Universal problems

17th May 1996 at 01:00
UNDERSTANDING GLOBAL ISSUES, A periodic briefing with topic map, illustrations, charts, facts and analysis. Series editor Richard Buckley European Schoolbooks, The Runnings, Cheltenham GL51 9PQ Annual subscription (10 issues) Booklet only Pounds 27.50. Education pack Pounds 69.50. Single issues 1994 onwards booklet Pounds 2.50. Education pack Pounds 6.95, Age range 11 plus

Patrick Bailey on packs which provide a background to global issues. The Understanding Global Issues briefing packs, now in their fifth year, will be of interest to teachers of geography and history and indeed anyone whose teaching relates to the events of today's world.

Each pack consists of a booklet (14-22 pages) and a colour poster contained in a plastic folder. Suitably adapted and managed by teachers, the briefings can be used from key stage 3 to A-level. For independent study, access to background advice and a library are essential.

Some of the topics published last year (for example, Antarctica and Marine Pollution) deal with whole-world issues of environmental control and management, while others (eg The Rhine and Suez) are background studies. Four units, on Europe, The Balkans, The Baltic Region and South Africa, are regional re-appraisals following major political changes. Nuclear Energy and The Motor Car are concerned with issues arising from power generation and human movement. The New Brazil is an up-date and commentary on one of the world's emerging super-powers, a study of achievements, stark contrasts, confusions and sufferings. The "new" Brazil seems depressingly familiar.

The packs complement other sources of information, such as textbooks, television and press reports. They are literally "briefings", summaries which tell us what is happening now, what events led up to the present situation and what may happen next. Each briefing booklet consists of a one-page introduction, concise and balanced; then a series of short articles which set out important considerations to be kept in mind when trying to grasp the ramifications of the topic. Statistics and maps support the text and there are a few photographs. An important feature of each unit is its annotated bibliography and glossary of terms, names and events.

The bibliographies are short. Useful additions might include Mounfield's World Nuclear Power (Routledge, 1991), which is an excellent global survey written for non-technical readers; the Royal Geographical Society and Shell's Maraca education pack on Amazonia (1994); publications of the World Wide Fund for Nature on the rain forests and Antarctica; and for South Africa, Tutu and Allen's Rainbow People (Bantam Books, 1995), which reminds us of the profound influence of Christian thought and action in bringing down apartheid. A good atlas is essential back-up for all the units.

The units are somewhat varied in quality. Antarctica is relatively light-weight, The Balkans distinctly heavy-weight. Several units, including The Balkans and The Baltic Region, include materials which are hard to find elsewhere.

The emphasis throughout is on political and economic developments; the importance, sometimes, of physical geography is a little under-played. One does not have to be a determinist to suspect that the physical makeup of north and central Europe helped with the imposition of Czarist and Soviet power, nor that the geographical isolation of South Africa helped apartheid to last as long as it did.

Of the many images conveyed by this series, three stand out. The map of world-wide oil tanker movements and tanker accidents in Marine Pollution spells out the fragility of our only ultimate source of clean water. Maps in Europe remind those who live in the British Isles how tumultuous life has been this century for Europeans beyond the Rhine. Most thought-provoking is the world map of nuclear weapons ownership in Nuclear Energy. Can so many lethal weapons in so many hands be controlled for ever?

All in all, this is a widely usable series, a source of ideas and up-to-date information. It deserves attention from secondary school and sixth-form college teachers and librarians. Global issues are everyone's business.

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