As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 297 million students in Africa—and 1.29 billion worldwide—have experienced school closures. These schools must quickly produce and distribute distance learning materials, often through online programs and television broadcasts. Students who lack television or internet access are at risk of falling behind. Therefore, many students from impoverished communities are at a disadvantage. However, according to UNESCO, 75% of all households worldwide have radio access. Similarly, nine out of 10 households have radio access in sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks to innovative groups like the Rwanda Education Board, students are able to learn via radio.
State, private and community radio stations have been airing educational broadcasts to make remote learning more accessible during the pandemic. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Okapi Ecole, a radio network that the United Nations sponsors, broadcasts educational programs for students in primary and secondary school twice a day. Students are also able to learn via radio in Peru; the “Aprendo en casa” initiative uses multiple platforms, including radio, to teach lessons on math, Spanish, art and other subjects. This article will provide more examples of the radio broadcast programs that have emerged to make learning engaging and equitable during the pandemic.
Literacy and Hygiene in Rwanda
Because of COVID-19 related school closures, 3 million students in Rwanda lack the option to attend school in person. In April 2020, the Rwanda Education Board started to broadcast radio learning programs. These broadcasts air for six hours every weekday and aim to improve literacy among students in primary school. Almost all children in Rwanda attend primary school; however, according to UNICEF, primary students in Rwanda “score too low in numeracy and literacy exams.” High-quality and widely accessible radio broadcasts can prevent students from falling behind on their literacy skills. As a result, students will be prepared to return to school. Additionally, UNICEF has partnered with the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to broadcast literacy and numeracy classes across the country.
A series of radio dramas have also helped educate Rwandans about the importance of hygiene and how to reduce the spread of diseases like COVID-19. Young people wrote these plays and produced them alongside WaterAid, a nonprofit organization. Each of these plays broadcasted to about one-third of the country’s population, reaching millions of people.
UNICEF Funds Educational Broadcasts in Côte d’Ivoire
In March 2020, UNICEF provided Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of National Education with $70,000 for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of this contribution, the Ministry introduced free educational radio and television broadcasts as part of its “Mon école à Maison,” or “My School at Home,” program. This program contains resources for students in preschool, primary school and secondary school. Unfortunately, gender inequality and poverty are high in Côte d’Ivoire. Programs like “Mon école à Maison” are ensuring that all students will be able to continue their education.
Rising on Air Initiative Reaches Students in Africa And Beyond
Rising Academy Network aims to improve the quality of schools in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The company is expanding its reach and curating its lessons to engage students during the pandemic. They have created a free resource for distance learning materials called Rising On Air. This distance learning tool shares lessons so millions of students can learn via radio and SMS. Rising On Air also provides a free 20-week program of lesson scripts and pre-recorded audio. These lessons are personalizable to fit educators’ specific goals. Lessons are available for students of all ages; there are programs designed for children aged three to five with a “family-child interaction component.” Rising On Air also offers literacy and numeracy classes for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Furthermore, every lesson begins with a message about health and safety for students and their families.
UNICEF finds that “more than 50% of school-age children” in African countries have the resources to learn via radio. UNICEF also states that radio broadcasts have “an important role to play” in the COVID-19 education response. Rising Academy Network collaborates with organizations across the African continent and beyond. Additionally, Rising Academy Network partners with the governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, Chad and Guinea.
According to UNICEF, although “marginalized children are more likely to be in homes with fewer learning resources,” radio broadcasts have “the potential to reach almost all children, including the poorest.” Higher education rates directly connect to higher employment rates and reduced income inequality, as well as healthier and more democratic societies. Progress towards ending global poverty is at risk of unraveling. It is critical that students around the world have the opportunity to succeed in school. With the help of radio broadcasts, students in impoverished communities can continue to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic and return to school ready to move forward.
– Rachel Powell