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Exploring the reasons why

Harvey McGavin on the distance learning courses and materials offered by the Open University.

In the Eighties, pictures of African famine touched the national conscience and sparked Band Aid and a series of charitable spin offs. Through a fairly simplistic view of the developing world and its problems, they raised awareness - and a lot of money besides.

Many of the children watching Bob Geldof and the host of rock stars playing in those marathon Live Aid concerts have now become teachers and are anxious to capitalise on children's basic knowledge of and interest in Third World issues, still prompted by campaigns like Comic Relief, by introducing topic-based development studies to the classroom.

According to Hazel Johnson at the Open University's Development Studies department, there is a growing interest from teachers wanting to incorporate the subject into lessons and, with more new materials being published, plenty of ways in which to do so.

"Children are aware of things like Band Aid and maybe schools have collections or Oxfam groups. We are trying to help teachers with ways of teaching these issues in the classroom."

The OU offers a range of options for teachers looking to assimilate such themes into classes. Third World Development, an undergraduate course which has proved popular with teachers, has just been supplemented with the production of a 12-part television series from the degree programme that has been adapted for schools.

"They were that good and that popular that we decided to put them out on video," says the OU's Jacqueline Eisenstadt. "They are meant for use primarily with sixth-form students but they could be used with a bright, younger group. We are not trying to push any one line, we are trying to show all sides of the picture and to get people to think."

The idea behind the series was to address the usual issues of poverty, healthcare, gender and so on, but also to include a look at the arts, crafts and music of some of the countries studied, which include Brazil, India, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The programmes, which come with a detailed study guide, lend themselves to plenty of cross-curricular applications in geography, history, English, economics and general studies.

"We are trying to present development in a historical perspective which looks at the reasons why people are poor and why they go hungry," says Hazel Johnson. "It helps students to realise that it is not just to do with natural disasters and that solving development issues is not just a question of charity."

A further topic-based OU study pack, aimed at teachers of humanities subjects at A-level and in further education, and combining video with a set text, Poverty and Development in the 1990s is scheduled for publication in December.

Professor John Taylor, of South Bank University, who put together the pack, says development studies courses at the university have become consistently oversubscribed, partly as a result of improving job prospects in this field. "If you have a good knowledge of economies in sub-Saharan Africa and are also an expert in health policies, then that's quite a good area to get a job. "

Further information from Hazel Johnson or Jacqueline Eisenstadt, Development Studies, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA. Tel: 01908 6521035124. Fax: 01908 654825.

E-mail: H.E.Johnson@OPEN.AC.UKJ.Eisenstadt@OPEN.AC.UK

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