Around the world in 80 lessons

16th October 1998 at 01:00
Can a pupil and school be oceans apart without damaging education? We are about to find out

Not many teenagers can claim they cannot finish their homework because they were disturbed by the swell of a boat or the crashing of the Atlantic. But for two Shropshire schoolgirls, a homemade yacht thousands of miles from land will be their makeshift classroom for the next 14 months, as they accompany their parents on an epic round-the-world voyage.

Thirteen-year-old Sophie Edington is working for nine GCSEs, while her sister Suzie, 16, plans to take three A levels. If all goes to plan, the pair intend to become the first students to study for their exams entirely through the Internet, participating in lessons and keeping in touch with friends from the small boat via a satellite link to Crawford Community College.

The family have spent the past two years building the 56ft yacht in their back garden, and plan to make their way to Australia over the course of a year. On the way, they will deliver aid to eye-care projects in Gambia for the charity Sight Savers, before visiting locations such as Barbados, the Galapagos Islands and Fiji.

Although "remote learning" is already standard in parts of Scotland, this is believed to be the first time anybody has tried to use the Internet as their sole revision aid. The girls will be using PIC (Personal Information Connect) software developed by sponsors RM, and tapping into the company's educational content providers EduWeb and Living Library. "To physically take the exam, what you do is find a classroom over there and somebody to invigilate, and have the papers sent over. We'll just sort it out with the embassy wherever we are, " Suzie explains.

The whole adventure is undoubtedly the trip of a lifetime but, as the intrepid Edingtons prepared to set sail from Plymouth, some of the press assembled to see them off were wondering whether the girls' parents were right to bring them along at such a crucial stage in their education. With no teachers or tutors around to keep a check on the girls, how confident was mum Sally that her daughters will knuckle down and keep up with their courses? "Well Suzie's very good. She's conscientious and she can see into the future that she's got to do these. So, yes, I am confident that she'll get on with it."

And is the Internet a good way of working towards exams? "For their situation, I think, yes it is. It would be much better than trying to do a correspondence course - trying to get stuff back and forth in the post is absolutely dire. " Children across Britain will be able to follow the family's progress from the Sight Sail website, and "captain's log" reports and pictures from the yacht will be posted regularly.

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