PUPILS at a Lothian high school are to be at the forefront of an initiative aimed at sending Scots youngsters to summer camp in China.
Youngsters at Lasswade High School in Midlothian have formed a twinning agreement with pupils at Tianlin No 3 Middle School in Shanghai - more than 5600 miles away.
The friendship pact, which was marked at a formal ceremony in Shanghai attended by First Minister Jack McConnell, has helped inspire one of the first phases of the Scottish Executive’s bid to foster closer links between the two countries.
Mr McConnell said up to 50 young Scots could soon be attending summer schools in China - although it was not clear who would be paying for the trips.
Mr McConnell said: "One of the most interesting ideas to emerge from my discussions this week is for a summer school programme in China where Scots and their teachers could spend a few weeks each year learning about China and making new friends that will last a lifetime. There will be talks between ourselves, the British Council and the Chinese government to develop such a scheme."
Mr McConnell has spent the past five days touring China to find out more about the country’s business and education systems and help forge bonds between the two nations.
The Shanghai ceremony was attended by Ken Thomson, headteacher of Lasswade High School and Liu Xiaozhou, principal of Tianlin No 3 Middle School.
The First Minister said: "It is clear that there are many similarities between our education systems, but perhaps more importantly we share the same ambitions for our schools.
"We want our schools to be excellent, to be ambitious for every child, and to help every child realise their full potential."
During his visit, Mr McConnell met with pupils and teachers and took part in a maths class.
He was entertained by pupils who performed traditional Chinese songs and dances, and sang Auld Lang Syne in Mandarin and English. The friendship agreement between Lasswade High School and Tianlin No 3 Middle School will include teacher and pupil exchanges, as well as using e-mail and the internet to develop joint projects.
A Scottish Executive spokes-woman said pupils at the two schools had been exchanging e-mails prior to the Scottish delegation’s visit and the young Chinese pupils had been learning about "Sugelan" - the Mandarin word for Scotland.
Shanghai Tianlin No 3 Middle School has more than 1300 pupils. It specialises in science, sport and community education. Lasswade High School also has around 1300 pupils and special interests there include technology, sport and modern studies.
The friendship agreement has been welcomed by Midlothian’s education leader Peter Boyes.
Councillor Boyes said:
"The personal contact between pupils will bring a much greater understanding between the two cultures and I know that the Midlothian pupils will benefit greatly from the experience."