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Where no news is good news

Triumph of Hope - Eritrea's Struggle for Development By Lyn Routledge, Graham Harrisonand Nigel West 1 871268 65 6. Pounds 5.95

Our Country, Our Future - A Teaching Pack about South Africa By Mbali Ngcobo, Sindsiwe Sabela and Mduduzi Sishi 0 85473 401 5. Pounds 9.95

Shifting Sands - Agriculture, Development and Environmental Change in India's Thar Desert By Cath Sanders, 1 871268 60 5. Pounds 9.95 All available from the Leeds Education Development Centre,151-153 Cardigan Road,Leeds, LS6 1LJ

World Population: The Biggest Problem of All? Understanding Global Issues 947 Pounds 2.50 + Pounds 5.95 for wall chart European Schoolbooks Publishing, The Runnings, Cheltenham GL51 9PQ. Soil - Basis of LifeVideo, teacher's notes and activity sheets Shell Education Service, PO Box 46, Newbury, Berkshire RG13 2YX

Graham Hart finds room for optimism in five studies on different problem areas.

What do you want first, the good news or the bad? The good news comes from the resources produced by the Leeds Education Development Centre, featuring Eritrea, India and South Africa. The bad news, that somehow seems to overwhelm the good, comes in the shape of World Population: The Biggest Problem of all?, a recent issue from the first rate Understanding Global Issues series. As for Soil - Basis of Life . . . well, more of that later.

The good news emanating from Eritrea and South Africa is all the more surprising when one considers the situation a few years ago. Then, quite simply, Eritrea meant war and famine. Today the nation is largely out of the news, which speaks volumes for the advances that have been made.

Triumph of Hope - Eritrea's Struggle for Development is described as an activity pack for sixth forms and campaigning groups. A selection of colour photographs supplements a 24-page booklet packed (really packed!) with information and ideas. One of the many stated aims of the materials is to challenge negative views of Africa and African people, something that it achieves very well through a role-playing game entitled People's Assembly. The role of women in Eritrea's struggle back from the brink is also highlighted prominently.

South Africa's good news has encouraged many of us who once looked helplessly on. Over the past few years many materials have been produced about the "new" nation. One of the strengths of Our Country, Our Future is that the authors are South African teachers themselves: the "Our" in the title is most appropriate.

Our Country, Our Future is intended for GCSE and A-level, particularly for geography, but also for general studies, religious education and other humanities topics. The 88-page book covers much familiar material but also devotes considerable space to an examination of the causes of what is termed "black on black" violence. This particular phenomenon alarmed many western observers who feared a told-you-so response from whites in South Africa. At the present time the heat seems to be off, but the booklet clearly highlights the problem's combustible nature.

India, the effects of the Green Revolution, irrigation and environmental change are key issues in Shifting Sands. This locality study for GCSE and A-level geography is more good news from a developing nation. A developing nation? The 40-page booklet, supported by a large selection of colour photographs, begins by challenging several major misconceptions about India. Did you know that India's GDP puts it 17th in the world? That India's population density is only slightly more than that of the UK? And, marginally relevant but quite surprising, that India has 248,000km2 of permanent snow and ice?

Myths debunked, a series of role play games, activities and case studies lead the student through an in-depth study of agricultural practice and village life in the Thar desert in North-west India.

All three sets of resources from the Leeds Education Development Centre are crowded with hard information. In each the subject is set clearly within an historical context. Case studies are given sufficient depth, and the games and activities, nearly all based on real examples, are well supported and explained. In each also, the role of women is given prominence.

Women also figure prominently in World Population: The Biggest Problem of all? This new title in the Understanding Global Issues series may be a little more formal than the Leeds resources, but it is equally value-packed. The chief hallmarks of the series - clear graphics and up-to-date information - are in evidence. The question mark at the end of the title suggests optimism, an optimism that relies heavily upon increased education and emancipation of women.

Look at Eritrea or India, at Britain or at the world in general. Let's face it: men are the big problem. Both directly and more subtly, all the above resources reinforce this point. Do some societies (and religions) prize male babies over female babies? Do men generally benefit most and work least within family structures? Do men think that women deserve less education than men? Yes . . . of course they do! But just as the drip feed of environmental resources has made a big impact on schoolchildren so these materials may help the future. As always, our best hope lies with young people.

And so to Soil - Basis of Life. This well presented video and clear notes for teachers is suitable for 14-plus students studying soil as part of a geography syllabus. How soil is created, classified and used (all within a UK context) are key messages. The clearest message of all, however, is that soil needs a little helping hand from agrochemical companies. You have to make your mind up.

These are easy to use, well supported materials. There are clear arguments presented for and against the artificial supplementation of soil, and organic and inorganic fertilisers are compared.

Unlike all the other materials on this page, however, the smell of self-interest hangs heavily in the air. Perhaps there should be more women on the board of Shell UK.

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