Cable television programming has received much less attention in schools than the Internet, say, mainly because it has tended to focus on entertainment. But a growing number of cable channels have educational potential, and, what is more, many schools could receive them for free.
There are several points to bear in mind:
*Even if your area is cabled up, your school could be some distance from the nearest cable point (these tend to be close to houses and flats).
*Getting cable could involve negotiating a special rate with the operator.
*Some companies, such as Telewest, will provide cable access to two points within a school, and others, such as Yorkshire Cable (part of General Cable), even throw in free programme packages tailored to the needs of schools. These include news channels (such as Sky News, CNN and European Business News), documentaries and specialist channels such as Discovery and the History Channel (see below). The standard programme package costs around #163;15 per month.
* It pays to check what programming your local operator offers, as this can vary. Some cable companies, for example, offer foreign language programmes (from German or Spanish satellite channels), but others do not.
So what does cable TV offer?
The Discovery Channel broadcasts a variety of documentaries and factual programmes. These cover science, exploration, nature, history and adventure. Recent programmes have looked at the history and development of the rocket, dangerous animals, predicting earthquakes, Egyptian rulers, and The Titanic.
The Travel Channel sounds like a cross between Holiday and Wish You Were Here?, and while it does offer similar programming, it also includes documentaries and programmes on geology, culture, and cookery. Programmes include The Asian Highway, which traces a 6,000-mile journey from Vietnam to Turkey, and The People and Places of Africa. The channel has just launched a learning resource pack for GNVQ students and one for tutors. They support a number of GNVQ programmes, including business, leisure and tourism, and media and communication. Both packs are free and can be obtained from your local cable company or the Travel Channel.
The History Channel covers both ancient and modern history. It has an Internet site displaying information related to its programmes and advice for students, such as how to write a good history essay. The site is currently hosting GCSE and A-level history quizzes, which offer schools the chance to win multimedia systems and free cable TV connection.
Knowledge TV, part of the Jones Education Company empire, is now being offered by CableTel and Bell Cablemedia. The channel has a segment devoted to computers and technology where viewers can learn about the Internet and how to buy a computer, and get the latest news on IT developments around the world. One programme, Computer Kids, is made for and presented by children.
Knowledge TV's global culture and language strand includes Spanish and German programmes. Glenn Jones, chairman of Jones Education, says: "We'd like to share educational materials from all over the world, and create electronic communities where some of your study group could be on the other side of the globe." Knowledge TV will also have links on the Internet.
The Parliamentary Channel is a video version of Hansard, and in addition to covering the daily cut and thrust of the debating chamber, also transmits parliamentary committee sessions and synopses of the week's business in the House of Lords. There is also a weekly three-hour programme which looks at American politics. The channel has launched a teacher's pack for 12-14-year-olds, which is being mailed to 3,000 UK schools. It includes a video, poster, information booklet and pupil activity cards.
Natalie Mudd, education officer at the Cable Communication Association, says the cable industry is aware it has provided little guidance for schools on educational programming offered by cable. But this is set to change.
"In the autumn term we'll be publishing a guide with information on programmes linked to the national curriculum," she says. "It will also include editorial on IT in schools, and we hope to work with organisations such as the NCET [National Council for Educational Technology]."
Bell Cablemedia: 0171 363 2194; CableTel: 0800 602 603; CCA: 0171 222 2900; Discovery Channel: 0171 462 3600; General Cable: 0171 393 2821; History Channel: 0171 705 3693 (Internet address: http:www.sky. co. ukhistoryclassro omindex.htm); Knowledge TV: 0171 927 8427; Parliamentary Channel: 0171 813 7311; (Internet address: http:parlchan.co. uk); Telewest: 0500 404 045; Travel Channel: 0171 636 5401