Radio lessons prepare learners for reopening of schools

COVID-19 and education

By Gregory Gondwe
Elias listens to the radio while doing his schoolwork
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Gregory Gondwe
16 November 2020

In the lakeshore district of Malawi, learners from Mgwirizano Primary School are ready to face classes head on with schools reopening this month. They feel like it will be a continuation from the radio lessons that they had access to while homeschooling.

Sixteen-year-old Elias Often, in Standard 7, says when schools closed due to COVID-19, his hopes for a better future were shattered as it was unclear whether or not schools would reopen soon.

“From March when schools closed to August, when I got a radio, I was trying to make time to study but it was very difficult to concentrate on my own,” says Elias, who is the head of a family of five siblings, having lost both parents. Elias says their mother died first in 2017 and their father in June this year.  His two older brothers relocated to South Africa long before they became orphaned, and they are refusing to come back, leaving him and his 17-year-old sister with the responsibility of looking after their younger siblings, two sisters, of ages eight and ten and a brother of 12.

Elias is constantly balancing between schooling and doing small work in people’s gardens in order to fend for the family. He is not deterred because he knows there is a “big prize” once he finishes school. He was excited when he got the opportunity to access radio lessons in August.

“There were three subjects that I learned from the radio, however the one I vividly remember was a topic in Science and Technology on domestic technology, which opened my eyes and I will be able to tackle any exercises from the lesson,” recalls Elias, “Now that we are going back to school, I feel challenged to perform better because of those lessons that I learnt through the radio,” adds Elias who dreams of becoming a soldier.

Elias and his siblings sitting outside their home
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Gregory Gondwe
Elias and his siblings sitting outside their home

Learners like Elias have benefited by learning through radio as part of COVID-19 response rolled out by the government to ensure children continue to learn despite closure of schools. UNICEF through the Education Cannot Wait Fund (ECW) supported the Ministry of Education to roll out radio learning programme and developing materials for radio programmes for standards 1 to 8 in literacy, numeracy and science.

Elias’ older sister, Linda, says while her brother is in the field, she has been making sure that their home is observing measures against the spread of the Coronavirus.

“After learning about the pandemic in school, I have taken a special interest in ensuring that my younger siblings are protected; I encourage them to wash hands regularly and I also wear a mask when going to the market,” she says.

A standard four learner at the same school Grace Jamu, 14, says she also learnt about the virus from school and she informed her mother, who had yet to hear about COVID-19.

“I was heartbroken when the school closed because of the pandemic. I admire my class teacher, Madam Matola, and I want to be like her,” she hopes “But with no school, I knew it was not possible to become a teacher without the education.”   

She says this compelled her to dedicate her time to radio learning once she had access to a radio, “I learnt a lot from the radio, in both Chichewa and English. I learnt about comprehension, where a story is told and we are asked questions to gauge how best we have understood the story. I also learnt poetry and letter writing,” she says.

Grace washes her hands by the handwashing facility at their home
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Gregory Gondwe
Grace washes her hands by the handwashing facility at their home

Her widowed mother, Agnes Zaiti, 52, has a small business however the profits do not fully provide for the family’s needs. As the last of four children, Grace is the only one who has gone the furthest with her studies and is determined to achieve more.

Agnes has been encouraging Grace to continue with the radio lessons, often spending the last of her monies to help her child

“I had to use my remaining money to buy batteries for the radio so she could not miss her lessons. As a single parent I think I did not do a good job with her older siblings that’s why I will sacrifice  everything to ensure that she gets a better education,” vows Agnes.