Distance Learning In Crisis: Literacy over the radio

radio saves lives

For an hour every evening in Sierra Leone and Liberia this winter, students across the country will be reading along to radio programs, thanks to a new partnership between CODE and Farm Radio International.

The two Canadian NGOs are pairing up to ensure that reading doesn’t get left behind, especially due to setbacks and school closures during the COVID-19 crisis.

A promo for the Reading on the Waves program in Liberia

While schools have since reopened in the two West African countries, literacy rates in Sierra Leone and Liberia are among the lowest in the world.

Of the adult population, approximately 48 per cent of Liberians and only 43 per cent of Sierra Leonians can read and write.

The radio programs aim to change that — and do it safely from a distance — by reaching 350,000 people between the two countries, and 70,000 school children — both girls and boys.

Working with local writers in Liberia and Sierra Leone, CODE has developed a reading anthology, filled with fun stories, and activities. Different stories talk about safety, handwashing, gender equality, math — even local folklore — in entertaining, locally relevant ways.

Working with WE-CARE Foundation in Liberia, and The Association of Language and Literacy Educators in Sierra Leone, the anthologies have been delivered to individual households so that families can read along with the programs.

Reading on the Waves recording
Reading on the Waves co-host, Yewah Minah (left), and Farm Radio International’s Mariama Sowe at the first broadcast of the program on SLBC in Sierra Leone, on Nov. 30, 2020.

Farm Radio is working with ten stations to broadcast the programs. Three stations in Liberia, and two in Sierra Leone will host and record the programs, with rebroadcasts on each of other five stations.

Called “Reading on the Waves,” each program is hosted by one radio broadcaster and one teacher — so the magic of radio can combine with good pedagogy to create programs that are both entertaining and educational.

The programs begin with a brief COVID-19 reminder, using Farm Radio International’s radio spots to remind listeners about COVID-safety best practices. This is followed up by vox pops (a Latin term meaning “voice of the people,” used in radio when sharing the voices of listeners) by students engaged in the program. They’ll answer questions from the previous night, or share how their learning is going.

Next, in a pre-recorded segment, comes the word of the day and storytime. A teacher, trained in good literacy pedagogy, will read the stories, pointing out new words and sometimes — as English is the language of instruction in both countries — translating key terms into local languages.

Then comes an activity section, where children can apply the lessons they learned that day, whether it be using measuring cups for rice, or drawing and naming their family members.

Each episode will also have a component to help adults support their children with literacy learning. In a Q&A with a resource person, the hosts will discuss topics like gender equality, or stereotypes in learning (Are boys really better at math? How can caretakers and parents support girls’ education?) or topics like nutrition and sleep.

The final segment of the show is a live call-in, where children or adults can phone the radio stations and answer questions related to what they’ve learned.

With the exception of the story reading segment, the show will be recorded and broadcast live each weekday for 13 weeks, including one week of quiz shows to gauge engagement and involvement in the shows.

A teacher reads from Reading on the Waves as part of the radio programs in Liberia.

This marks the first time Farm Radio International has run programs targeting literacy specifically, and the first time they have worked directly in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“We’re excited about this new partnership with CODE,” said Caroline Montpetit, the regional program manager for West Africa.

“We look forward to making radio in a way that can improve literacy rates and support teachers and families, not only in their learning objectives, but in improving gender equality and relationships between families.”

Partner Radio Stations for the program include the following.

For Liberia:
Radio Gbarnga in Bong
Radio Bomi in Bomi
Radio Gbehzohn in Grand Bassa.
Radio Totota in Bong
Pumah FM in Bomi
Magic FM in Grand Bassa

For Sierra Leone:
Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) in Bo
Radio Kolenten in Kambia
Radio Newsong in Bo
Radio Cat Bamie

The Distance Learning in Crisis project aims to support children’s education in Sierra Leone and Liberia during the COVID-19 crisis. CODE is working in partnership with Farm Radio International, and local partners WE-CARE Foundation (Liberia) and The Association of Language and Literacy Educators (Sierra Leone), to pair engaging radio programs with newly developed reading resources. The project aims to support parents and children in reading and learning activities to sustain education during COVID-19. This project is proud to receive financial support from the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

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