Scores of teenagers from schools in Amsterdam, Lyon and Rome are exploring the cultural and scientific delights of Birmingham this week – and even building their own city – hosted by girls from King Edward VI High School for Girls, Edgbaston as part of the prestigious Comenius exchange project. The current Comenius initiative which takes the theme of C.I.T.I.E.S  (Cities Inspire Time Investigation and Exploration of Space for a sustainable and Lifelong Learning Europe) is the latest in a string of 2-year projects funded by the EC’s Lifelong Learning Programme to promote greater understanding between different European countries and cultures.

The initiative explores how science, technology, art, culture and religion have contributed to the development of cities, particularly Birmingham. It involves a range of educational and cultural experiences with the overseas students, mostly aged 14, staying with local host families, visiting museums, galleries and sites of interest and working alongside their British counterparts on a string of stimulating challenges. The 6-monthly week-long visits are designed to build friendships and links between the different communities and expand the youngsters’ horizons and the 30 KEHS girls taking part have already visited Rome or Amsterdam over the past year.

During the Birmingham visit, multi-national groups of youngsters are first designing and then building a model of their ideal sustainable city, considering energy provision, transport, buildings and facilities, before designing a monument to represent the city and an iconic bridge and dreaming up a name and a motto for it. Each group is also researching the life of one of the Midlands’ great innovators including canal builder James Brindley, steam pioneer James Watt, Lunar Society founder William Murdock and the philanthropist and chocolate magnate George Cadbury who designed the Bournville model village for his workforce. Afterwards the groups will produce a short video podcast to help bring the different scientists and reformers to life.

“The Comenius visit is going superbly” said KEHS Head of Physics, Dr Bernie Tedd,  “It is a great experience for our girls to host other bright students from different schools in Europe and so far the group work they have produced has been outstanding  Science and technology are among our major strengths – but it’s not just about good exam results. It’s just as important to inspire youngsters and widen their imaginations through ground-breaking projects like these, so they can see science not just as an abstract academic discipline but as a way to transform everyone’s lives and futures.”

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