Fighting illiteracy on the beaches;The Week in View

28th May 1999 at 01:00
SCANDALS in the rugby and cricket worlds, books on beaches, Bob the Builder, and absent fathers in a week politically becalmed by the forthcoming European elections. So tired teachers will get a respite from the flurry of reports from the education department.

But that hasn't stopped David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, planning another wheeze to get kids to read: students will patrol beaches with wheelbarrows of books in a pound;7,000 scheme in Blackpool.

A pound;2.50 book caused a Suffolk family some anguish as Haverhill library set debt collectors on to them for failing to pay a 48p fine on an overdue book borrowed by their five-year-old son which had been returned on time. Embarrassed staff blamed a computer.

Computers could help dyslexia sufferers. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, claim that their reading difficulties stem from a fundamental problem in the way the brain handles sounds, so computer games could train the brain to increase the accuracy with which it processes rapidly changing sounds.

Sounds made by depressed mothers can unintentionally harm the educational development of their babies, another American professor has discovered. Nonsensical babble and high-pitched cooing can help them to learn language and thinking skills whereas the flatter monotones of depressed women stirred little interest from four-month-olds.

Meanwhile, Britain is becoming a nation of absent fathers. An Edinburgh University sociologist said "stressed-out high-flyers" were spending as little as 15 minutes a day with their children. They are enslaved by an office culture where it is professionally risky to admit to wishing to spend more time with their kids.

Aspiring high-flyers in Yorkshire are being "bribed" to take A-levels in maths and physics to alleviate the shortage of engineers and scientists. Millionaire businessman David Phodes is offering sixth-formers pound;500 bursaries for books and equipment and pound;100 a week in the summer holidays to work in his electronics factory. The incentives have encouraged 35 pupils to study maths at university so far.

An early warning for parents: Bob the Builder, an animated jack of all trades starring in a BBC1 series, could replace The Teletubbies as the nation's favourite toy by Christmas.

Finally, the sad and shocking tale of a Perthshire duck. A 17-year-old pupil at Rannoch, a top fee-paying school, has been accused of unlawfully killing a wild duck out of season. The bird was allegedly strangled after the boy left an open day at the school attended by former Tory foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind.

A police spokesman said: "It's an unusual case and one I have never come across in 26 years of policing."

Diane Spencer

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