The Covid-19 crisis has transformed all our lives in ways we could barely have imagined just a few weeks ago. In so many areas, we will be desperate to go back to “normal life” as soon as safely possible. But in others, however, what we have learned in this crisis will – and should – reshape our thinking for ever.
Educating the nation’s children is one of those areas. All of us have had to adapt to play our part – from the thousands of teachers who have been delivering lessons remotely, to the many organisations offering resources for free to the parents who have had to balance homework with homeworking. Society as a whole has stepped up like never before.
At the BBC, we have done our best to contribute. Our core mission is to educate, as well as inform and entertain, which is why we pulled out all the stops to support pupils, parents, and teachers when schools closed. Our Bitesize Daily package has offered two hours of original broadcast programming for pupils in years 1-10 every single day. By the end of the summer term we will have published nearly 2,000 daily lessons online. All are designed to support pupils, to take a load off parents, and to offer structure and support for teachers coping with new realities.
Bitesize Daily has had 5 million visitors online every week since term began on 20 April, more than three times our site’s usual weekly traffic. And BBC Education is driving more young people to sign up for a BBC account than anything else we currently make. Let no one tell you our young people aren’t keen to learn.
Now the BBC is starting to consider what lessons we might learn from our role in helping to educate the nation during these past few months. None of us knows how education systems will adapt as a result of the global coronavirus crisis. It is still uncertain what we will need to do collectively to meet children’s needs in both the short and the long term as we emerge from lockdown.
That is why I read with particular interest the proposal by Tim Brighouse and Bob Moon, in Education Guardian, for a virtual Open School in the tradition of the Open University. They sketched out a compelling vision of an independent institution supporting students and teachers in school and out, offering high-quality self-learning tutored courses and resources in every subject, capable of helping to raise educational standards for decades to come. They also suggested a role for the BBC.
The BBC is prepared to pick up this gauntlet, in partnership with others. We would be delighted to join a discussion with key players before the end of this term. We could plan for next year’s inevitably disrupted learning and explore what might come after that.
Schools will always be the best places for children to learn. We will continue to be led by the government on the future of schooling in the UK. But the BBC has shown that we can play a critical role in the UK’s education infrastructure and I would like to see this continue as an even greater part of the corporation’s contribution to the nation.
Where could this discussion take us? How could we support teachers and parents? How might learning change, in and outside schools? Could we help the students who struggle the most, including those excluded from school? Could we deliver the dream of equal access to enrichment activities such as the arts and music? Overall, could we create a public infrastructure that would make it easier for all schools to benefit while growing the market for commercial providers?
I don’t know the answers. But I am sure these questions are worth discussing, and quickly. The BBC is keen to play a part. We cannot allow the lessons of lockdown, and the strength of our collective response, to go to waste.