Beating a path towards justice;Humanities;Education

15th May 1998 at 01:00
A funky CD-Rom aims to wake up young people's awareness of the history and issue of immigration, says Maureen McTaggart

FOR more than 25 years, the Institute of Race Relations has been churning out books, pamphlets and videos challenging racism worldwide. But those it was set up to inform - young people, black and white - weren't paying much attention. By enlisting the help of the latest multimedia technology, the educational charity is spreading its message to a generation of young people weaned on the joys of information and communications technology. And its first product has already won a coveted British Interactive Multimedia Association education award.

Homebeats: Struggles for Racial Justice, a CD-Rom about racism in Britain, is aimed at today's youngsters who consider interactive multimedia the name of the education game. The CD combines beguiling computer graphics, multimedia and streetwise sounds with an authentic, reliable account of immigration in Britain (and elsewhere).

Sujata Aurora, one of the institute's researchers, says: "It was a question of finding an effective way of dealing with the low level of interest that was being shown by young people in the issues of racism. We needed to put the information into a format that would be more recognisable and accessible to them."

The CD maps the journey of Britain's black and Asian communities from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, to the making of modern Britain, without the slightest whiff of political correctness or self-consciousness.

"Anti-racist education is not about instilling pride in some people, white guilt in others. It is simply a matter of producing an inclusive history which tells everyone - black and white - the truth about Britain and its relationships with the Third World and its peoples," says A Sivanandan, the institute's director, on the sleeve of Homebeats.

Homebeats is not just one story with a beginning and end, but an impressive collection of official archive materials and oral history gathered from black and Asian people in Britain's eight recognised immigrant enclaves: Southall, Brixton, Birmingham, Glasgow, Notting Hill, the east end of London, Bradford and Liverpool.

Each of the enclaves has a section devoted to the building of black communities there and relates their reasons for settlement in an alien country. These are refugees from Britain's colonial past with stories to tell about the families they left behind, black political groups, the rise of the black power movement in Britain, and about the development of a black British identity. Matter of fact, but evoking pride against a landscape of prejudice, they recount harrowing details of racial violence encountered during the search for jobs, homes and cultural development in the "mother" country.

Pupils at Walthamstow School for Girls in north-east London use Homebeats to research India's independence movement and South Africa's former apartheid regime as part of GCSE history. Valerie Allport, deputy headteacher at Walthamstow, wouldn't claim to have covered as much as she would have liked, but believes it has a lot of potential - particularly as a library resource.

She says: "I want to get Homebeats into use as soon as possible. The quality of information, the different pathways through it, the connections made and the choice of varying levels of detail are all excellent. Several specific areas of the curriculum are very overloaded, so to be able to say to a student, 'Here is a CD-Rom, borrow it for the night', is a real asset," adds Ms Allport.

Divided into five interlinking sections - images, memories, people, places and visions - it facilitates comparisons across time and continents, all to the background of a funky soundtrack by Asian Dub Foundation.

Arun Kundnani, the 27-year-old multimedia designer responsible for developing the disc, explains that the links were provided to emphasise the connections immigrants in Britain have with different parts of the world.

"We wanted to present images of race in a different way from the norm. Most people learn about racism from reading books and newspapers, which tended to focus on Britain. We have branched out and taken a look at the immigrants' countries of origin."

To make the learning truly interactive, each category has a quiz. But get the answer wrong and you have to find it for yourself. Complete the quiz and you collect a record. After collecting five records, you can enter the DJ booth and get to mix the music on the CD-Rom. Young offenders in Brixton Prison have been jamming it up and honing their knowledge of figures on the disc, such as Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce and Mahatma Gandhi who, although sneeringly dismissed by Winston Churchill as "a half-naked fakir", mobilised the Indian masses and tore the heart out of the British Raj.

Biographies of 50 of the main players in the continuing fight against the exploitation of black people, such as William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and Jomo Kenyatta, supplement these memoirs aimed at students from 13 upwards.

A group of Year 6 pupils at Park Junior School, Wellingborough, used Homebeats to complement their work on Britain since 1930. Park Junior's headteacher, Lyn Donald, concedes that the CD is more suitable for older students. But she says there is no reason it can't be used with mature 10-year-olds. She suggests some preparation beforehand to familiarise younger children with words commonly associated with racism, such as "stereotype". "My first thought when I saw the content of the disc was 'Yes, this is useful'. I would love to see a version aimed at primary level," she says.

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