Education’s move into the media spotlight: Cult or cultural shift?

With an influx of celebrity-led lessons and TikTok’s teaching takeover, lockdown is propelling education into the media mainstream. So, what does the future hold? As well as my own investigation, I’ve enlisted the help of BBC maths genius and bona fide livestream lesson leader, Bobby Seagull, to get the full picture on this phenomenon.

Imagine time traveling to the start of 2020 and telling teachers that, in a few months, their students will be accessing most of their learning via Zoom calls, getting maths masterclasses from Carol Vorderman and practising arpeggios with Myleene Klass. No doubt you would get a few very strange looks. (Of course, if you also mentioned that we’d be confined to our homes for over 100 days in a global pandemic, there would probably be an equally disbelieving response – but that’s one for another blog.)

Nevertheless, this is the reality in which we find ourselves: influencers and TV stars releasing daily teaching videos and, most recently, TikTok announcing its new platform for educational content. Similarly, teachers themselves have been elevated in the media as one of the heroes of our time, praised – and rightly so – for adapting with a blitz-like spirit to this brave new world of remote learning. With this, education has been brought out of the shadows of the classroom and given a new, more glamorous status in the spotlight: agile, innovative, collaborative. This last word is key, as charities, industry leaders and young people themselves are encouraged to join the ranks of famous faces creating online, user-generated content.

So, is all this something we should view as a product of our time – a need to adapt quickly in the face of an unprecedented crisis… or the natural path we would have taken eventually? In the latter case, the recent months could be seen more as a catalyst, which has accelerated, as opposed to deviated, education’s new trajectory.

Regardless of the answer, at Hopscotch we are no strangers to responding to the ever-evolving shifts in the education landscape. But what is the perspective from someone at the helm of this current trend? I got in touch with BBC TV and radio host, University Challenge semi-finalist, author and maths teacher, Bobby Seagull, with whom we have worked over the years to advocate quality STEM education. As if he didn’t already have enough strings to his bow, Bobby’s ‘Mid-morning maths’ lessons have commanded nearly 10k views on YouTube, so I was curious to hear his view on why this type of content has taken off.

“Over the last few years, we have seen how social media has transformed the relationship with celebrities and members of the public,” he explains. “High profile figures are able to communicate on a daily basis through YouTube, Instagram and other video sharing platforms. This has been building momentum and lockdown has offered the chance for high profile figures to step up. Parents and families in particular like the familiarity and comfort of celebrity names.”

But what do teachers make of this shift?

“Teaching is always evolving. Not being in the classroom and seeing my pupils face-to-face, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to instill in them my love for maths and keep them motivated. This period has necessitated teachers to improve technology skills, myself included! And I have found new ways to connect with my pupils. There might also be students who are unable to attend school, and now they are able to access the lessons. With some of my learners, they really engage with technology. Videos, interactivity and the ability to leave comments are all things that help grow their confidence, not to mention build important digital skills.”

That being said, let’s not forget to look at the bigger picture. While it can seem like every young person is a digital native with endless possibilities at their fingertips (quite literally), there is a huge proportion who risk being left behind. To this, Bobby agrees: “Learning from home is critically dependent on access to devices and internet. We know that there are multiple challenges facing a million school children in the UK when it comes to getting online.”  

Despite the government’s pledges of support, fears around the impact of digital poverty is still abound in schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas. On top of that, research shows  that those most in need of support from public services – including those on low incomes and disabilities – are among the least likely to be able to access information and opportunities online or have the digital skills to apply for jobs. So, while this move towards innovation is undoubtedly a silver lining in an otherwise quite bleak landscape for the teaching sector, it’s important that we keep our feet on the ground.

Taking into account the complexities of education’s ‘new normal’, let’s remember who the real heroes of the story are: hardworking teachers, who, in a few months’ time, will be returning to the classrooms, doing their best to give all students equal access to quality education, regardless of their background or existing social barriers; all this in the face of an ever-growing mountain of unforeseen new challenges. I’m sure many wish they could get into that time machine I mentioned earlier, but travel forward, not back, to see what the future holds. One thing is for certain - no matter how different education looks in months, years, decades from now, the goal must remain the same.


About the author

Hannah Furrer

Hannah has risen up the ranks from intern, and hasn’t looked back! She heads up Shell’s STEM competition, The Bright Ideas Challenge, supports the running of LifeSkills created with Barclays, and is leading the launch of a flagship educator wellbeing programme for Bupa. She loves getting creative with her projects and seeing the impact her work can have on individuals and their communities.

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