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Vote for the Express

Nicholas Pyke recommends a service that puts the General Election in context.

The tit-for-tat election "balance" favoured by television controllers leaves little room for breadth or complexity - let alone a discussion of the electoral process itself. World news gets scarcely a look-in.

The authors of Global Express hope that a few British classrooms will rise above this level and dare to ask the question: how it is that our individual thoughts translate into collective results?

Global Express is a new resource and information magazine which tries to help schools keep abreast of world events. As the latest monthly edition suggests, democracy is complicated and frequently surprising, particularly in its international context. Nothing is as simple as we like to think. The Chinese national government is, for example, less than wholly democratic. Yet over the next year the majority of the Chinese population will cast its vote for local leaders (and most of those elected so far have not come from the Communist party).

Only 24 per cent of women are literate in Bangladesh. But this has not prevented full democratic participation: women accounted for 73 per cent of the votes cast in last year's election.

In Britain, meanwhile, despite a proud democratic record, some 90 per cent of young black Britons say they will not vote at all, according to a recent MORI poll. They neither believe the political parties are listening to them, nor that individual choices can make a difference to the result.

Global Express is a subscription publication which describes itself as "the rapid response information series for schools on development issues in the news".

Last month's edition was, for example, devoted to the crisis in Africa's Great Lakes region: Rwanda, Zaire, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Global Express outlined some basic historical and contextual details - the fact, for example, that Rwanda is the poorest country in the world, according to the World Bank. It offered activities and discussion ideas for teachers, and a bibliography of books and resources.

The latest, April, publication is timed for the British election. It outlines some of the "myths": for example, that no developing countries are democratic; that the European model could be taken up wholesale by the South or Third World at the drop of a hat; the notion that voting cannot truly change anything.

It hopes to prompt discussions of, for example, Swampy the roads activist, and the relative merits of discussion, protest and violence. Or the Chipko Movement in India where villagers prevented major logging companies from destroying forests and brought about a change in the law.

Global Express is funded by some potentially deadly sources: the European Commission and the British Overseas Development Administration.

Despite a slightly right-on flavour, however, the content should be of great interest to schools and a wider population alike.

Global Express is available from Room 6, Panos Institute, 9 White Lion Street, London N1 9PD. Pounds 15 for five mailings. Tel: 0171 278 1111

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