, Head of History at Lampton, one of the participating schools, praised the conference for encouraging the youngsters to become responsible citizens. "What impressed me most was the level of interaction between the pupils from different schools," he said. "They will benefit enormously from it."