Radio lessons provide much needed continuity in learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Evans frequently adjusts the radio antenna for good reception before declaring that he misses school but is grateful for the radio lessons.

John Mokwetsi
Radio lessons
03 September 2020

Two children of primary school age sit on the dusty ground outside a small house in the high-density suburb of Glenview in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Both are listening attentively to the radio while a school lesson about English is being broadcast on one of the local radio stations.

The portable digital radio powered by rechargeable batteries has become a crucial tool to these Grade 5 learners. Evans and Audrey have not been going to school since the end of March when the COVID-19 pandemic schools closed as a mitigation measure against the spread of the disease.

Evans frequently adjusts the radio antenna for good reception before declaring that he misses school but is grateful for the radio lessons. “The English teacher is my favourite. My friend Audrey visits so that we listen together and give each other guidance,” he said. “At first it was hard for me to follow because I like the class set up but I am getting used to it.”

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, with support from UNICEF Zimbabwe, launched the radio lessons programme in June, starting with the Primary level. The rolling out of the radio lessons was a commitment by government to providing education during the COVID-19 induced schools’ closures.

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and Global Partnership for Education (GPE) have been supporting the development and broadcast of the radio lessons. 

UNICEF globally is calling on governments to prioritise reopening schools and to take all possible measures to reopen safely. School closures have devastating consequences, with marginalised children paying the heaviest price. When governments decide to keep schools closed, they must scale up remote learning opportunities for all children.

Learning areas being covered include Mathematics, Indigenous Languages, English, Science and Technology, and Heritage Studies.

So far, the lessons are catering for Primary school learners from ECD to Grade 7 with a plan to expand to Secondary school lessons.

“I do miss the playground. I miss having a laugh with my friends. I also miss my favourite Maths teacher,” said Evans. “I understand that there is COVID-19. I hear about it a lot and I know what it means. Radio lessons bring me closer to my friends because I know they are also listening in. At least I have Audrey and it creates a class environment-even though it is just the two of us.”

Radio lessons were part of local radio programming until 2001. The relaunching of the vital learning tool has been hailed as a good move for continuous learning during the current emergency.

Audrey hopes the radio lessons will continue even when the schools open. “They give us more extra lessons. My mother cannot afford to pay for lessons outside school. I like the Heritage Studies lessons most and I am struggling with Maths, but Evans helps me,” she said.

Recently, in a presentation on radio lessons attended by various stakeholders in the education sector, Janemary Chikuwe, a Community Childcare Worker (CCW) with Mavambo Orphan Care (MOC), an organisation that works with vulnerable children said  that children are excited about the radio lessons because it is helpful to revise and to grasp new learning concepts. “I am thrilled that they are back and we are seeing positive feedback from some of the children.”

Despite the benefits for some families, a radio receiver is beyond their reach and poses a challenge in supporting their children to catch up with the lessons.

Joice Mushanyuri of Chitungwiza pointed out that for those with radios that relied on electricity, outages were also posing a challenge.

“Electricity has been largely available until recently when we started to experience outages. This then becomes a barrier. There is also the aspect of those who have battery powered radios, not  willing to have communal listening for  fear of bringing too many people under one roof, itself one of the dangers of spreading COVID-19,” she said.

In Caledonia, a populous and disadvantaged suburb in Harare, communal radio lessons listening is becoming common. MOC distributed radios that have become critical for people in the area.

Tichafa Mubvuyiwa, MOC’s Communications Officer offered appreciation for the government and UNICEF in bringing these lessons to children in this difficult time. “What we had to do after seeing that for some vulnerable children support was needed, was to provide radios. We distributed 250 receivers and it has been amazing seeing how learning has continued.”

UNICEF plans to procure and distribute 2,500 radio sets for distribution to disadvantaged communities to support continuous learning as the COVID emergency continues.

The radio lessons have not been without challenges with some caregivers suggesting that there should be a feedback mechanism for students to ask on areas of misunderstanding.

Takura Mhere, a parent of a Grade 7 student who is set to sit for his exams in December said “Sometimes he does not understand some concepts and if I am not there to assist, he does not have anyone to ask. There could be a way to establish a feedback mechanism.”

For some, the mobile phone has proven to be helpful. Most smart mobile phones come with a radio application and has hugely been the preferred way to access radio stations in Zimbabwe. the convergence between radio and mobile phones is stretching out the communicative space.

For Evans and other learners, school continues, albeit on radio with anticipation of schools reopening.