SENATIN, a roller-skating, wire-limbed creature whose domed head is adorned by a French flag, is the mascot of Senat Junior, the first French-language Internet site devoted to citizenship lessons for schoolchildren.
His head represents the dome on the Luxembourg Palace, the Paris home of the Senate, France's second parliamentary assembly. It was the Senate which this month set up the interactive site designed for eight to 12-year-olds, their parents and teachers.
The project is in line with two priorities of education minister Claude Allegre, to promote citizenship and increase the use of computers in schools.
With Senatin as their guide, children have more than 20 sections to explore with quizzes, puzzles, games and animated cartoons. There are also competitions on such themes as democracy, the law, human rights, the roles of the president and prime minister, and the significance of "liberty, equality, fraternity".
Children can learn about government from European and national levels, down to the communes of France; and the various institutions of the Republic, such as the State Council and Constitutional Court. Other subjects covered include quality of air and national service.
As the paymaster of the site, which cost pound;26,000 to set up, the Senate naturally provides comprehensive information about itself.
Children can call up profiles of senators, read interviews with them, discover the Senate's origins and workings, and even inspect a senatorial identity card.
Launching the site last week, Christian Poncelet, president of the Senate, said he hoped that it would "improve knowledge about the principles and institutions which are the foundation of our democracy". Even adults did not know details about the Republic, he said, adding that he also hoped teachers would find it a valuable teaching aid.
Eight-year-old Emma who attends a primary school in Paris, has already started
lessons in civics, so far covering topics including road safety.
She thinks Senat Junior "will be useful" for her studies and liked the cartoon film explaining the various stages in the passage of a parliamentary Bill. When she tried answering a quiz she was impressed to "only get one wrong answer".
Senat Junior is at www.junior.senat.fr