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Laughing all the way to the lesson

The media are picking up on what teachers already know - humour is a great way to help children learn. Julie Henry reports

COMEDY is a serious business when it comes to the classroom.

As well as taking on the role of social worker, accountant and caretaker, teachers are being encouraged to brush up their stand-up skills.

Comedy is increasingly being exploited as an educational tool, from big selling humorous books to the BBC's hugely popular El Nombre - a Zorro-style animated clay figure who helps children with maths.

Frank Flynn, head of children's education commissioning at the BBC, said:

"Humour is clearly a really powerful means of getting anyone engaged and it is a device we employ in all sorts of ways.

"As well as a means of focusing younger viewers, it can be really useful for a teenage audience who relate very strongly to self-deprecating humour."

Comedy was recently employed to explore the thorny topic of sex in a series called ID: Learning to be you, which covers personal and social education.

But Mr Flynn warned that there could be limits to the comic approach. He said:

"What a teacher thinks is acceptable and a young person thinks is funny can be two different things."

"Yoof" comedian Ali G is phenomenally popular with teenagers, but many adults apparently just don't get the joke. <> The aptly-named Stephen Wagg, comedy expert and senior lecturer at London's Roehampton Institute, thinks education is a commodity that has to be sold to pupils.

He said: "In the world I grew up in, you sat there and scribbled away. Education was much more prescriptive. You sat down and shut up.

"There was a parallel between that and the culture we were living in. We watched black-and-white TV and were given information by someone with a plummy accent.

"Forty years on and we live in a more market-orientated society. Media have to compete for readers, viewers and listeners. And those in education have to get the attention of the people they teach.

"Nowadays, it is much harder to impart education by direct address. If we are trying to get a road-safety message across we get someone like Alexei Sayle to do it. And if we are trying to teach children the alphabet, we get a six-foot man in a bird costume."

Marco Palmer, one half of the Christian Comedy Duo, which spends 90 per cent of its time in schools, advocates the light touch used by programmes such as Sesame Street.

He said: "We use every trick in the book. I don't think you have to be a comedian to be a good teacher but it helps."

Perhaps that's why comedians Hale and Pace dropped out of teacher training college: they just weren't funny enough.

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