- The BBC is launching a new daily education programme for pupils during lockdown.
- Famous names from broadcasting, sport and music will lead lessons or make appearances in certain curriculum-based virtual courses.
If you could choose anyone to teach your children geography, who would it be? How about the naturalist and certified British national treasure Sir David Attenborough?
For UK students stuck at home, this has just become a reality. This week, Sir David, along with a host of other well-known figures, will contribute programming to a new online learning schedule aimed at the country’s locked-down pupils.
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The COVID-19 pandemic and the distancing measures it has precipitated have forced families around the world to start homeschooling their children. For many, this has been an education in itself - and for British students and their parents, the lesson won't be ending anytime soon. While other European countries such as Denmark and Germany are either reopening schools or are planning to do so within the next few weeks, the UK’s government has yet to set out a timetable.
“I want nothing more than to see schools back, get them back to normal, make sure that children are sat around, learning and experiencing the joy of being at school,” said Gavin Williamson, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, on 19 April. “But I can’t give you a date.”
The UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC, has stepped in to help plug this gap. Its Bitesize educational platform - which launched in 1998 as a series of revision guides for students aged 14-16 - is being expanded to offer a broad variety of daily online lessons based on the national curriculum, and the BBC has recruited a host of celebrities to help deliver them.
While Sir David will give lessons on the oceans, mapping the world, and why animals look and behave the way they do, the Manchester City and Argentina football star Sergio Agüero will teach children how to count in Spanish. Pop singers Liam Payne and Mabel will teach music and literacy. Brian Cox - a professor of particle physics as well as a popular science broadcaster - will give lessons on topics such as the solar system and gravity.
The BBC’s offering is more than just celebrity polish, however. According to the broadcaster, a team of 200 teachers has been working behind the scenes to develop the multi-week whole-curriculum offering, which includes teaching materials and schemes of work to support the lessons being delivered.
“It’s vital that every child is able to continue learning, and the lessons we are putting on will make sure they have fun at the same time,” said Alice Webb, the BBC head of children’s programming.
While this approach has been met with a positive reception in the UK, similar efforts elsewhere have been met with controversy. South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (DBE) has been criticised for supporting a programme run by a non-profit organisation that has recruited celebrity volunteers to read to schoolchildren on lockdown; the DBE’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, has felt compelled to defend the scheme on Twitter, explaining that the volunteers are not replacing teachers.
In China, meanwhile, this phenomenon has worked in reverse. According to the Global Times, some teachers have become online celebrities; a biology teacher from Jilin Province named Weng Yu, for example, became a social media celebrity when clips from his online lessons went viral.
Elsewhere, institutions from the public and private sectors are also stepping up to help sequestered students continue their learning. In the USA, many firms and NGOs that offer online educational resources have made their materials free-to-access during the lockdown. UNESCO has also collated a list of distance-learning providers, many of them free, to help parents and school administrators facilitate learning while the world’s schools are closed.