Radio-based learning gets its day in the sun in Mali
Solar-powered radios are helping conflict-affected and displaced children follow lessons outside of the classroom.
SÉGOU REGION, Mali – Persistent insecurity in central and northern Mali has helped fuel a protracted humanitarian crisis, disrupting access to education, health and other services, and displacing more than 300,000 people – more than half of them children.
COVID-19 has compounded the problem. Before the pandemic, direct threats and attacks on education had forced the closure of around 1,300 schools in central and northern regions. But pandemic-related measures shuttered schools across the country for most of 2020, leaving many of the most vulnerable young people unable to access education.
UNICEF has been distributing solar-powered radios in conflict-affected areas to vulnerable households and listening groups, where as many as 15 young people can make use of the same radio. The devices provide an educational lifeline for those who might otherwise be cut off from classes and complement the efforts of temporary learning spaces that have been established at sites for internally displaced persons to ensure that children can continue to learn in safety.
Aichata, 15, used to attend school in Diabaly, a rural town in the south-central region of Ségou. A few months after Aichata’s school closed, her father decided the family should move to the town of Ségou, where she was enrolled at the Adama Dagnon school. The school provided her with a solar-powered radio to allow her to continue learning out of hours and make up for lost time. “I could attend classes with this radio. It helped me catch up with my studies,” she says.
Makono, 13, also attends Adama Dagnon school. His parents left the southern region of Koulikoro, about 200 kilometres away, after armed attacks forced them to seek refuge in Ségou.
“I’m the eldest, so every Wednesday and Thursday evening I ask my sisters to come and study with me and we listen to the lessons on the radio,” Makono says. The educational programmes that are broadcast are used not only by children who aren’t able to attend classes in person, but also those in school as an after-hours study resource.
Aichata says she tunes in every Wednesday and Thursday evening with her friends so they can study together. “Before, I didn’t like grammar because I didn't understand it and I found it difficult. But now I manage to get quite good marks,” she says. “One time I got 8 out of 10 – I was really proud of myself!”
Educo, a UNICEF partner in the central regions of Ségou and Mopti, is responsible for identifying households that could benefit from a radio, working closely with school management committees to distribute the radios and then monitoring the results.
“We make home visits to ensure that the children are using the radios, but also to see how their schooling is progressing,” says Dioukou Konate, head of Educo’s humanitarian project for the Ségou region during a follow-up visit with Aichata.
In the Ségou region alone, around 1,500 households have benefited from the solar-powered radios. These efforts are being amplified by listening groups supported by a community relay, typically a retired teacher, who can help keep students’ learning on track.
Makono and Aichata say they now feel well-integrated into their new schools – and both are doing well with their classes. In fact, Makono wants to become a teacher when he leaves school. “My parents didn't go to school, so sometimes when I don’t understand my lessons, I have to ask other people,” he says. “But I know that if I work hard in school, my parents can rely on me.”
Aichata hopes to eventually become a school principal so that she can help other children attend school. “I know it’s ambitious to say that every child in Mali will go to school,” she says. “But I’m sure that one day my dream will come true.”