By Digital Producer and Presenter Rishi Davda
There are about 10.5 million children in school in the UK right now. Well, most of them aren’t physically in school because of the ongoing coronavirus restrictions but in normal times there would more than 10 million children in school, according to the Department for Education.
Lockdown means that the country’s young are fitting remote learning around a much-changed, yet monotonous daily life. Students have been in and out of the classroom for almost a year now.
For many at primary school this might sound amazing, but for the 4 million UK students in secondary school, the prospect of further disruption to some of the most important years of their education is a scary situation.
A-level and GCSE students could still sit exams this year - despite their official papers being scrapped in light of the pandemic - under plans set out by education secretary Gavin Williamson.
Taking children out of the classroom and putting them in their homes to learn has highlighted inequality up and down the country. Schools are being relied on to teach from a distance, which in theory sounds feasible, but the practical application has proved much more difficult.
CloseTheLockdownGap is a new initiative that aims to provide 100,000 hours of free education to help close the ‘lockdown gap’.
The 'gap' acknowledges that some schools and students are well resourced and can cope just fine with remote learning, while others are badly struggling.
Set up by brothers Mustafaen and Arsalan Kamal, CloseTheLockdown Gap has called on university students, graduates, teachers and professors to volunteer anything from 30 minutes of their time to provide a one-to-one online learning environment that can help students make up for some of the time lost in the classroom.
The pledges from academics have been coming in thick and fast, so much so, the team are struggling to keep up with all the offers and requests.
The initiative started this week and already 1000 hours of online tuition have been set up. Mustafaen, a 26-year-old law student from north-west London, says they ‘don't plan on stopping’.
He notes that almost all subjects are covered by the service, but there is a big demand ‘for Maths, English and the Sciences.’ The academic offers are coming from all around the world, not just the UK. People in Australia, India, China and the US have all pitched in to help UK students catch up on lost lessons.
In fact, a professor from Harvard University reached out willing to teach GCSE and A-level maths. Mustafaen welcomed the offer, joking that the professor is ‘likely overqualified’, but his generosity is exactly what CloseTheLockdownGap is about.
Mustafaen is passionate about education and addressing ‘inequalities in educational opportunities’. He says ‘remote learning is easier for those with a separate study room, fast wifi and parents who have been educated to a high level in the British system.’ However, this is far from a reality for many in the UK.
Figures given exclusively to ITV News uncovered that children are still being denied a proper education because they can't get the equipment they need. The government has promised 1 million devices to those who need it most to aid with online learning. This target has not yet been reached.
It’s not just technology that stands in the way. In some cases, class sizes are too large and contact time has been reduced too much for online learning to be truly effective. For some, there is a greater reliance on parental involvement to manage school work at home.
Mustafaen wants to help the situation and says that ‘the status quo poses a huge challenge for social mobility. I hope this project goes some way in bridging the gap.’
Setting up a programme like this is not without its challenges. Mustafaen says the first of those is capacity, ‘the volume of interest from both tutors and students is inspiring.’ The team is doing its best to connect as many tutors and students as possible.
The second one is that of safeguarding. All the teachers must have the appropriate checks to make sure they are allowed to teach children.
He sums up what he believes his project’s role is by saying, ‘this country really has so much to offer all of its young people, but we have to do all we can to ensure that the youth of today are best positioned to make the most of these opportunities.