Educational television is back. That’s not cause for celebration.

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The BBC has announced it is “to deliver the biggest education offer in its history”, featuring hours of daily content for primary and secondary students across its channels.

For its part, the BBC deserves credit for delivering a public service at a time of desperate need. For many families, television will be the only means of accessing educational content during the coming period. It’s better than nothing — but only marginally.

Television-based lessons, however well produced, still leave no room for interaction, feedback or self-paced learning. That’s what computers are for. They generate the ‘thousands of forms of functions’ that EdTech and AI pioneer Seymour Papert spoke of. Not all online learning is made equal, of course, but who could dispute the importance of providing students with content and learning pathways tailored to their needs? To say nothing of the power these same technologies hold for teachers as they strive to preserve some continuity in their students’ learning.

It’s a shocking indictment of the government’s lack of intent that, for the 1.8 million children in the UK without online access, the potential of EdTech is being restricted to a decades-old format and centuries-old pedagogy.

If we can squander billions on a barely functional test-and-trace system, or £900m on an ill-advised Eat Out to Help Out scheme, then surely the means is there to ensure all students can enjoy access to online learning, at all times. If we earnestly subscribe to the belief that every child has a right to education, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then it must qualify as a non-negotiable.

I am a mathematician turned educator, trying to figure out what Education in a post-Covid world should look like. Say hello on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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