Video friendly

31st March 1995 at 01:00
GEOGRAPHY START HERE!: VIDEO PENPALS. Age group: 7-11 Channel 4, Mondays, 9.30-9.45am. Repeated in summer term from May 5. Teachers' guide, Pounds 3.95. Educational Television Company, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ

"Video Penpals" is a new element in the much-praised Geography Start Here! series. Each programme introduces a different country, including Cyprus, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and St Lucia, and then invites the viewer to link up with an overseas school and become "video penpals", exchanging messages on videotape.

Beneath the simple content and straightforward presentation, lies a much deeper level of quality. For example, it is not that easy to study other countries through the eyes of the children who live there. Many attempts have been dogged by unconvincing case-studies or patronising narrative. Nor is it simple to include the key geographical content without making it appear as an add-on extra. All these things have been achieved, and top marks have to go to the series' editors.

It is in the highlighting of cultural differences that the programmes really excel. While variations in climate, food and religion are unsurprising, there are more subtle questions asked about the closeness to nature, the centrality of family and the love of tradition.

The support materials only fall short in one respect their follow-up to the initial invitation to become a video penpal. Although encouraged to form associations with schools in other countries, and to use a video as a means of communication, there is little help given in this direction.

Be warned. It would be too easy to announce the prospect of a penpal relationship, only to find the practicalities too much to manage.

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