Net takes on racism in the classroom

A Web site to raise awareness of racism was launched this week by Comic Relief in association with the Chichester Institute of Higher Education, Childline and the Runnymede Trust. The Britkid Web site is targeted at secondary schools with few ethnic minority pupils and aims to help children learn about the problems facing black and asian children, challenging their preconceptions about race.

A Web site to raise awareness of racism was launched this week by Comic Relief in association with the Chichester Institute of Higher Education, Childline and the Runnymede Trust. The Britkid Web site is targeted at secondary schools with few ethnic minority pupils and aims to help children learn about the problems facing black and asian children, challenging their preconceptions about race.

The first of its kind on the Net, BritKid introduces users to a fictitious town called Britchester and the nine children from different ethnic backgrounds who live there. The user is assigned to one of the children by a personality match at the start of the game so as to learn more about family, language, religion, etc.

A map of the town is provided and different scenarios are played out between characters in varying locations. Different levels of interaction are available. Users can click on icons offering facts about racism, as well as listening in on real interviews about the issues facing black and asian people.

Rob Lawrence, Britkid's project producer, explains: "The site was designed to be playable and informative without being too heavy. The user gets to know the characters as human beings and can dictate the level to which they want to explore the issues raised along the way."

Chris Gaine, reader in sociology at the Chichester Institute and a researcher for the project, believes there is much potential in harnessing the Internet as a learning tool: "This site trades on young people's pleasure in using computers. It is a way of modernising learning materials and because it is not linear like books, the user is able to move around in a way that makes sense to them. This is very important with an issue such as racism."

Gaine believes the site could be the beginning of a range of similar websites that bring political correctness to our PC's. "The next development could be a parallel site dealing with issues like sexuality, gender or disability" he said. It could also be useful for teachers who struggle with sensitive topics. "Teachers will trust it. Whereas a class discussion can produce all sorts of fireworks, this is a safer way of exploring the issues as pupils will do so privately and at their own pace."

"It is a brilliant initiative" according to Virginia Gibbons, Media Officer at the Commission for Racial Equality. "The Internet is becoming more and more acceptable to people, especially young people who are computer literate. It is a valuable resource to raise issues."

Criticism has been aimed at the BritKid site for being aimed primarily at white children and for not being hard enough with the issues. "It was designed for white schools where the issues are not always raised with confidence," says Gaine. "In schools that have a large number of ethnic minority children, I am not sure that a Net based tool would work best. These schools deal with racism issues on a more daily basis and it has a much higher profile."