We’re excited to be sending a large consignment of Lifeplayer MP3s to support Learning at Taonga Market in Zambia. Through the generosity of GlobalGiving and other donors in both the USA and UK, Lifeline Energy is able to support community schools in the Southern and Eastern provinces. The Lifeplayers will be loaded with Taonga Market lessons mainly covering Grades 1 and 2, the foundation grades. Some schools also want to load Grade 7 as sometimes there are so few children who make it this far, that community schools can’t justify supporting a teacher. The Lifeplayer will enable these children to stay in school, complete Grade 7 and hopefully go onto secondary school.
We will keep you posted on the progress of the initiative throughout the year.
Eighty-four Grade 1 students in blue and white uniforms, sit scrunched close together on hard wooden bench-desks at New Mandevu school in Lusaka. Given the large number of children attending the school, this was the afternoon class and many youngsters were yawning, probably wishing for a nap instead of lessons.
Their teacher, Mrs Gwera, introduced her colleague and 11-year Taonga Market veteran mentor, Mwenya Mvula, who now teaches Grade 5. He told the children in the local language, Njanja, that they would be participating in a radio lesson for the first time.
Mr Mvula demonstrated the Lifeplayer, calling it a ‘magic radio’. He tuned it into Grade 1: Lesson 1: Segment 1 on the screen, put it on a chair on top of the table so that everyone could see it. He asked the children to stand up and pressed start. What an absolute delight it was to watch these little ones spontaneously dance and sing, “I am excited, I am so happy, Taonga’s your chance to learn. Ta-ta-ta Taonga Market, ta-ta-ta Taonga Market . . .”
After taking part in the first two lessons Mr Mvula asked if they wanted to sing the Taonga song again and they shouted, “yes!” So they did. My colleague, Phil Goodwin, and I also couldn’t help but join in. Additional merriment ensued as the students watched the ‘mazungus’ (white people) singing along.
Mrs Gwera told me that she’d heard about Taonga Market but had never seen it in action. And she loved it. She explained that many children may not have eaten a meal for the day and when just sitting in the classroom, they may doze off. She said the radio programmes would not only combat dozing, she believed that the children would engage with songs and games and they would enjoy learning more. Mrs Gwere also thought the radio programmes would help the teachers who felt overwhelmed with large classes, or who don’t know certain subjects very well, like maths or science.
New Mandevu is a basic primary school with just 27 teachers serving more than 4,500 learners in Grades 1- 9. Many classroom are jam-packed with 100-plus pupils and most teachers teach morning and afternoon classes. Our aim is to provide all Grade 1-4 teachers at New Mandevu, as a priority, with Lifeplayers. Student grades will be recorded pre and after Taonga Market learning to track progress. In addition, teachers and learners will be interviewed to determine what other benefits they have derived from the interactive radio learning approach.
I’ve seen Taonga Market classes dozens times over the years, but it has been sometime since I’ve watched a first time class participate. After we left I found the theme song swirling in my head, all the while noticing that my jaw ached from smiling.
Lifeline Energy intern Kathleen Buchholz recently travelled to Lusaka, Zambia to research the relationship between energy poverty and education using Learning at Taonga Market as her case study. In her soon-to-be published MA thesis for the American University of Paris, Kathleen interviews students, mentors and parents, all of whom discussed how needed the radio school program was for the community. Our solar and wind-up radios provided sustainable access to the lessons for children and the Taonga Market training gave confidence to the teachers and overall again validated the importance of this great radio program.
The following observations were gathered by Kathleen and reflect the responses that we’ve heard repeatedly over the years:
“When they hear a pupil talking on Taonga Market, the children would get encouraged and it made them want to be a teacher when they grow up.”
“Taonga Market is so important because it makes it easier for the teacher to make their lesson plans. The work was so much easier for us and the children enjoyed it very much, too. The program is a direct one and it helped a lot of children in terms of songs and motivation.”
“I was a teacher at Taonga Market at Chaise Basic School. It was so important because it helped a lot of the children that could not manage to pay for the fees for government schools. The children’s grades improved and actually you would see children come from government schools to join Taonga Market. Without Taonga it is difficult, as we have a lot of kids in the compounds not going to schools.”
Now more than ever our solar and wind-up Lifeplayer MP3s are needed in radio schools in Zambia. The national broadcaster stopped airing Learning at Taonga Market due to unpaid fees by the Ministry of Education, plunging tens of thousands of pupils into crisis. Their education simply stopped. Plans are a foot to bring it back on air, but our Lifeplayers will keep children learning.
We’re working with Zambia’s Ministry of Education to pre-load primary school content onto the Lifeplayers for distribution to radio schools. Teaching mentors are trained to use the Lifeplayer and to work with the audio lessons. Communities can choose when the best time to listen is based on their needs.
For example, farming communities may need their children to assist with planting or harvesting in the mornings. School lessons can be played in the afternoon. If children miss a lesson for any reason they can make it up. If they didn’t understand something, it can be repeated.
Please help us keep thousands of children in school and learning with a program that they love. Taonga Market learners are just as likely to score higher in literacy, numeracy and life skills than government school children and radio schools are completely free. This is important as they’re found in the poorest areas and more than one-third of the children are orphans.
Taonga Market is still being broadcast by community radio stations, so some rural children are listening to their lessons on our Prime radios. But for those whose education ended with the switch of a dial, our Lifeplayers provide a practical and scalable solution.
Please help us keep these children in school.
We recently learned that the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) cancelled Learning at Taonga Market provoking a nationwide crisis in education. Taonga will still broadcast via community radio stations, but the majority of learners, up to 60,000, are left entirely without trained teachers and regular lessons. Some community schools may even close their classrooms. And as always, the poorest and most vulnerable will be the ones hardest hit.
In response to how we could best help, Kristine Pearson, our CEO, spent two rewarding weeks in Zambia meeting with officials in the Ministry of Education’s Educational Broadcasting Services (EBS). We’ve decided to partner with EBS for a three-year research project that will analyse the impact of our Lifeplayer MP3 on Taonga Market. It’s called the LIFT project and undertaking the research will be students at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology and Society (CSTS) in collaboration with the Open University of Zambia. This will pave the way for a scale-up of Lifeplayers to support Taonga Market across Zambia.
Although the Lifeplayer is being used in a variety of education projects in Africa, we haven’t been directly involved in its monitoring and evaluation. This research will help us to not only make improvements to the device and our own training process, but also to more comprehensively understand how the classroom mentors and teachers are using it, how learners are benefitting and identify any broader impacts that it is having.
For the ministry, the Lifeplayer MP3 helps to solve the problem of access. We’re delighted to announce that the Lifeplayer has been made an official learning tool of the ministry.
While in Zambia Kristine visited schools in the Southern Province that are continuing to broadcast Taonga. One that a made a lasting impression was the Choma Community School which is about a 90 minute drive on a dirt road from the district town of Monze. The majority of the population are subsistence farmers.
Kristine was especially impressed with volunteer mentor, Mr. Maplanga, and his Grade 7 class. What made it unique is that it only had four pupils – the opposite of most rural classrooms with large class sizes. If these children were in a government school they would be in a multi-grade classroom, if at all.
Mr. Maplanga turns on Taonga every school day at noon on the radio he received from Lifeline Energy in October. Until then, they depended on the community providing batteries to power transistor radios, which made listening patchy. Without Taonga these kids would not be able to pursue their education and move on to secondary school.
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