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USAID launches Primary Education Initiative in Malawi

The governments of the United States and Malawi have launched a $5.3 million three-year project for junior primary school pupils. The project, known as Tikwere Interactive Radio Instruction, is being sponsored by USAID and Malawi’s Ministry of Education. Tikwere, which means “Let Us Rise,” promotes learning through radio programs. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Lameck Masina in Blantyre says the Tikwere radio project is part of the government’s plan to improve teaching and learning conditions for more than three million primary school students.

The 30-minute programs are broadcast in the local language, Chichewa. The public service broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, airs them twice a day into first-year classrooms. In the next few years the broadcasts will be extended to Standard Two and Three.

The broadcasts include stories, activities, and exercises that require both pupils and teachers to participate. The stories’ characters and issues are fictional but are based on local situations. Teachers and learners have fun, singing and responding verbally and physically to instructions from the radio characters.

The program ideas are drawn from the new curriculum, which was launched in January 2007. The scripts are produced, recorded, tested and revised by the producers before they go on air.

Olive Masanza is the deputy minister for education responsible for primary and secondary education. He says, “With the coming of this radio program I think Malawi will…benefit. In the classroom you [are] only able to teach a hundred children but on the radio you are teaching millions.”

Marisol Perez is the head of USAID’s education team. She says the idea is to get children interested in school and to create a new way of teaching, “We think this a benefit in that it also allows for teachers to try out new methodologies and how to manage classrooms. Another benefit is that you have children interested in learning and over time you see the increases in enrollment. [And, among] the children [who do] come to school, this might retain their interest.”

The teachers say the project is good but does have short-comings.

Fayiness Zuze is the standard one teacher at Kachere Primary School, where the project was officially launched. She says, “Tikwere project is progressing well [but it does have some difficulties… [They] are that we have large classes and we have got time limits. Some items are long, so they do not suit our time. For example, when they tell us to go outside and walk on the road, we don’t do -- we just listen to the radio.”

The United States government has provided 10,000 "Freeplay" Lifeline radios that are able to generate power through hand cranking and solar energy. That’s about one radio for 55 students, but schools with more students may receive more.

Perez says similar projects have proven effective in the 10 African countries where they are being implemented, including Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. She says between 100 and 150 programs are produced annually.

The project is also being used in countries outside Africa -- India, Pakistan, Haiti and Honduras.

The programs are produced at the Malawi College of Distance Education (MCDE), with funding from USAID.

Previous efforts by the college to conduct educational radio programs failed because it could not afford the costs charged by the station. But the head of the college, Bethel Masauli, says the Tikwere programs have proved effective, and the government will find a way to keep them on the air if USAID decides to curtail funding in 2010.

Masauli says instead of using the state broadcaster, the college may set up its own FM station to broadcast the programs in schools.