Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists that Britain should actively engage with a globalised and interdependent world. But a new study by the British Council in India and nine other countries has disclosed that British schoolchildren are the least interested in doing so.
Of schoolchildren surveyed in 10 countries for their international outlook, India emerged second in the list that was topped by Nigeria. British schoolchildren were at the bottom of the list.
In his first major foreign policy speech since taking over as the prime minister, Brown on Monday said at the Mayor of London's banquet that the world had become interdependent and now resembled a web. He said there was a need to create a global society, which would empower people in all parts of the world.
However, the British Council study published a few hours before Brown's speech showed that over a quarter of British schoolchildren did not feel that it was important to learn a foreign language. In contrast, 97 per cent Indian schoolchildren felt it was important to do so.
Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, said: "Our schoolchildren 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.
"We believe passionately in enabling young people from different cultures to share ideas and opinions, and in the far reaching benefits this can bring to them in later life."
Researchers interviewed 4,170 people aged 11-16 with Internet access at home in 10 countries. It was conducted online in Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Spain, Britain and the US. It was conducted face-to-face in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia with schoolchildren who had Internet access at home.
They were asked a range of questions to ascertain their international outlook, including attitudes towards language learning and international affairs. Results were scored on an index with seven being the highest and zero the lowest. Nigeria (5.15) came top of the table, followed by India (4.86) and Brazil (4.53). Britain scored the lowest, 2.19.
Another finding from the research is likely to embarrass Brown. When asked whether they saw themselves as citizens of the world or of their own country, most of the schoolchildren, including those in India, saw themselves first and foremost as world citizens and then as citizens of their own country.
However, schoolchildren in the UK, US and the Czech Republic were exceptions -- they saw themselves more as citizens of their own country than world citizens.
Asked which countries were the most powerful in the world today, the schoolchildren across the 10 countries ranked the US on top. India and Israel were jointly ranked the ninth most powerful countries.
When asked which countries would be the most powerful in the next 10 years, India was ranked seventh. The US retained its top position in this list, with China in second place.
The study report said: "The biggest climbers were China and India while the US and the UK slipped dramatically with the US losing 48 per cent of the vote in India, 35 per cent in Brazil and 19 per cent in China among those able to give an opinion. The UK lost 23 per cent of the Indian vote, 12 per cent of the UK vote and eight percent of the Spanish vote."
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the figures hid "a huge range of positive activity" in British schools.
He said: "Getting children to learn about the world and their place in the world is at the heart of the action plan for geography. Most schools are twinned with schools abroad meaning they learn about children in other countries."