Exam TV will launch channels for each subject

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THE GOVERNMENT is planning up to 10 digital television channels devoted to the most popular GCSE subjects. The channels will broadcast for six hours a day, specialising in such subjects as maths, English, science and history to help to increase exam pass rates.

Ministers believe the links between digital television and the Internet will help to bring subjects to life. Three specialised channels will be tested in 30 schools from next year as part of efforts to increase to half the number of children gaining at least five good GCSEs each year.

The pounds 4m government- funded pilot scheme is designed to test the potential of the system, but ministers hope to extend it to all major subjects within two to three years.

A government source said: "Our vision is that we would have a channel for each of the 10 most popular subjects, so we would have a GCSE history channel, with materials for that course, and a channel for English."

In science, pupils might watch a short digital video explaining the body's defence mechanisms. They could interrupt it at any time to look into the immune system in greater depth.

In history, a teacher could use an extract from a programme on trench warfare in the First World War before downloading letters and other original documents from the Internet. The system is designed to be used by teachers, but it will also be accessible to older children or students studying at home.

The Education minister Michael Wills said: "We are convinced that digital broadcasting, with its potential for interactive learning, has an exciting role to play in assisting teachers and learners.

"Using digital TV to deliver curriculum-based services will therefore mean that a wider range of services reaches more pupils than is currently available solely through the Internet and personal computers. This is critical in helping the UK to avoid the development of information have-nots who miss out on educational opportunities," he said.

"Digital TV is particularly user-friendly. It allows teachers and pupils to use the programmes and access support material at their own speed and to monitor their progress."

Anglia Multimedia, the BBC and Granada Media are to work with the Department for Education and Employment to produce broadcasts for the pilot project. The service could include documentaries such as The World at War.

THE BBC promised to introduce new services, including high-street centres where community groups could make their own programmes, as it tried to convince the Government of the case for a digital levy on viewers yesterday.

The corporation backed the idea of a pounds 1.99 monthly digital levy. The levy, strongly opposed by commercial broadcasters, was recommended by the government-appointed committee led by Gavyn Davies. The consultation period on the Davies report ended yesterday.

Responding to the report, the BBC promised enhancements for existing channels and what the director-general Sir John Birt termed "exciting new services" to deliver the full benefits of the new technology to all licence holders. These will include multimedia learning packages, with digital content to support the curriculum for all primary and secondary schoolchildren, and multimedia services for children at home containing drama, information and entertainment.