We are experiencing strange and difficult times at the moment. Across the UK, schools have closed to the vast majority of pupils and instead, parents are taking up the baton to home-school their children. For those with younger children, nurseries have closed and stay and play groups have stopped running for the time being.
Yet what has emerged in their place are virtual versions – virtual lessons for schoolchildren and virtual toddler groups via platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. School pupils can do daily PE sessions with Joe Wicks (we’ve tried, they are intense!), maths with Carol Vorderman and music with Myleene Klass, all for free. For younger children, parents can sign up to online classes such as baby sensory, music time and baby signing. And parents are embracing them in their droves – in 5 days Joe’s PE session from Monday 30th March 2020 has been viewed almost 2.5 million times.
This seems surprising, in light of the moral panic that exists around children’s digital media use. Ofcom’s latest Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report states that in 2019, only 55% of parents believe that the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks, down from 70% in 2012. However, in 2019 75% of parents of 5-15 year olds did agree that being online can help children with their school work or homework, particularly for those with older children in that age range. We wonder whether some parents would revise their answers in light of the role online resources are playing in their children’s education at the moment.
Similarly, the Royal Society for Public Health’s 2017 report about social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing states that in their analysis of young people’s views of 5 big social media platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) only YouTube is said to positive a positive net impact on young people’s lives, and even then it’s a small one. The findings suggest young people find YouTube beneficial for things like emotional support, self-expression and community building but that it has a negative impact on aspects like their sleep, body image, real world relationships and FoMO (fear of missing out). We wonder if young people would rank YouTube, and other social media platforms, differently now they are taking on such a more prominent role in their lives.
We aren’t arguing that these virtual versions should act as permanent replacements to their real-life counterparts but can see that they may provide some benefits. Just like how Sesame Street has been seen as an “enduring example of a scalable and effective early childhood educational intervention” (Mares and Pan, 2013, p.149) which can provide some of the benefits of preschool education in parts of the world where early childhood education and care provision is lacking or non-existent. Sesame Street, and lessons via YouTube, aren’t as good as the real thing, but may be a good alternative when the real thing isn’t possible.
We’d like to know whether (and how) you are using virtual alternatives to school lessons and preschool groups at the moment. Have you given them a go? How do these temporary replacements compare to the originals?