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Easing up the early learning curve

EARLY LEARNING CURVE, Acorn A3010 computer with software selection Pounds 399 including VAT but excluding monitor, Acorn dealers and some stores.

Chris Drage examines some of the new entrants to the rapidly-growing home education market.

Recently there has been a heightened interest in home education, with computer manufacturers and software publishers alike responding swiftly to meet what appears to be a growth market - witness the explosion of PC CD-Rom titles and RM's launching of its Explorer range of home education PCs.

Acorn has responded with its Early Learning Curve package - a hardware and software compilation which includes the computer of your choice. The software titles include: TalkWrite (a speech version of Icon Technology's successful StartWrite), a Sherston Naughty Story (Doris The Dotty Dog), including the book Gemini (pelmanism), Amazing Maths from Cambridgeshire Software House and 4Mation's Explore With Flossy The Frog and Mouse in Holland.

All these packages are aimed at the younger child and are RiscOS- compliant, thus reinforcing a consistent modus operandi. StartWrite is a very capable yet simple-to-use word processor which parents will enjoy too. It introduces industry-standard techniques; the inclusion of PEP Associate's capable speech synthesiser is an added bonus.

The Naughty Story and the two titles from CSH are suitable choices covering both reading and maths appropriate to the target age group - children just love Amazing Maths, it really motivates them to learn their numbers.

The inclusion of the two 4Mation classics introduces computer-based problem solving and will help young fingers to learn to navigate using mouse and keyboard. Although readers may not be familiar with Mouse in Holland, I predict this software will become a classic. If you know Flossy, this combined DutchBritish program has even better graphics and its humour is delightful. There's even an enhanced version for the Risc PC.

Unfortunately, no art package that works with all machines in the range is available, so Acorn is improving the usability of its Paint application to include canvasses, exercises and small paint projects. There remains a definite need for programs like 1st Paint (Keyboard Technology) and Splosh (Kudlian Soft) to be made totally compatible.

The software may or may not be installed on the machine's hard disc when purchased, as this service will be left to dealers. But thanks to the simplicity of RiscOS, home installation presents few problems.

The A3010 without a monitor may seem a low-cost introduction to computing but beware - you will quickly find, as I did, that a standard TV is not up to the demands of modern computers, and on health grounds I would hasten to dissuade anyone from attempting word processing with one. You will need to purchase a monitor with this system (from Pounds 170).

Similarly, purchasing a computer without an integral hard disc is quite unrealistic these days, especially if Mum and Dad want to use the system too.

Floppy disc-only systems are a slippery slope to frustration and disappointment. Unless you are prepared to upgrade with a hard disc (from Pounds 190), the A3010 system is limited.

All software bundles are the result of compromise. You just can't satisfy all the people all the time. Acorn has selected titles which will have overall appeal to children and will give purchasers a taste of what is available.

As far as the purchasing adults are concerned, I am disappointed that there isn't something for them, like the excellent Fireworkz (Colton Software) which would offer an integrated suite of software tools and demonstrate that Acorn machines can be used for more serious applications and useful work in the home environment.

This criticism apart, the Early Learning Curve offers a cost-effective, toes-in-the-water introduction for Acorn's A-series computers.

Acorn - stands 241, 440, SN15

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