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Virtual pets prove a real problem

Schools worldwide are increasingly having to ban Tamagotchi, the so-called cyber pets, from the classroom as the latest craze is driving teachers mad.

The egg-shaped electronic "pets" are equipped with small screens. They bleep if they are hungry or otherwise neglected, interrupting lessons. Although the Tamagotchi can be switched off, their owners often forget.

While teachers may be relieved to see Pogs lose their classroom cachet, the latest fad promises to be even more annoying. The Tamagotchi, which have to be fed, loved and have their cages cleaned throughout the day to prevent them from dying, are said to be distracting children and irritating staff.

The craze originated in Japan, and a ban is in place at the Japanese School in Acton, west London. Others are now having to follow suit. One head said: "I hadn't even heard of them until my staff started complaining about them. So I said they are not to be brought into school."

Thailand's education ministry last week gave schools the power to ban the virtual pets after intervention by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, daughter of King Bhumibol. The officials said Tamagotchi may have a place in highly urbanised Japan where there is little space for pets, but in rural Thailand there was no need for children to have them.

A survey of schools in Singapore found more than half had banned the toys and Taiwanese schools have also outlawed them from the classroom.

The authorities in Hong Kong have adopted a more lenient approach: grief counselling is offered to children traumatised by the "death" of their electronic pets. Anita Lam, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, said some children are too young to understand death, but admitted that many are deliberately killing off their cyber pets.

Teachers are lobbying the ministry to have the toy banned and are even more concerned about a pirated version called the Triad Tamagotchi, which requires (virtual) cigarettes, alcohol and knife fights to keep it happy.

But Britain may be about to return the favour to East Asian schools, in saddling them with our current homegrown craze. Spice Girl mania is so bad that some schools here are having to ban their pictures from the premises.

John Kenwood, head of Bourne School, East Sussex, said the rivalry between those who had their favourite Spice Girl had led to a ban on pictures until the pupils learned to act more sensibly about their pop idols.

The Spice Girls have also been blamed for returning platform shoes into fashion. One headteacher said the school hall is still marked with the holes made by the last shoe fad, stilettos. Glynis Forsyth, head of St Mary's and St Thomas' primary, in St Helens, Merseyside, said: "Girls as young as nine are wobbling around in these awful platforms. It's difficult to ban them if they are the only pair of shoes a child has. The Spice Girls have a lot to answer for."

Schools in the North-east have also had to put their foot down on Middlesbrough football fans who sport long ringlets in their hair in the style of Emerson, the colourful midfielder from Brazil.

FEATURE,TES2, page 5

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