In the early 2000s, the Zambian Ministry of Education turned to community-based radio schools to help children unable to attend a formal government primary school. There were a number of reasons these children couldn’t attend school: they lived in rural areas and schools were too far away; they had to help their families grow food or tend cattle; they were orphaned and had to provide for younger children; or the cost of uniforms and books made attending a government school impossible. Futhermore, there were very few trained teachers in rural areas. The ministry started an innovative interactive radio instruction (IRI) programme based on the national primary curriculum called Learning at Taonga Market. Taonga Market was broadcast nationwide by ZNBC, the Zambian national broadcaster. From the beginning, Lifeline Energy was involved – our solar and wind-up radios making it possible for hundreds of thousands of pupils to listen to the school lessons.
More than 800,000 children have participated in Taonga Market over the years.
Recent budget cuts at the ministry resulted in Taonga Market being taken off air nationally, and overnight 60,000 children lost their best chance at an education. Lessons are now broadcast on community radio stations. This has made our Lifeplayers a critical learning tool as lessons can be pre-loaded and listened to whenever convenient – and as many times as needed. It also helps the teaching mentors, as they can listen to the lesson first and be better prepared.
Research has shown that, on average, radio-school children perform better in reading, numeracy and life skills than children in government schools. The increasing demand for our Lifeplayers bears out the popularity and success of a programme that has been enormously effective at bringing a quality education to poor and disadvantaged learners.
While primary schooling is free in Zambia, uniforms, books and exam fees are beyond the reach of many. These costs make attending school impossible for the poorest children, many of whom are orphaned. Radio school is free and doesn’t require a uniform or books.
Zambia is a large and sparsely populated country, and for children living in rural areas, there is often no school within walking distance. Radio school reaches children even in the most remote areas.
There is a dire shortage of teachers in Zambia: the AIDS epidemic decimated the teaching population and the country lost almost 50% of its teachers in the early 2000s. And even though teaching salaries have tripled in recent years, in real terms teachers still struggle to make ends meet. With radio-school, the teacher is on the radio (or the media player)!
Although we designed our Lifeplayers with rural schools in mind, we’ve seen that the Lifeplayers are as valuable a resource in overcrowded urban schools. Class sizes exceeding 100 pupils are common. Our Lifeplayers provide under-resourced and overwhelmed teachers with high-quality, interactive, and fun lessons that make it easier to teach large classes.
There is no other tool that can deliver a quality education to many children, so cost-effectively.
Over the past 12 years, Learning at Taonga Market has offered hundreds of thousands of Zambian children a high quality, basic education. With the ZNBC no longer broadcasting Taonga Market lessons on national radio stations, our Lifeplayer has become the tool of choice to ensure pupils are able to listen to and interact with the programme.