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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Mexican classrooms go hi-tech
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Mexico City

Ping ping, beep beep, tap tap. What would you think those noises are? A new video game? A children's toy, perhaps? Or even some exotic musical instrument?

Well, in some ways, you would be right about all three. In fact, it is the sound of the new digital education system being used in Mexico.

A brain seen on a screen
The system is used in a variety of subjects
The noises are the kinds of sounds you hear when you put your finger on the giant electronic screens attached to the walls of about 165,000 Mexican classrooms.

Some five million 10- and 11-year-olds now receive ALL their education through the screens. It is believed to be the most ambitious project of its kind in the world.

From maths to music, from geography to geometry, black and white boards have given way to electronic screens.

"I really like it," says one six-year-old at the John F Kennedy Primary school in Mexico City.

"It's fun and therefore you learn more."

'Active'

Five years in development, the entire school curriculum for 5th and 6th graders has now been digitised and is accessible on the screens. Soon, other grades will follow.

The system is called Enciclomedia.

Take an English lesson: the teacher taps the screen and a video starts, instantly.

The children concentrate more, they interact more and so they get more out of each class
Arturo Vazquez
Teacher
"Good morning, how are you," says the voice of one English-speaking girl on the video.

" I'm fine," comes her friend's reply.

Soon, the pupils in the classroom watching the screen are saying the words out loud.

During a biology lesson we watch as pupil after pupil comes to the screen to piece together the human body... electronically.

One boy taps his finger on the screen and brings up the human heart. He then slides his finger across the screen, taking the heart with him and places it where he thinks it belongs on the body located on the other side of the screen.

"Ping!" goes the sound of the screen when he places the organ correctly in the middle of the chest.

"Beep, beep," goes the screen when another child fails to put the lungs in the right place. This brings howls of laughter from his classmates.

This is putting the "active" well and truly into interactive education.

'Improvement'

"It is fabulous," says the teacher Arturo Vazquez. "The children concentrate more, they interact more and so they get more out of each class".

School pupil
Pupils concentrate more, according to teachers
Enciclomedia was brought in to raise standards in Mexico.

The current system can give teachers access to about 20,000 items of information, ranging from three-dimensional images of the body to clips of movies like Gladiator, so children can learn the history of ancient Rome.

In text alone, it is believed there is the equivalent of about 14 full-sized books inside Enciclomedia.

"It is a revolution," says Professor Ana Maria Prieto, an independent educationalist who is monitoring the project. "Research is continuing, but I believe it is really improving education standards," she says.

Already the United States, China and India have shown an interest in buying Enciclomedia.

Delegations from these countries have seen its screen bring up video of harps for music, rotating panoramic views of archaeological ruins for history and the insides of a plant's cellular structure for nature lessons.

Roulette wheel

In a nearby office are 400 people, the team behind the project. Here, graphic designers are working on the next phase of the system.

Coming soon, real satellite pictures of the globe to show rivers, population densities and climate change, a tool useful right across the curriculum.

There have been some mumblings about excessive teacher workload, but those we spoke to say it is possible to adapt to a different way of teaching.

The question of whether it is working and improving standards is still being assessed.

And there are issues of cost, too. It takes about US$5,000 (2,500) to equip each classroom with a big screen and associated computer. In Mexico, central government pays, after decreeing that education is a top priority.

"Me, me, me," comes the chorus of enthusiasm in another classroom we visit, as children urge the teacher to pick them to answer a question. Why the keenness? Well, yet again, the one chosen gets to go to the screen and interact in another subject. Here, you don't just put your hand up, you get up.

This is learning with all your senses.

And when children do not answer? Well, the system even has an tool for that.

Having already entered the names of all the pupils into the computer, the teacher can tap the screen to bring up an electronic roulette wheel that randomly picks a child's name. No more hiding at the back of class.

In a world where video game consoles, computers and television are already integral parts of young peoples lives, it was only a matter of time before someone harnessed them all in the classroom. This, is the world's first digitally-educated generation.




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