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Writers usher in a New Dawn

Children hope to quiz Nelson Mandela via the Internet in a project tying in with his visit to Britain next month. Reva Klein reports. With any luck, schoolchildren in Britain will be interviewing Nelson Mandela via the Internet soon. The BT CampusWorld on-line and Internet service has asked the South African president as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ex-president de Klerk and others to agree to be interviewed by children in schools that subscribe to CampusWorld.

The interviews, which will be moderated by Chrysalis Interactive, are part of a prototype project called New Dawn South Africa, designed to tie in with President Mandela's state visit to this country on July 9. The idea is to use the event to bring South Africa into focus through several projects, of which the interviews are one element. CampusWorld plans to launch other projects tied in with important topical events.

The centrepiece of New Dawn South Africa is a competition for young journalists to write a feature about any aspect of South Africa that they choose. Winners will be sent to cover President Mandela's visit with a journalist from UK News and their copy will appear on CampusWorld as news items, along with other entries.

A site on the Internet with a range of resources on South Africa was launched two weeks ago to help the young journalists with their research. Among the material available is information on history, literature, sports, ecology, the environment and the economy. As well as this material, every day of Mr Mandela's tour will yield features on the towns and cities he visits. Schools can use this information in any way they see fit.

Another aspect of the project is working on-line with schoolchildren in South Africa on joint activities. Phil Moore, production manager for CampusWorld, explains: "We hope that schools on both sides will build on the potential for discussing issues through the curriculum to gain an understanding of South Africa today. For British children, it will give them a richer understanding of South Africa. To be able to talk to South African children about their own country will give a whole new dimension to their perceptions."

For the South African children, it will give them an opportunity to share their views and to delve into subject matter with children from across the world. Newspapers in Education in Britain has helped set up a similar organisation in South Africa, where media centres have been established in townships and rural areas.

"We wanted the South African schools involved in the project to come from as broad a cross-section of society as possible, encompassing children from a range of backgrounds," says Mr Moore. "But because we couldn't set up technology bases in all schools in all areas, we set up these media centres to which schools could be brought."

Among the joint curriculum-based activities that are being planned between the two countries are discussions on literature, art and design. "This will give an opportunity for schools to talk to each other about the literature they study," says Mr Moore. "For example, South African students may want to talk about their reading of Shakespeare, while British students will want to ask questions about Cry the Beloved Country, which is a GCSE set text," he says.

All the discussion groups are being listed in the "What's New" site and schools will be able to visit them whenever they like.

The project will not end when Mandela flies home. CampusWorld plans to store all the materials produced for and in New Dawn South Africa into one site where any user can go to research South Africa. To find out how the project was used and how it was rated, CampusWorld will ask for feedback from teachers and students so it can tailor subsequent event-based projects to their needs.

Phil Moore is enthusiastic about setting up these links, with South Africa and with other countries in future projects. "This is what using the Internet in schools is all about - being able to exploit information for their own purposes. They can use the information that we'll be providing for whatever they want. The beauty of it is that it ties in with our national curriculum. "

The on-line address for New Dawn South Africa is:

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