Radio Education: Physical Distance but Social Solidarity

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Distance Education
Out of School

This article is part of a collection of blog posts related to the education in emergencies response to COVID-19.

Radio broadcast is one way to minimize the negative impacts of school closures.

DRC radio programming

School closures have been enforced as one way to reduce the spread of contagious viral and bacterial infections in the past, and now, the same measures have been taken for COVID-19. According to the latest numbers from UNESCO, 105 countries have closed schools and educational institutions nationwide, impacting over 959.2 million children and youth. In addition, a further 10 countries have implemented localized school closures and, should these closures become nationwide, tens of millions of additional learners will experience education disruption. There are serious consequences in communities when children are not able to go to school in the face of crisis:

  • Children miss out on opportunities to learn
  • Children miss out on the social interactions of school with teachers and friends
  • The longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to return
  • Children miss out on essential services provided at schools including school nutrition and health programs, information on disease prevention and access to clean water and sanitation
  • Parents and caregivers who are able to continue working, especially women, have to find childcare alternatives
  • Many people may suffer a loss of income - including parents that have to miss work and  industries that depend on children going to school, such as transport services and food suppliers for the school cafeteria
  • When families suffer as a result of missed income, they may be forced to resort to negative coping mechanisms such as sending children out to seek opportunities for work in harmful conditions

War Child Canada operates in conflict-affected contexts – supporting access to education for some of the most marginalized and hardest to reach children. Through our work, we have learned important lessons about how to support children with access to education in the face of crisis that can be applied in the response to the global pandemic.

In the DRC there are 7.3 million school-aged children out-of-school, of which 3.9 million are girls. To reach these children, War Child Canada is implementing Making Waves: Gender-inclusive Radio-Based Education in the DRC to provide out-of-school children with access to education. The program uses Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI), a methodology developed to address one of the biggest critiques of radio education - the lack of social contact and two-way communication if children are passively listening at home.  In Making Waves, students can gather in community-donated spaces or remain at home where they listen to and participate in broadcast lessons aligned with the formal curriculum and are supported by Education Assistants (EAs).

radio programming

From our experience, here are a couple of tips for remote radio-based learning:

Make it accessible:

While there are a number of great resources out there for children to continue learning remotely, not everyone has access to a computer or the internet. Consider doing an assessment of how many people have access to the internet, electricity, a laptop, to a mobile phone, etc. Radio is a readily available and reliable technology that is widely used in the DRC and in many of the crisis-affected contexts where we work.           

Make it fun and interactive:

When students are engaged, they learn better. In the Making Waves project, learners engage with the broadcast lessons with strategically placed pauses, culturally appropriate music, storylines, different characters and with Education Assistants available to lead a discussion following the lesson. There are a range of online resources such as applications and learning modules available to use in the wake of school closures, but it is important to ensure that children are not just passively following the lessons. When supporting learning remotely, consider:

  • ensure pre-recorded radio lessons are engaging; 
  • perform radio lessons live and invite children to call in;
  • find ways for ALL parents and caregivers to help with learning material (regardless of literacy);
  • add a phone/text option with a teacher/mentor;
  • include a chat function to a supporting online platform;
  • add offline activities/exercises children can complete as follow-up exercises;
  • work with radio stations to offer homework help during call-in shows.

Make it relevant:

DRC radioRadio is an important tool in the face of a crisis. In addition to broadcasting lessons and opportunities for learning – radios can spread important up-to-date and lifesaving information related to health and hygiene practices, detecting symptoms and preventing the spread of the disease, both now and to encourage behaviours that could prevent future issues. In the Ebola response, radio was integral in debunking myths about the nature and spread of the disease through PSA’s, call-in shows and providing platforms for experts. Be sure the information being conveyed is the most accurate and reflects the questions and concerns of community members collected through various means including discussions with health workers, phone surveys and call-in opportunities.

Children need to continue learning in a crisis to support their social and emotional well-being in the face of so much uncertainty. No one expects that the impact of school closures can be completely eliminated – they are a significant disruption – but the negative impact can be minimized if children are able to continue learning. Radio broadcast is one way to do that.



Elena MinettiElena Minetti is a Project Officer at War Child Canada where she is supporting education projects for out-of-school children, livelihood and WASH programming, in Central and East Africa. She focuses on ensuring programs include a gender sensitive lens she represents the organization in networking initiatives across North America, including the Call to Action on Protection from GBV in Emergencies.​ Elena holds a Bachelor's honors degree from the University of Ottawa in International Development and Globalization. She  5 years of experience in the field of international development with a focus on humanitarian assistance, internal displacement and refugee movements, and peacebuilding.

All photos courtesy of War Child Canada.


The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.