Hard choices in a day's work for India's children

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Discover India, CD-Rom for Apple Macintosh or Multimedia PC with CD-Rom drive.

Pounds 55 from ActionAid,Chataway House,Chard,Somerset TA20 1FA Liba TaylorActionworld

Gareth Davies on the first CD-Rom from a development charity. With the growing availability of CD-Rom drives in schools and homes, it is surprising that, until now, a development charity has not produced a CD-Rom for educational use. Discover India, launched in National Science Week, is the first of this type from ActionAid's development education team. Aimed at pupils aged 7 to 14, it attempts to use the technology to allow children and young people to experience development issues for themselves and to become involved in the sorts of decisions that people in the developing world have to make every day.

The CD is split into six main sections: Cities, Development, Physical, Population, Water and Work. Each of these is further divided into sub-sections with either factual information or activities. For example, the Population section includes graphs of demographic transition, while in the Development section you can visit and explore the village of Kanjikolly by clicking buildings on a map. Video clips and narration help you find out what is happening at the tea shop or the best way to collect honey. One of the most interesting areas is "Sampangi's Story". Sampangi is a child living on the streets of Bangalore. Users are invited to make decisions which will affect his life at various points in the story - will he carry luggage at the station or go rag-picking? These decisions alter the route through the story enabling children to explore different problems every time they use the simulation. This and "A Day's Work", which explores a day in the life of a 10-year old girl working in a match factory are perhaps the most useful for use with key stage 2 and 3 pupils.

Unfortunately, much of the CD and accompanying teacher's notes is beyond the scope of the average child. The language is difficult and the concepts often far too advanced. For example, Sjoberg's model of the pre-industrial city is presented and users are invited to apply it to Bangalore. Even in the treatment of simpler concepts, such as the hydrological cycle, such advanced terms as "capillary movement" are used. The animation accompanying the cycle shows the stage from cloud formation to precipitation but goes no further.

There is also an amount of over-design in the way in which the user has to interact with the activities and information on the disc which makes it more difficult to use than need be. For example, the activity "Where to put the tap?" presents the village of Tuppadahalli, where the villagers are deciding to put in a new source of clean water. An oblique plan of the village appears together with a list of issues. In order to highlight an issue, the user has to move the pointer over objects on the map, rather than simply choosing from the list.

Finally, no real thought has been given to providing children with access to the information on the CD or the teacher's notes in electronic form. Pictures cannot be extracted from the disc, and, more fundamentally, statistical data is only provided in printed form in the teacher's notes.

An essential element of national curriculum geography involves the development of information technology capability within the context of the subject. Statistical understanding of development issues can be significantly enhanced by the use of information technology, yet notes in this material fall back on suggesting that children use the computer with paper and pencil in hand. An important opportunity has been missed.

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