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Bordering on the best

ScotscapesChannel 4, Tuesdays, 11.45am-12.00Rpt Fridays 10. 10-10.25amAge + range: 12-16These five new programmes are intended for#201;well, there's the + first question. The transmission details tell us "environmental studies, + geography and modern studies for 12 to 16-year-olds". The teacher's guide says + "environmental studies 5 to 16". The latter seems the more likely, but to + suggest a programme is "targeted" at a nine-year span is asking a lot. + "Scattered" might be a better description. In truth, reckon on an 11-year-old + geography student and work around that.The contents focus clearly on the key + issues of human geography, with Scotland as the case study. The style? Well + here's the second question. It's described as "magazine". That's fair enough, + but let's not imagine that Scotscapes is the video version of Smash Hits or + Viz. No, magazine style means exactly the same narrative style as almost every+ other geography documentary for schools over the past 30 years. A smiling, + engaging young person talking us through interesting topics with lots of + footage of farms, factories and housing estates. This is not a criticism, + merely a warning that you should not expect anything radical.Of course, we have+ seen it all before, many times. But children won't have and they will be + interested in this kind of simple, factual and accessible approach. From time + to time the main narrator (she has a couple of field reporters) puts the ball + back in our court. "Well, what do you think? Such interjections are helpful + reminders that not everything in the adult world is black and white. There are + decisions to be made, and perhaps the young person's view is valid. It + certainly will be a few years from now when tomorrow's policy-makers face the + issues surrounding resource wastage,reforestation (or not), ill-concei ved + motorway construction and badly planned cities, all of which receive a + thoughtful airing in the programmes.Some of the issues are especially well + covered and some good answers to everyday questions are provided. Why do we see+ oilseed rape everywhere? What is set aside? Why not give excess food to poorer+ nations? These are tackled well in "Farming". As is ostrich farming. In the + narrative the practice is on the up, in reality there are a few problems. + Whichever way you look at it, Sassenachs will love this piece.The discussion of+ frontier fields in the North Sea, especially relevant to Scotland, is another + interesting unit, this time under the resources banner. Indeed, you could list + almost all the topics under the heading "another interesting unit". For class + use, there is one important point to note. Much of the key information is given+ on-screen. It really is a case of notebooks (or pauserewind controls) at the+ ready to catch all the detail. Unlike some other recent broadcast series, the + teacher's guide provides only limited supplementary data. Instead it provides a+ useful range of extension exercises for the pupil and a brief note of aims, + programme contents, learning outcomes and curriculum relevance for the teacher.+ In addition, the guide also gives teachers a hand with lesson preparation with+ advice on "before" and "after" each programme.The programmes will find their + greatest use north of the border, but not their greatest value. This should + come from young viewers in the rest of the country taking a closer look at + Scotland. They will discover an upbeat country tackling both similar and + different problems to those faced elsewhere. Declining heavy industry and city + centre blight fall into the similar category, difficult overland + communications and continental shelf development (and ostrich farming) are + slightly different.Overall, there's a freshness of topic and depth of coverage + that set these programmes ahead of many others. Well worth watching, + everywhere.The series is repeated in the autumn term beginning November 7 and + subsequent Fridays at 11.00-11.15am. The teacher's guide is available for + #163;4.95, the video of five 15-minute programmes - Farming, Resources, + Industry, Settlement and Communications - costs #163;14.99. Both from Channel + 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ.

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