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.
Lifeline Energy’s chief executive officer, Kristine Pearson visited community schools in Zambia this month. She’s convinced, now more than ever, that the Lifeplayer is urgently needed! Read an excerpt from her Zambia Diary blog about the Lifeplayer’s importance for providing educational access, especially for difficult subjects: With each school classroom I visit, I ask the children what they want to learn if they could learn anything. The most common responses of 8-13 year-olds surprised me. These are kids whose only clothes may be the ones on their backs and may eat just one meal of maize porridge per day. They may be orphaned, child labourers, or care givers to sick parents. The top response was science; the second was mathematics. They said that science would help them to better understand mysteries and to learn how many things work. Qualified teachers in science and math are scarce. With the acute shortage of trained teachers, particularly in rural areas coupled with increasing student enrollment, obtaining a quality primary education presents a host of challenges for the Ministry of Education. More than a decade ago they began producing Learning at Taonga Market, a radio-based primary school programme which is broadcast on ZNBC, the national broadcaster, and community radio stations. In turn, we’ve provided our solar and wind-up radios to where ever children learn in Zambia, even if it’s under a tree. Radio offers the possibility of reaching the greatest number of learners the most cost effectively, especially for subjects like science. It’s a reliable distribution channel to deliver educational content to large audiences of learners and to teachers in need of upgrading their skills. And like all technologies, radio has limitations, which is why we introduced MP3 capability into our device. Valleys and far flung communities might not receive a signal. If a girl misses a lesson, she can make it up. If a boy doesn’t understand a concept, he can listen again and again until he does. During the rainy season when roads or small streams might become impassable, entire classes can catch up once it becomes safe. Broadcasting on ZNBC is expensive and eats deeply into the Ministry of Education’s budget. If it can’t pay for broadcasting fees, ZNBC simply stops airing the Taonga programmes. I discovered that after five months of being off the air around Lusaka, schools lessons will begin again later in October. Further, due to the high broadcasting costs, the ministry is scaling back Grades 4-7 on air, meaning that tens of thousands of learners might not receive an education, or certainly not the quality and consistency that Taonga Market offers.Even some community station fees are becoming unaffordable.
When Lifeline Energy recently went to the Moon City community school in Lusaka we had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Banda, a remarkable 14-year old who told us how much she adored the Toanga Market programme. She explained how the radio distance initiative had given her an education and future. What struck us most of all was not only her love for education but also her admiration for solar-energy.
When asked why solar and wind-up radios are important, she immediately responded:
"We had a radio that needed batteries but when the battery went flat we didn’t have money to buy new ones. Now we have a new radio that doesn’t need batteries, so we won’t suffer and we can use it all the time."
Sharon is just one of close to 900,000 #ToangaMarket children. Tweet #ToangaMarket to show your support for this truly unique educational programme.
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