Alice Webb, BBC Children's

Engineering evangelists at BBC Children’s CBeebies

Image credit: Simon Finlay

Children’s television shows like ‘Bitz and Bob’ and ‘Do You Know?’ are channelling the energy and enthusiasm of the UK’s preschoolers into STEM subjects to create the next generation of engineers. Is that any wonder when the woman in charge of the BBC’s children’s content is herself a chartered engineer?

Most people in the UK with young children will be aware of CBeebies, the BBC’s network catering for viewers aged six and under. But how many know that the woman at the helm of this televisual colossus has a solid engineering background?

“I’ve got a Masters in civil and environmental engineering,” Alice Webb, whose slightly incomplete-sounding job title is ‘BBC Children’s’, tells E&T. “I went into the industry and I got fully chartered. I’m a proper engineer. I’ve got the hard hat and boots to prove it.”

Webb’s professional background might help explain why CBeebies viewers have recently been treated to an array of STEM-focused content, including a new series of the documentary-style engineering show ‘Do You Know?’ starring Maddie Moate. There’s more to come too, with specialist apps “coming down the pipeline”. Webb reveals: “We’ve yet to launch these, but they’ll be helping boost kids’ imaginations and their engineering brainpower.”

One of the most notable recent offerings in the field of engineering-related children’s shows is ‘Bitz & Bob’. This animated series, featuring the voice of US comedian and actor Rob Delaney, somewhat controversially adds another letter to the widely-used acronym, rendering it STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths).

The series is already said to be selling well abroad and a companion show, ‘Bitz & Bob: You Can Do It Too’, shows children how to build their own mini contraptions.

The aim is to encourage preschoolers to get involved in craft activities, engineering and experiments. The main character, Bitz, is an excitable eight-year-old inventor with ‘Engineer-o-vision’ goggles who fixes and reinvents contraptions to ‘save the day’. Her unique ‘Steam Pink’ style is described by the BBC as “a mix of girl power and steam punk chic”. Bitz is intended to be a strong female role model. Bob, her younger brother, walks around in a ‘robot outfit’ (a cardboard box). “Who hasn’t done that?” says Webb. Of Bitz, she declares: “She’s got real attitude.”

Helen Heggie, an education consultant specialising in STEM who worked on the show, says of Bitz: “She’s like the daughter I never had.”

Webb wasn’t involved in the day-to-day creation of ‘Bitz and Bob’, but she states: “As an engineer myself, I’m really proud we have been able to play a small part and will continue to do so. I know what it was like going to university when I was one of 100 people on my course and there was just one other woman. The idea that we could inspire future generations of engineers, whether that’s in civil engineering or environmental engineering, or indeed in computer science engineering, I hope we can.

“When you hear incredibly wonderful people like Maggie Aderin-Pocock tell you that she was inspired to become a space scientist because she watched television about space and ‘The Sky at Night’, those are the kinds of things that stick in your mind. ‘Bitz and Bob’ may be that piece of inspiration, or one of many pieces that will inspire.”

Read our exclusive interview with Maddie Moate, YouTube and CBeebies star and STEM evangelist.

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