Schools in west Africa remain closed due to the Ebola epidemic, leaving three million children without education, and no date has been set yet as to when the schools will re-open.
The humanitarian non-profit Concern Worldwide is responding to this crisis by working with the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia to provide education through radio programming, sending school supplies to remote communities and forming small learning groups.
Amy Folan is the national education coordinator for Concern Worldwide in Sierra Leone. She spoke about the radio education program that was launched in Sierra Leone.
“Gatherings of any kind have been banned so we can’t do what we normally would for providing emergency education options. So we’re working with the government to have radio based programing that can have basic education around literacy…health messaging as well as the psycho-social support to children as well,” explained Folan.
She further added many children in rural areas don’t have access to radio so they are working to provide them with solar powered and crank powered radios. This will allow the children to have lessons in small group settings, usually up to five children per group, with a helper assisting them with listening to the radio broadcast from a teacher.
“In Sierra Leone our initial target is 2,000 radios. We have groups of about five children at a time, that’s 10,000 children. There are other partners working in other districts as well who are doing similar campaigns, and we’re coordinating with each other to make sure that we don’t duplicate efforts,” said Folan.
The radio program has been underway in Sierra Leone for eight weeks so far. Expert teachers are working in coordination with the Ministry of Education and other partners to develop scripts for the broadcasts. A teacher then delivers the lesson to the children over the radio.
“They talk to the children who are listening as though they can hear them, and as though they can respond as well. So they’ll say…'Good morning children, today we’re going to learn about…’, and then they will have a lesson around that. Then they ask questions and they have time for children to be able to respond as well,” Folan described.
Funding for the educational radio program has been made through partners, but largely through the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia re-purposing funding that would normally be used for schools if they were in session.
Folan said families are very excited about the radio programs. However, the challenge is providing access to children who live in rural areas.
“In the rural areas it’s not so easy to actually get access to a radio. They’re very eager and they’re wanting to be able to engage with it, but are limited by not having access,” emphasized Folan.