As we enter our third national lockdown, households up and down the country are reminded of March: working from home, being stuck in the house, and on-line school. For many parents this means a balancing act of maintaining a full-time job whilst educating their children, and for children this means a re-adjustment to online learning, with varying levels of support and access to education across the country.
From the 11th January the BBC has been offering an improvement, if not a solution, to this problem, by broadcasting educational programmes throughout the day for both primary and secondary school children.
In previous lockdowns this has been available online, or on the red button, however it is now being broadcast on main-stream channels daily. The BBC hopes this will help lower income families who can’t afford the resources which are needed for their children to fully engage with online school, such as laptops or mobile data.
One of the growing concerns surrounding the pandemic is the widening of the education gap between working-class families and those with more privilege. In September 2020 research from the National Foundation for Educational Research found that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and wealthier pupils had widened by 46% compared to July 2019. Could this BBC initiative help these families keep their children engaged and learning?
The BBC is currently offering programmes for all ages. Starting at 9am, CBBC broadcasts three 20 minute episodes of ‘BiteSize’ curriculum based content, with the first week focusing on Maths, English, Science and French. This is followed by episodes of well-loved educational programmes such as Horrible Histories and Art Ninja. The programme also sees a daily 10 minute lesson from a different ‘Celebrity Supply Teacher’, such as Heston Blumenthal teaching Food Science, Creative Writing by Geri Horner and Marcus Rashford running a P.E lesson. For secondary school children, BBC 2 shows an hour of curriculum-based content followed by additional content such as documentary-style episodes and drama adaptations. These programmes aim to strike a balance between complimenting a child’s school teaching and keeping them interested.
However, while the scheme will provide students with an alternative resource to consolidate their learning, and parents with a break in home-schooling, is it enough? Everyone loves a Horrible Histories sing-along, but this is not equivalent to an hour of live teaching.
The government has taken some steps to help low-income families, with the Department for Education currently offering free mobile data provision when applied for by the school on a child’s behalf. They have also been providing laptops for disadvantaged children, however the BBC recently reported problems and concerns with this scheme, as the rollout seems to have been unorganised and insufficient in some places. It is essential that the government continues to address this problem so that all children have access to their education.
The BBC’s new scheme will hopefully give children a welcoming and friendly community to continue to learn in, when they may otherwise be feeling particularly demotivated and isolated. The addition of celebrities will particularly help with this – seeing a famous face encouraging them to learn could provide well-needed motivation for lots of children. While the BBC’s scheme is no solution to the access to education problem across the UK, it will definitely help both parents and pupils feel more positive at the start of the New Year.