17th March 2000 at 00:00
BRAVE NEW ECONOMY. CD-Rom. The New Economics. Foundation. Distributed by Green Books and NEF at pound;9 plus pamp;pTel: 020 7407 7447

If you were asked to describe yourself as most like (a) a carp (b) a dolphin or (c) a shark what would your response be? I plumped for the dolphin, which I guess would be most people's choice, and it seemed to work. On my "self-test" in the Dreamer section of this CD-Rom, I came out as a pioneer, whose characteristics were flatteringly described by the voice-over.

I use this example to illustrate the scope of Brave New Economy: it can be used for entertainment, but its educational potential is enormous. It operates at a multitude of levels.

The disc is divided into five sections: The Active Citizen, The New Consumer, The Ethical Workplace, The Future Politician and, as described above, The Dreamer. Clicking on one of these opens further options - in The New Consumer are sections entitled Making Money Work, Shopping for a Better World, Renewable Resources, Growing Community and Shelter. Delving into any one will produce options varying from a page of text to a straightforward message, though even here there is yet another level: it is possible to opt for real-world case studies (often with a hyperlink to the appropriate website), or further reading, or follow up. Pages can be printed and bookmarked. The available data is staggering in both its depth and breadth, but it is still accessible - and all for less than the price of many textbooks.

There is no specified target age for users, but I could imagine its application in classrooms from key stage 3 upwards. The fat that readers are invited to test their own organisation via an ethical check list indicates that it is appropriate for adult learners.

There is a commentary by TV comedian Mark Thomas (although my CD failed to deliver this) and further information on the aims of the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which was formed in 1984 with the objective of shifting views on wealth creation. The term new economics implies a recognition of the centrality of people, but also the need to audit and account for the social and environmental impact of all economic transactions.

If this all sounds a bit naive and pie-in-the-sky, then the CD will help to dispel such notions. Go into The Dreamer and then The Thinker and a lengthy list of predominantly famous economists is presented. Click on any one and a sound bite from or about that individual appears, and a more detailed biographical sketch is also supplied. There you can discover the growing movement of "new economics" thinkers such as Karl Polanyi and Amartya Sen, but also its roots, planted by the likes of John Stuart Mill and Robert Owen.

Yes, it is propaganda, and certainly any teacherstudent using the resource would have to be aware of the NEF's perspective. That said, it is hard to dispute the power of the message, and for economists the realisation that we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift must, at last, be coming home - though when and if the curriculum adjusts to these new realities is entirely a different matter.

David Lines is a member of the education, environment and economy group at the Institute of Education, University of London

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