How to do anything;Television

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
The Enterprise Zone. Channel 4, Tuesdays 10.30-11.00am June 3-17. Age range: 8-12

Mini-enterprise schemes show pupils that things they might take for granted - the building of a bridge, the arrival of the morning milk, the organisation of a concert - do not just happen, but are planned and carried through within the limits set by technology and the imperatives of commerce. In other words, you might say, impressionable young people are taught the virtues of capitalism and free enterprise.

Each of these three programmes follows children in a different Scottish primary school as they plan and carry out mini-enterprise schemes.

In one school, the pupils, having canvassed local residents for their preferences, set out to create a public garden with seats. In a second, the pupils decide to make and market "encaustic art" - pictures and cards decorated with illustrations and designs created by a hot wax process. In the third, the children, inspired by a lecture from a Himalayan mountaineer, plan and triumphantly carry out an expedition up their local mountain.

In each case we see the main ingredients of mini-enterprise, which are proper planning, the allocation of tasks within the group (including "job interviews") control and monitoring as the plan is carried out, and - importantly - the regular taking of advice from adults whose real life jobs have relevance to the task. Thus one sequence shows a business manager explaining to the art producers that if they lose 10 to 20 per cent of their products because of errors in production, then their profits - calculated also at 10 to 20 per cent - will undoubtedly vanish.

Clearly, a mini-enterprise scheme does not merely introduce pupils to basic business principles. There is a whole range of other curricular ingredients arising from the calculating, writing, phoning and interviewing that has to be done to move the project forward.And the children - as one of them clearly says in the first programme - appreciate "doing something real".

Each of these half-hour films is interesting. The big problem for me, though, is lack of clarity as to the audience. The programme guide says: "The series works primarily as a classroom teaching tool. It is also a valuable INSET resource."

In fact, the programme makers should have chosen one direction or the other because, as it stands, the series does neither very well. Contrary to expectation, for example, children do not, on the whole, enjoy watching programmes about other children working in school - and here we have a total of 90 minutes of hardly anything else.

On the other hand, the programmes contain lots of ideas and pointers for teachers, but had this been the main purpose, they would have been hardened up with more of the kind of detail that teachers want, about organisation, differentiation, and the avoidance of problems.

As for the device used to introduce the programmes and link within them - a spoof game show with a bizarre presenter and a kitsch set - the least said the better. I just wonder what it might take to convince schools TV producers that patronising and embarrassing add-ons of this kind are nothing more than time-wasting balderdash.

A teacher's guide costs pound;3.95 from C4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ. A video and support material are available from the Scottish Schools Enterprise Programme - sadly and surprisingly, though, these are advertised "for schools in Scotland only". Details from Brian Twiddle, University of Strathclyde, Jordanhill Campus, 76 Southbrae Drive, Glasgow G13 1PP

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