What the future of edutainment looks like

With kids out of school, students and parents need a lot more support. 9 Story's Angela Santomero weighs in on how that will shape the future of edutainment.
January 26, 2021

COVID-19′s impact on the world economy is still playing out, and researchers believe we won’t know the true size and shape of it for years to come. In some cases, trends that were already picking up steam have been accelerated; and in others, entirely new consumer behaviors have emerged. In this new Pandemic Impact series, we’ve reached out to the industry to gather some predictions about what lasting changes COVID-19 is likely to bring about, and what everyone can do now to prepare for them.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, kids were pulled out of school and redirected en masse to virtual classrooms.

The shift left many parents struggling in their new role as educators (and friends, dance teachers, life coaches, etc). But it has also created a digital divide between kids that breaks down primarily along socio-economic and racial lines. A lack of internet access and varying degrees of parental support, along with differences in how kids learn, means that many of them will be set back in their educational journeys.

In the US, 6% of kids can only access the internet via a smartphone, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Early on in the pandemic, a US-based study from Common Sense Media revealed that nearly 16 millions kids and 10% of teachers had no way of logging into virtual classrooms, while the UN estimated that three billion households globally lacked any form of internet access.

Even those with access to online learning may experience a learning gap. A new paper by research firm McKinsey posits that students in virtual classrooms could see their education fall behind by upwards of 14 months if they don’t receive any in-class instruction at all. Zoom classes, the report has found, just aren’t that engaging.

Kidcos have been racing to fill these gaps, with organizations like PBS KIDS, LEGO and Sesame Workshop broadening their outreach programs in vulnerable communities through innovative initiatives like lessons delivered via text messages and WhatsApp groups.

Broadcasters around the world—particularly public ones—have also rolled out new content to support kids at home.

In the UK, the BBC has launched multiple programming blocks for its young audiences, including three hours of primary-school programming on CBBC, two hours for secondary students on BBC Two, and a host of content for all ages on its interactive platforms. France TV rolled out a number of teacher-led initiatives last summer to help support students at home, and Canada’s CBC Kids quickly produced new content to keep its stuck-at-home viewers entertained and engaged.

There’s always been a desire for edutainment, says Angela Santomero, chief creative officer at 9 Story Media Group. But the demand has absolutely exploded during the pandemic.

With screen limits all but disappearing during lockdowns, “broadcasters are increasingly looking not just for a hit brand, but a hit that parents can feel good about putting their kids in front of,” she says. SVODs like Apple TV+ and Netflix are also on the hunt for shows with “a little vegetable” or learning embedded in them.

Parents are looking for ways to supplement their kids’ virtual or disrupted learning. In a recent survey by Giraffe Analytics, 32% of parents said their kids have been watching more education/learning content since lockdowns began, and 72% said that even when kids are back in school, they plan on continuing to supplement their learning with educational shows.

But Santomero says demand for edutainment has been building for years. It began in earnest as kids took more control over their programming via apps and YouTube. (In Giraffe’s study, 68% of parents said their kids had watched YouTube to learn something new in the past week.) While kids started to own more of their content choices, parents still wanted to feel good about what they were watching, leading to a rise in shows that could appeal to both groups.

And while curriculum-based learning—math, reading, science—has driven much of the edutainment fare that has been developed in recent years, content focused on social-emotional growth is now beginning to take over the conversation. Considering the impact COVID-19 will have on the emotional well-being of children worldwide, Santomero sees this as a huge area of opportunity in the coming years.

“We’re opening up what it means to be educational and letting kids’ interest and passions lead them,” she says. “[For example,] what does it actively look like to have mindfulness be part of your everyday? We’re going to see a growth in emotional educational programming and a bigger push on the whole child—not just looking at cognitive skills like reading and math. [The focus is going to shift to teaching kids to be] more kind, to deal with their big feelings and emotions, [and to] celebrate their differences.”

Check back all week for more predictions about how COVID-19 will impact the world of kids entertainment. 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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