Meet the Educational Broadcasting Services (EBS) team.  This dedicated group of women and men are behind the Learning at Taonga Market primary distance education programme in Zambia. We’re partnering with EBS for a three-year research project that will analyse the impact of our Lifeplayer MP3 on Taonga Market.  It’s called the LIFT (Lifeplayer Taonga) project and undertaking the research will be students at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology and Society (CSTS) in collaboration with Zambian Open University (ZOU).

Although the Lifeplayer is being used in a variety of education projects in Africa, Lifeline Energy hasn’t, until now, been directly involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the Lifeplayer.  The research will help us to not only make enhancements to the device and our training process, but also to more comprehensively understand how teachers are using it, how learners are benefitting and to identify any broader impacts that it is having.

For the Ministry of Education, the Lifeplayer helps to solve a critical problem that has provoked a crisis in education.  The national broadcaster, Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), formerly aired the school lessons free of charge, but ceased all educational programming due to unpaid broadcasting fees (around $200,000). Up to 60,000 learners have lost their best chance at an education. Although Taonga is continuing to be broadcast on community radio stations, many of the country’s isolated and poorest communities, as well as crowded urban townships,  no longer have access to these excellent educational programmes. The Lifeplayer MP3 allows programming to be played independently of radio stations.

There’s also an acute shortage of trained teachers in Zambia.  Therefore, the ministry trains literate adults as mentors to use the Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) methodology and to use radio as a teaching tool.  Mentors are also volunteers dependent on communities to help them make ends meet. Another partner in this initiative is Nokero, who is donating solar lights to the mentors.  This will enable them not only to be more productive at night, but their own children can study safely.

I’ve just finished up my first week here and we’ve laid the groundwork for the research. EBS decided only to pilot Grades 1 and 2 of Taonga as these grades are the foundations of a learner’s entire education.  We may also upload the ministry’s early childhood development radio content in some community schools and learning centres to track impact.  I conducted an interactive technical training of EBS staff to ensure that they fully understood the feature set of the Lifeplayer.  We also spoke about the need to ‘unlearn’ the way that radio broadcasts constrain time in agricultural and livestock herding communities. Families need their children to help out during planting and harvest time or to tend to animals. The ability to choose broadcast times or to allow children to make up missed classes will now be possible.

This week we’re off to Monze district and the Chikuni Mission Station in the Southern Province where the majority of Lifeplayers will be placed.

One of the reasons this area was selected is that Taonga Market is still broadcast on the Chikuni Community Radio Station and many classrooms have our radios.  This will enable us to compare the Lifeplayer directly with the Prime as well. We will meet with local ministry officials and the Jesuits at Chikuni who run the station and will be hosting the students.

This research project is under the direction of Yotham Mutapuka at EBS, Dr Keith Warner at the Center for Science, Technology and Society, Dr John Milimo at Zambian Open University and myself for Lifeline Energy.

by Kristine Pearson