Children's radio programs in Benin keep students engaged at a distance
August 28, 2020
From March to June 2020, schools in Benin shut down due to COVID-19, leaving hundreds of thousands of children across the small West African country with no access to education and, in many cases, a daily meal. In the North of the country, where World Education implements the education component of the McGovern-Dole Food For Education program, school closings threatened to cause dire consequences. Here, over 50% of young women 15-24 years old, many of whom are mothers, are illiterate (World Bank, 2018) and malnutrition is rampant among both women and young children (Global Nutrition Report, 2018).
To curtail the negative effects of school closings, World Education has worked diligently to develop a distance learning program focused on supporting early literacy skills, while our Food For Education partner, Catholic Relief Services, distributed school meals at home.
In the northern cities of Malanville, Gogonou, Kalale and Kandi, where World Education services 16,000+ first and second grade students, we turned to the radio and mobile phones to keep our students and families engaged in learning. The result has been the launch of a children’s radio program, aired four days a week, in which children use their take-home picture booklets and decodable books and tune in to a reading lesson led by one of their teachers. The lessons, which are interspersed with songs children know and love, help students practice skills such as phonological and phonemic awareness, vocabulary, listening comprehension, fluency and writing, which are crucial for reading. Plus, to keep promoting a love of reading, dramatic readings of children’s favorite storybooks are aired on the radio in their mother tongue. Parents are invited to join in their children’s learning in simple yet concrete ways; they are also engaging in parents’ fora over mobile phones, facilitated by World Education, where they discuss education, nutrition and health topics, including COVID-19, affecting their children and families. Our field team is monitoring these activities closely and engaging in discussions with parents to evaluate successes and areas to improve.
As schools in Benin begin to reopen, these distance learning initiatives will continue, albeit on a different schedule, alongside in-person learning, to continue to provide children and their families with supplemental opportunities to engage in learning outside of school without the fear of negative health consequences. In addition to enabling students to continue to learn, these routines have helped to provide a sense of normalcy to students and their families during these uncertain times.