OPINION: Teach the young how to give

PETER STANFORD

From memory it was a yellow egg on a blue plinth with a slot in the top. I can't recall what charity it was for, but every Lent we were sent home with it from my primary school and felt obliged to return it full of coins. Then in secondary school, there were practical links such as a club we ran for mentally handicapped teenagers on a Friday night plus regular collections and sponsored events.

To me, in the throes of my male menopause, it all feels like yesterday, but apparently it is now a long forgotten golden age. Young people no longer give to charity, or do so in such disproportionately low numbers that the Charities Aid Foundation is conducting a national survey to work out why (Third Sector, 29 May).

Might one of the causes be found in today's schools? At primary level things seem to go along much as before, but when youngsters move up at 11 there is little room in the curriculum for anything altruistic. It's all a question of not only getting the requisite number of GCSEs and A levels, but also of clocking up the right sort of work experience to impress future employers and bag the big salary. Not much time then for voluntary service.

A lot of our charitable activity used to be done as part of religious education lessons, but they too have been pushed off the curriculum in favour of an ill-defined and little scheduled commitment to social responsibility.

You can judge its fruits each Christmas, when gangs of teenagers turn up on your doorstep howling carols and then asking for money, not for a good cause as in the past, but for themselves.

There are, granted, some charities that have bucked the trend to do well in schools - Comic Relief in particular springs to mind - but its emphasis for youngsters is on walking in the shadow of celebrities, our new deity, and on getting your face on television. The giving bit is somewhere further down the agenda and so therefore takes many more years finally to blossom.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

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