Agora 2020

It was half past nine on a Friday morning. Over 700 students from schools across the UK watched a timer tick down. They were moments away from the first of several breaking news bulletins to be broadcast into their classroom. Agora, an immersive live experience from The Economist Educational Foundation, had arrived.

It should have been held in March, but the national lockdown scuppered best-laid plans. Schools were closed and the day was off. Eschewing superstition, we rescheduled for Friday the 13th November.

For an entire school day, students were taken off timetable to watch a news story unfold live on their classroom screen. Set in the fictional state of Namovia, ex-secret service worker Ana Weber stood accused of leaking classified information to the press. After considering all the evidence, students faced a decision: should Ana be punished or protected? In a tense final vote, 68% decided that all charges should be dropped!

Each breaking news update presented new twists and classroom activities encouraged students to think about broader themes of power, democracy, public interest and the rule of law. Schools selected students to be Agora journalists to share their class’ ideas via the live feed on the Agora website.

Despite covid-19 restrictions presenting some challenges, 39 classes from 22 schools participed. Our team was kept busy approving 634 student comments, sharing updates from the day on social media and making calls to schools from “Agora HQ”. See highlights from the day here!

All the planning and replanning was made worthwhile by the glowing feedback from teachers and students.

“Today has been absolutely amazing. The girls have remained engaged the entire day and have tackled some very thought provoking questions.”

Fiona, teacher at Upton House Preparatory School.

In a year of restrictions that have fallen especially hard on students, Agora felt like a welcome break from bad news. Whilst everything was planned pre-covid, the pandemic has seen virtual events take on new value. Ana Weber’s story was fictional, but the impact of current affairs on young people’s lives has made our mission even more vital. Plus, with school trips on hold, finding virtual ways to bring the outside in is proving more important than ever.