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Hungry for light relief

Poverty is no laughing matter, but that does not mean that humour cannot inform, writes Graham Hart. TEACHER RELIEF 2. Age group: 11-14. Video, teaching materials and wall chart, Pounds 14.50 (including pp) from Comic Relief Education, co EDF Unit 2, Drywall Estate, Castle Road, Murston, Sittingbourne, Kent ME1 3RL.

Why are people in Africa so poor, and what does it have to do with us? Although Teacher Relief 2 comprises a lengthy video and a packedcommentary folder targeted essentially at key stage 3 geography, its purpose is basically to investigate these two crucial questions.

The pack is centred on a television broadcast from 1992 that featured Tony Robinson travelling to Tanzania and looking for answers at first hand. That programme, dissected and developed, forms the central thread. Around it are a host of new commentaries, film clips and comicserious interventions.

Because of the presence on screen of a number of television personalities (Lenny Henry "hosts" the video with appearances by Peter Sissons, Joanna Lumley, Jim Broadbent et al), viewers are frequently reminded of how television normally deals with Africa and poverty in short news items or brief charity appeals.

In a complete reversal of this pattern, the Teacher Relief 2 video takes plenty of time to develop every point. There are frequent interruptions to answer those "yes, but" questions that hover in our minds, and role plays, humour, realia, group exercises and more to ensure that nothing is left unexplained.

This approach bulks the material out; no stone is left unturned. The problem for the teacher is in selecting which parts to use. A detailed theme map provides a starting point and the video is extremely well indexed. Be warned, however, this isn't an instant resource; it requires plenty of work beforehand.

Of course, one of the main weapons in the film's armoury and it is after all an attack on prejudice and stereotyping is humour. With the Comic Relief team's experience, it's no surprise to find they have got the tone just right. Immediately Lenny Henry appears on screen, you feel taken into his confidence; you are very definitely on the same side in this debate. And Tony Robinson, Baldrick from Blackadder in his other life, uses a finely-honed mix of impartial narration and personal comment to bring a true sense of comic relief to his difficult and delicate task.

Of all the reasons to commend this publication, the most obvious is the presenters' perspective. They see the problems, and the solutions, from a fresh, apolitical, but non-idealistic, standpoint. They really talk for the viewer, including the child in the classroom. They constantly challenge and confront, but also try to understand.

It's their input, when combined with the pack's quality of presentation and depth of information, that raises this to the highest level of teaching resource.

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