The BBC has announced plans to launch a dedicated education channel next year. The new channel, which will follow its 24-hour news channel, is to be called BBC Learning and will be available initially on digital satellite and cable television only but will be free to users.
It will feature a range of programmes for children, parents and teachers but there will be particular emphasis on lifelong learning, which has already shaped The BBC's Learning Zone strand which transmits on BBC2 during the early hours.
"We know that audiences are keen to learn, and that they like to learn by television" said Will Wyatt, chief executive of BBC Broadcast. "More people use television to learn than use books," he added.
Existing schools television and radio output on BBC2 and Radio 3 will be unaffected by the changes and the new channel's start-up costs of Pounds 10 million are being covered by savings made within the organisation and the sale of transmission networks.
Much of the new channel's output will rely on the BBC's extensive archives and previous educational material, repeats in other words, although fresh programmes are planned. "We want to take the best of what we have and add to it," said Jane Drabble, the BBC's director of education.
However, the new channel's main aim is to encourage viewers to make the most of emerging technologies and for this reason it is to be closely linked to existing interactive services, such as On-Line, the BBC's Internet site. A further Internet service to complement the new channel will begin next year. The BBC Learning Station is to offer interactive education services for school and home use, such as homework helplines and resident experts who can be contacted for direct assistance and from whom there will be a guaranteed response within 24 hours.
According to Jane Drabble the channel will "enable people of all ages to feel at ease with new information technologies, make advice and support available to them as they learn, and set them up with new skills for their career or leisure interests."