Literacy rates in Sierra Leone and Liberia are among the lowest in the world. According to UNESCO, just 43 percent of Sierra Leoneans and 48 percent of Liberians can read and write. After the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2015, many students, particularly young girls, did not go back to school. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, schools closed for months across both countries and students’ learning was once again disrupted. With limited access to TV and internet, especially in rural areas, students risked falling even further behind in their education.
This project was Farm RadioI’s first foray into educational programming. As a family literacy initiative, DLC was designed to support education during the COVID-19 crisis by providing learner centered, gender-responsive print materials to families and guiding the use of the materials through daily radio programming called “Reading on the Waves”. Working with local writers in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Farm Radio’s partner CODE developed a reading anthology, filled with fun stories, and activities that talk about safety, hand washing, 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 were delivered to individual households so that families could read along with the programs.The stories were read on air, by teachers, as students followed along at home, learned new words, and took part in on-air quizzes about what they were learning.
The reading anthology and corresponding radio programs were also designed to improve attitudes expressed towards gender equality and girl’s empowerment. The programs had segments for parents and caregivers, as well as stories for students, that addressed gender equality and featured strong female characters taking on challenges outside of stereotypical gender roles. Each episode of “Reading on the Waves” featured an interview with a female community member or expert to give guidance or insight to listeners on gender equality, in addition to literacy learning, COVID-19, and other locally relevant topics.
Ultimate goal: Sustained learning outcomes on gender and crisis-responsive education for primary students in select districts of Liberia and Sierra Leone during the COVID-19 crisis
- 65 radio programs aired over 13 weeks
- 11 teachers (five women, six men) participated in training on literacy basics and gender-responsive programming
- 97.4% of parents and caregivers surveyed indicated that they were satisfied with their interactions with education stakeholders via the program
- 57.2% of families and estimated students say they were provided with new gender responsive family literacy programmes
- 64.2% of listeners said that the information provided in the radio program and anthology encouraged a more positive attitude towards the empowerment and education of girls.