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A window on Hong Kong

Pupils in Kent learn t'ai chi moves by video link

The class of nine-year-olds in Kent teeter on one foot, arms out and swaying, as Chinese music tinkles from behind a screen.

"And now the crane, one leg," intones their t'ai chi instructor, who is half a world away in Hong Kong. "Be careful... whoops!"

As he addresses his Stafford English kindergarten in Hong Kong, one of his five-year-old charges loses her balance. But here at Northwood primary in Kent the children shakily hold the position.

The British Government is encouraging schools to form links with schools around the globe and Northwood school is using whole-class video-conferencing to keep communication channels open.

Every week Paul Greenwood's Year 4 class opens a video-conference window to Hong Kong. There, kindergarten supervisor Chun Bong leads the two classes through basic moves in the gentle martial art of t'ai chi.

It is early evening in Hong Kong, morning in England. The Hong Kong pupils wear bright pyjama-suits. The English children are in their school uniforms.

But together, they have mastered the kung fu welcome, the "water melon", the "cloud" and the "crane" (almost).

Brogan, 9, said that beyond the t'ai chi, they have also learnt about each other: "They eat different foods, like fortune cookies," she said. Her friend, Titi, chips in: "And they eat with chopsticks. We tried, but the food kept falling off or breaking. So we just used our fingers instead."

Chun Bong said the experience had been a similar eye-opener for his pupils - especially comparing Big Ben at Westminster with the replica Big Ben at the Hong Kong Ferry Crossing.

"They realised that the United Kingdom was not as different and foreign as they thought," he said.

At Northwood school, Year 2 has been playing scissorspaper rock by video-conference with a class in China. The score was 5-4 to China. In December, another class swapped Christmas carols and traditions with Beaver Falls school in Texas.

London Grid for Learning, a consortium of local authorities that provides broadband services to Northwood and other schools, has now begun arranging visits to partner schools in China, Spain and the US.

David Mason, the grid's content manager, said forging links with overseas schools could be done through emails, letters and visits, and video-conferencing made those links sustainable.

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