Views of land and freedom

21st May 2008 at 01:00

GEOGRAPHICAL EYE OVER BRITAIN "The Waxing and Waning of the Textile Industry: Yorkshire" "Shifting Coastlines: East Coast" "The Changing City: London" "The Changing Village: East Anglia" Age range 11 to 14

Channel 4, February 8, 4.00-5.20am Study guide Pounds 4.95 Educational Television Company 01926 433333

Graham Hart watched a television series which brings to life the links between physical and human geography

In an age when children are assailed on their screens by videos such as Awesome Angry Cyberbabes and Zombie Megahit Deathmatches, it's comforting to know that many will still tune in to programmes like Blue Peter. They have something special that still attracts young viewers.

That "something special" is probably the same ingredient that works for Channel 4's Geographical Eye schools television series. The production team has achieved consistently high standards in four 20-minute programmes that cover the relevant parts of the lower secondary curriculum while appealing to the student audience.

These programmes, which examine the links between human and physical geography, are easy to understand, clear, direct, never dull and never patronising - despite tackling some relatively non-sexy subjects and placing children at the centre of the story (a potentially problematic device). Eschewing the cyberbabe approach, the writers and directors have brought to life topics like coastal erosion, London housing, the decaying textile industry and East Anglian village life.

Of the four, it is probably Shifting Coastlines and The Changing Village that best epitomise the series' strengths. The personal touch in Shifting Coastlines is particularly appealing. The man in his retirement home and the manager of the gas terminal possess a similarly resigned, but still disbelieving, approach to the probable loss of their property into the North Sea.

The use of the lifeboatman's children, whose isolated home can easily be cut off by the shifting seas and sands, heightens the reality of living so close to a formidable natural force. Throughout the programme, the individuals who describe their plight are interesting, plausible and human.

While the sea dominates life on Britain's north-east coast, human forces are prominent in The Changing Village. Here we compare the lives of two children living in different East Anglian villages. The forces at work - motorway network planning, shopping patterns, farming practices - are no less powerful than a pounding wave or shifting glacier.

The children, with their paper rounds, friends and footballs, find themselves at the mercy of forces just as much beyond their control as those facing the raging sea. You may have had a hard job convincing your class that bus journeys, shopping trips and simply getting up in the morning are all affected by geography, but this programme will change all that.

The other programmes, The Waxing and Waning of the Textile Industry and The Changing City have their moments too. It is hard not to feel warmth and support for the hardy citizens of Coin Street, near Waterloo Station in London, who successfully fought off the "big boys" in their struggle to keep housing in the inner city. This issue highlights the complexity of spatial analysis: we must know all the facts before we can make meaningful interpretations of any type of landscape.

The graphics used in the programmes follow the "simple is best" approach. They are clear and will copy well for freeze-frame use on video. The supporting documentation is also straightforward, providing a relatively small amount of helpful extension material.

These study notes also contain a short introductory letter from John Austin, education officer for Channel 4 Schools, which says: "Although [the topics] have been chosen because of their relevance to the geography curriculum at key stage 3, they are inherently interesting as documentaries which, we believe, pupils will find stimulating."

This is a classic piece of underselling. The programmes are full of interest, with much wider relevance than simply serving the specific curriculum requirements. They are models of excellent educational broadcasting.

Let's hope, in true Blue Peter style, the production team has some more ready that they made earlier.

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