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A different kettle of quiz

3 December, 2021

Imagine University Challenge with the status of the World Cup Final. Enter Ghana’s National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ).

My recent trip to Ghana for the SKY Girls campaign coincided with the NSMQ, and I was struck by how it has taken the nation by storm. The NSMQ is an annual competition for senior high schools, drawing huge viewing numbers and sparking viral content. The highly competitive event has captured the nation’s imagination.

If in doubt of what’s at stake at the NSMQ, you can see the reaction to the 2021 winners here.

Using popular culture to drive the academic and career ambitions of millions of young people is a powerful lever. And it also raises the question of how much more could be done if shows with huge influence chose to promote more positive role models or address societal challenges. When it works it can be hugely impactful; just look at the ‘Blue Planet effect’ which helped put plastic pollution on the national agenda.  It would be great to see more of these – and to see them being given the necessary sponsorship, support and prestige.

The NSMQ is not perfect – a more gender equal contestant pool is much needed, for example – but it is a reminder of how using the media for popular culture can unite people around shared aspirational behaviours and shape positive goals.

Perhaps there is a challenge for UK broadcasters to think about where they can innovate in this space and at the aspirational potential of the content we currently consume. What if Love Island encouraged going on to higher education? Or Say Yes to the Dress inspired making more sustainable fashion choices?

By Alice Railton

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