The last sizeable westernised culture to be without television will get it next January -- and researchers will be there to observe the effects.
A team of researchers from Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education are working with the education department of St Helena's, a remote South Atlantic island, and one of 13 remaining British colonies, on a seven-year investigation to measure the impact of television.
St Helena has survived admirably to date without commercial radio and television. Early research has shown that St Helenian children are among the best-behaved in the world. The team, under Tony Charlton, have been working closely with a cohort of pre-nursery school children over the past 18 months to observe their behaviour. This has involved videoing the children to have an objective record of how they spend their time.
Although the study will focus on this group, nine to 12-year-old children have also been asked to log their activities every quarter of an hour, so that the researchers know how much time they spend reading, chatting, studying or playing. Children in middle schools are also being videoed to see if their behaviour changes.
Twelve families with pre-school children are keeping video diaries of their activities both before and after the arrival of television. The families will be asked to talk about their perception of how television has affected their family life and that of the community around them.
Dr Charlton, who has just returned from a visit to St Helena and who will be returning there in January, believes that the islanders will cope well with the arrival of television. "The children there are well-behaved, family life is strong and nursery class places are available to all preschoolers," he says. "Where else in the world can you find this healthy platform from which to investigate the effects of the introduction of live television?"