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Media researchers' TV treasure island

Children living on a remote island without television are "among the best behaved in the world," according to research by Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Further Education.

St Helena, an island in the south Atlantic, is this week receiving its first television broadcasts, and researchers will monitor the behaviour of children there to see if the arrival of television alters how they learn and play.

The media influences on this isolated British colony have been limited so far to the BBC World Service, and the newspapers brought by the monthly visit of a ship, leaving St Helena as one of the few places in the world in a pre-television era.

This media time-warp will allow academics to explore the arrival of television in the lives of a generation of young people, in a way unseen in Britain since the late Fifties.

There are 1,300 school-age children on the island, and observation in the classroom and playground by project leader Dr Tony Charlton has found "very little evidence of misbehaviour" and above-average attentiveness to work set by teachers. But as well as an absence of television, cinema and daily papers, these model pupils also benefit from factors denied to many children in Britain - free pre-school education, low unemployment and a settled community life.

As well as watching to see if the introduction of television changes the calm atmosphere of the island's playgrounds, the researchers will try to establish what activities will be displaced by watching television, such as reading books or playing games outside. If the current viewing patterns of British children are repeated in St Helena, around 30 hours a week now spent in other ways will be given over to television.

But Tony Charlton warns against simplistic conclusions being drawn about the relationship between television and the actions of young viewers.

He says his research team was impressed by the level of caring within the community on St Helena, an influence as significant in behavioural patterns among young people as the absence or presence of television culture.

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