BBC's shows should spread the passion for learning: Nasse

26 May 2011
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MUMBAI: BBC controller of learning Saul Nasse said that he would like the BBC to challenge the attitude that learning is painful, difficult and not worth it – to shift perceptions and create a culture of curiosity and passion for learning by showing how it can be pleasurable and fun.

Nasse was speaking at the Wellington Festival of Education.

"That's why last year I launched the new strategy for BBC Learning – we want to inspire a life full of learning for all our audiences. We want to make programmes that motivate children and adults to do things. We want to give them a passion for subjects which will shape the rest of their lives," he said.

As a child of seven, Nasse was inspired by Tomorrow's World. "Raymond Baxter told stories and did experiments that made me want to study science at school and take a degree in metallurgy. I broke off my PhD to join the Science Department and in 1997 I came full circle when I took over as editor of Tomorrow's World,” he said.

Nasse noted that in the same way that he was inspired by television as a young boy, he wanted to inspire a new generation by commissioning programmes that do the same.

“I want to use the power of BBC programmes that are known and loved by audiences as a springboard for learning. This means unlocking the learning potential that exists across the BBC – whether on TV, Radio or Online, in News, Sport and Drama I want learning to be a pleasurable experience for audiences of all ages. I want children to enjoy learning Shakespeare through the BBC as part of their GCSE courses. I want adults to watch Wonders Of The Universe and think "how can I find out more about science". A balance between pleasure and learning.”

Nasse offered 'Stargazing Live' on BBC Two. Hosted by Professor Brian Cox and the comedian Dara O'Briain, the show provided an introduction to astronomy for audiences across the UK.

“This suggests that we can motivate a new generation to go out and take an interest in the world around them. People enjoyed watching the series and looked up into the heavens and made an effort to work out which star was where. It's an example of how compelling television can be enjoyable, inspiring and instructive,” he said.

The right balance between pleasure and learning is crucial. Happiness cannot be an end in itself in education. “While I set my teams the challenge of making our programmes intensely pleasurable, the fun can never be an end in itself. We've got to be darn sure we get some proper learning results.”

He spoke about a Doctor Who competition where the pubcaster made materials available to help primary schools pupils to write a mini-episode of Doctor Who.

There are certain rules – they've got to feature the Doctor, a monster, a brand new character and the scripts have got to be three minutes long. The competition closed last week and the winner will have their script filmed with the cast including the doctor, Matt Smith, and broadcast on BBC Three.

"I'm particularly pleased with this project because it's using the power of the biggest show on the block to inspire children to do something really difficult – write a script that's good enough to be on television. I judged the competition with Steven Moffat, Doctor Who's chief writer, on Thursday, and the scripts were all brilliant.

The dialogue in particular was fantastic. I think if we'd come over all Norwegian the writing of the 1,000 scripts that were written would have been the end in itself. But I'm pleased we made it a competition– pleased that children knew there would be just one winner, and that for them, the prize of having their work on TV was amazing and motivating. And to win, they would need to be the tallest of tall poppies.”

He noted that watching television doesn't demand the same concentration as sitting in a lesson where you might be asked a question at any time. However, the power of the internet means that the BBC can create interactive online resources that are pleasurable but really challenging.

"Our online revision site Bitesize has proved this. It reinforces what children have already been taught in the classroom and adds imagination and fun to rote revision.” In secondary schools, around three quarters use Bitesize with, not surprisingly, a peak in users in April and May. It covers curriculum-based subjects in Bitesize chunks using text, games and short-form films.

"We cover the Cuban Missile Crisis in a video lasting 2 minutes 29 seconds, the collapse of Communism in 1 minute 59 seconds and the long-term causes of World War I in 1 minute 27 seconds. And once a student has seen the clips, they're tested on the content, so they know how well they're doing.”

He said that resources like the internet give children the scope to develop their skills, aptitude and imagination in ways they never have done before. “We're using the net again for our Off By Heart project, a new recital competition for students aged 13-15 that we are working on in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Schools can nominate up to three students to appear in a regional heat where they will perform a famous Shakespearian speech from memory. Eight finalists will then be selected for a BBC Two programme."

Students in the classroom will also be able to access online, films of the various speeches performed by celebrities such as Helen Mirren, Katy Brand and David Tennant. It's a way of teaching children about Shakespeare that is exciting and relevant to young people and yet still relates very strongly to the curriculum.

"We're also working much more closely with our colleagues across the BBC. The Learning Department and he moved to MediaCityUK in Salford to the BBC's new northern base, now joining other departments such as Children's, Sport and, from 2012, BBC Breakfast. This is a great opportunity to work more collaboratively on inspiring content. I am delighted to announce we're launching a brand new language learning series for pre-schoolers called The Lingo Show. It's been co-commissioned by BBC Learning and CBeebies. The Lingo Show began life as a CBeebies website in February and has been a real hit. Once it's on the CBeebies channel, the focus will stay the same – teaching children words in different languages and allowing them to experience the sights and sounds of other countries and cultures."

Nasse added that the very best teachers do just that – make learning exciting, challenging and fun. “To me it's the least controversial notion in the world. What's controversial is thinking that people should know it's important to study, however boring or painful it is.

That's why I read those depressing research reports that tell me I should pretend our programmes aren't educational. What's controversial is thinking that happiness and pleasure are an end itself – then you're heading to Norway. What I aspire to do at the BBC are programmes and content that truly inspire people to learn. My goal is that one day every person in Britain will believe that education is part of their life, and that their life is richer because of it. And I'd like them to think that the BBC is a big part of their life full of learning.”
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