The Rhine's current issues in context

Angus Willson

Geography 7-11, Whose Place? The River Rhine, Channel 4, March 25, 9.30am. Teacher's guide, Pounds 3.95. Video Pounds, 17.99. Educational Television Company: 01926 433333

A geography of key ideas and enquiry should steer clear of being too parochial or too exotic. As well as providing a sincere nod towards Europe in the curriculum at key stage 2, this unit in the Geography 7-11 series, looking at the River Rhine, also deals effectively with universal concerns.

Three human interest stories explore the life of the river, with an industrial barge-owner, a pleasure boat captain and a Dutch farmer.

The German and Dutch interviews are heard in full with sub-titles in English, providing a more atmospheric sense of people and place than voice-overs or dubbing.

With a gentle-paced commentary that is less intrusive than most, children can ask themselves about what they see and not just about what they are being told about the uses and abuses of the river.

It would require significant supplementary resources to place this programme in a regional or national context. Its main value in the classroom would perhaps come in comparing the themes raised by the Rhine to previously studied localities in the United Kingdom.

Extensive scenes of steel-making are accompanied by the commentator saying "in the factory river water becomes polluted" before assuring us that it is cleaned before being returned to the river.

This is of great interest to the Dutch, as we are told that nearly all of their drinking water is taken from the Rhine. To gauge the purity of the water, we see the Dutch authorities examining water fleas and the health of goldfish.

The threat of flooding in the Netherlands is also considered. Despite efforts to control the river with barrages and locks, people are shown sand-bagging dykes and evacuating farm animals, the elderly and hospital patients.

The programme is a rewarding presentation of Britain's geography in the context of the European Union.

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Angus Willson

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