Youth News Network slow to hit classrooms


Wed, Feb 9, 2000 - Winnipeg Free Press

By Nick Martin

Education Reporter

THE CONTROVERSIAL Youth News Network is still being shown in only one Manitoba school -- without its highly contentious commercials.

Four months after YNN was supposed to go on the air with at least 50 schools nationally watching daily classroom broadcasts of news and commercials in exchange for technology, only seven Canadian schools are watching, and only Kildonan East Collegiate is up and running among eight participating Manitoba schools.

But Athena Educational Partners president Rod MacDonald said from Montreal yesterday 18 schools across the country will be fully wired by the end of February and 12 more soon after. A national advisory committee will review prospective commercials in Toronto this weekend.

MacDonald maintained he can persuade Education Minister Drew Caldwell to lift his ban on expanding YNN or extending contracts beyond a six-month trial period. "The feedback we've had is very positive, with the quality of the shows and the relevance to the curriculum," MacDonald said.

Kildonan East principal Ron Hildebrand said yesterday that by adjusting schedules to show YNN between the second and third periods each morning, "We have not used any instruction time whatsoever." They are being well-received, he said.

Hildebrand is not granting media access to classrooms.

However, a dozen students in Kildonan East's library showed little interest in the newscast yesterday -- a 10-minute noisy assault of rock music and flashing graphics, containing two news items, a pop quiz, and a Canadian Heritage moment.

The first story dealt with recent compensation to Canada's wartime merchant marine, including an interview with a veteran in Montreal, and black-and-white footage of North Atlantic torpedo attacks. However, the reporter did not actually explain what the merchant marine did during the war.

The second news item covered young gamblers. A student who says he's gambled since age nine was interviewed, along with a bookie who takes sports bets from students, and a McGill University professor. Clips were shown of casinos and lottery outlets, but the reporter did not explain how teenagers are able to buy lottery tickets or play in casinos.

"It's not too useful. They're too short. They don't tell you anything," said Grade 12 student Derek Fehr.

"They just show the headlines. They don't have the details," added Grade 12 student Kevin Froese.

Chris Cavanagh said most students would rather use the daily time for homework or class time. "I learn more after reading the paper when I get home."

Hildebrand said the school's 25-computer lab is getting heavy use, but so far Athena has not exercised its option to use the lab for private business evenings and weekends. Tomorrow, a Manitoba-based YNN crew will be coming to Kildonan East to do a story on its multicultural activities, he said.

Staff screen the newscast each day, Hildebrand pointed out -- teachers have already vetoed showing a story in which fiddler Ashley MacIsaac appeared to urge students to drop out of school to pursue their dreams.

Sanford Collegiate principal Bill Bumstead said his school has received televisions in each classroom from Athena, but isn't wired yet for YNN newscasts. Its computer lab is still in transit.