Up close and in depth

1st December 2000 at 00:00
THE TEST OF TIME VIDEO. BBC Education in association with Bible Society. pound;15

THE TEST OF TIME TEACHER'S GUIDE. By Lesley Beadle, Lat Blaylock, Joyce Mackley and Pamela Draycott. pound;6. Video and Teacher's Guide together pound;19.

Any teacher who wants to use video material in an age of screen-gazing has to make good use of the pause button. This is precisely what the makers of these four 30-minute programmes intend. They come with a "warning to all users" not to show them as continuous film. The target audience is 14 to 18, but mainly GCSE RS, full and short course, and standard grade RME following Christian ethics issues, with possible use in post-16 general studies.

The programmes ask: do the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth stand the test of time? The four examples are forgiveness; money; commitment (really about the cost of commitment to God rather than human relationships commitment); and peace, not merely peace-making but also inner peace.

It is meaty stuff. Material is drawn from the UK, the USA, Honduras, South Africa and Burma and, although there is important interview footage, there are more visually engaging, sometimes shocking, action shots with good use of voice-over. Subjects include Linda and Peter Biehl, whose daughter was murdered in South Africa, the World Wide Message Tribe pop band in Manchester, James Mawdsley and his family and God's Posse, a group of black Christian ex-gang members in Boston, USA.

Robert Beckford supplies theological insight into the key gospel texts for each pogramme, speaking from unlikely settings for academic theology like inner city cafes. The vox pop adds clearly expressed 14-18 peer group comment on the issues. The teacher's guide comes from the CEM professional team, with additional background materials including web links and suggested learning tasks. Some of the people in these programmes cause problems that the producers anticipate: they can be so strong that they make other views and other people seem weak by contrast. Or sometimes life has placed them in such extreme situations that viewers whose main approaching disaster might be GCSE exams or being dumped by a girl or boy friend might not easily be able to empathise. The occasionally strong evangelical language may alienate viewers from both the language and the experience. But a range of Christian views is presented and the humanity of the selected people is sympathetically portrayed.

Are these programmes better than a textbook? The answer has to be a firm yes, because they make their situations more real and the student "meets" the subjects in a way and to a depth that cannot happen as easily in a written text.

There is a rumour that this may be the last BBC TV RE with the moves towards online provision. That could be a disaster for RE departments that do not have access to the same level of online facilities. We need online and video, not an eitheror. The worst case scenario would be no next series.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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