You, me and all of us;Reviews;Television

26th June 1998 at 01:00
PEOPLE IN SOCIETY. Channel 4. Age 12-14

Chad Shepherd looks at a series about how society can affect individual lives

The disability is not the problem. It's the interaction of the disability with the environment," says Jean Higgins, as she tries to conquer a kerb in her wheelchair. Here is a first-hand account of the enormous difficulties disabled people face getting about town, as she shows Andrew Wilson, a young presenter of this series, around a shopping mall.

"Popping into town" becomes an exhausting, long-winded and frustrating expedition, with many shops and places simply inaccessible. Jean also points out the facilities that can make a difference to disabled people, such as lifts and wide aisles in some department stores.

"Willing and Able" is the first programme of this series, which looks at the way society shapes and affects individual lives. Other programmes are devoted to the law as protector, especially of young children; the right to vote and what goes on in a modern election campaign; decision-making processes and the different ways in which conflict can be resolved.

The series is described as "fast-moving and stimulating" and has been created to support the "Understanding People in Society" section of environmental studies.

The programmes are well presented, especially "All Together Now" (programme 4), which focuses on the decision-making process. It looks at the work of environmental pressure groups and shows the need for collective rather than individual pressure to force change. It features examples such as Snowdrop, the pressure group seeking to ban handguns in the wake of the Dunblane tragedy, and the way international pressure on South Africa eventually forced it to dismantle apartheid.

At 15 minutes, each episode is brief enough to hold attention. That and the succinct, informative narration of teenage presenters Andrew Wilson and Abigail Westwood, coupled with vibrant backgrounds, cartoon graphics and a bombardment of archive video footage, give the programme a trendy, magazine style, which should be exciting enough to captivate its target audience.

A cross between Panorama and Blue Peter, each episode starts with an introduction to the week's topic, followed by narration over a wide selection of film clips exploring aspects of the subject matter. The information, presented factually and without frills, is unbiased and seeks to give pupils food for further thought and enough material to contribute to discussion.

Much of the information comes in the form of visuals, but it is not so fast-moving that it becomes uncomfortable to watch and absorb. In fact, the programmes work mainly because of their exciting diversity and the way the array of clips and footage gives viewers a real taste of the issues raised. Although 15 minutes may be too short a time to really get to grips with each subject in depth or investigate causes and possible solutions of some of the problems, it is enough to give teachers a sound base from which to probe further.

The accompanying teacher's study guide includes a brief summary of each episode, and points covered, and provides questions for discussion and a list of interesting facts as well as exercises.

A teacher's study guide,pound;4.95, and video of the series, pound;17.99, are available from August from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ. Tel: 01926 436444

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