Clifton schoolchildren harness social media to build cross channel friendships

Social media is often seen as a negative influence in the lives of young people. But schoolchildren from Clifton have been using it in a positive way to build long lasting friendships with French penpals.

Year 9 and 10 students from the Farnborough Academy have been busy corresponding with students from Collège Charles Desvergnes, which lies around 85 miles south of Paris, using social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The link was set up by Mrs Keely Kimberley, curriculum leader of Modern Languages at the Farnborough Academy.

They also got to meet their French contemporaries in person, when they paid a visit to Farnborough during a 3-day trip to the UK – the first visit of its kind to the Clifton school.

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Maria Collins, Executive Assistant Head of the Trent Academies Group (of which the Farnborough Academy is a member), said: “They started off writing letters to each other but soon moved onto social media because it’s such a quick and easy form of communication. It’s not only helped them break the ice but also practise their language skills and learn about each other’s cultures. They’re far more likely to keep up the contact this way, as it’s less daunting for them to send a quick message or photo.”

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During the visit the students learnt more about each other using a process similar to speed dating where they had quick fire chats, first in English and then in French.

“Our students were amazed to hear how different school life is for their penpals,” said Mrs Collins. “They have a much longer school day – from 8am to 5pm – but they also have a very long lunch hour and a lake in their school grounds where they can go fishing. The French students were fascinated by our uniform as they don’t wear one.”

The students also did quizzes together, working in teams to answer questions on English and French pop music, celebrities and monuments.

15-year-old Farnborough pupil Ashwini Rai said: “It’s been so cool getting to know them. It shows you don’t have to speak the same language to make friends. We’ll definitely keep in contact.”

It was the first time any of the 46 French students had visited England and they too were buzzing about the opportunity. 13-year-old Armony Gervais said: “We are so excited to come here. Our English penpals have been very kind and we will stay in contact through Snapchat and Facebook.”

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14-year-old Damien Hebert added: “This visit has inspired me to carry on studying English.”

The two schools are hoping social media exchanges will cement the friendships between their pupils and that a return visit to France can be arranged.