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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Can computers make citizens?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Dr Baldev Singh and pupils
Dr Singh says pupils are more enthused when using computers
For the past two years, children aged 11 to 16 in England have had to learn about that most elusive of subjects: citizenship.

Amid waning interest in politics among the young and growing fears of anti-social behaviour, it was decided schools had to teach pupils to get involved with their communities.

But can a classroom-based subject make bored teenagers interested in the world around them?

Dr Baldev Singh thinks technology is key to reaching this young audience.

Using his expertise in computers, he has set up an e-citizenship course at John Cabot City Technology College in Bristol.

'Better than worksheets'

Pupils are encouraged to find out online about their neighbourhoods, contact politicians and make presentations about their summarised findings.

Dr Singh says this has helped stimulate debate and created a greater understanding of how their city works.

He told BBC News Online: "We asked how we could deliver a citizenship course without relying too heavily on written worksheets.

"These put children off and, if that happens, teachers lose their enthusiasm too."

So 11 to 14 year olds, more computer-literate than most adults, are asked to research subjects using the internet.

For one task, they look at crime statistics, using the breakdown of figures to judge the up-to-date situation in their own neighbourhoods within Bristol.

For another, they look at websites run by local MPs.

Dr Singh said: "One boy e-mailed an MP's office. His researcher got back during the lesson itself and, within two weeks, we had organised a visit.

'Books out-of-date'

"The MP gave a talk about what his job involved, which was very interesting.

"It was more engaging than just looking at books in the library."

Phrases such as "e-government" were bandied about during the early, idealistic days of the internet, or the "information highway".

Politicians anticipated a population more in touch with news, more able to make a judgement on issues and, possibly in the future, equipped to influence them via online voting.

There have been only limited signs of this so far. But Dr Singh thinks harnessing technology and the vast amount of available information - screened to avoid obscene and other unsuitable material - will improve "citizenship".

He said: "Citizenship only started in 2002, so many schools are still asking how best to teach it. So far this seems to be working."

The e-citizenship project, run by Dr Singh, has been extended to four other schools in Bristol, Devon, Birmingham and Gloucestershire.

Teachers 'need citizenship help'
06 Sep 04  |  Education
Citizen lessons 'need more input'
08 Sep 03  |  Education
Schools struggling with citizenship
02 Jul 03  |  Education

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