Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children

 
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Because our Lifeplayers have been so successful in the Learning at Taonga Market programme, they are also being integrated into a radio-based early childhood development initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Education. This means that young children just starting out at pre-school are able to enjoy listening to voices on the radio, to learn in their own language and to record their own voices. Like Taonga Market, the early childhood programmes are highly interactive and include songs, dance and play. Even young children love hearing themselves on the radio, which the Lifeplayer can capture. Early childhood learning is critical to long-term brain development, and children who have access to these fundamental building blocks are more likely to do well at school. 

We are receiving reports of the value of the Lifeplayer as a wonderful tool for lessons that need to be repeated, particularly for slower learners. That’s the beauty of the Lifeplayer: lessons and songs can be repeated over and over again, something that not even the most patient teacher is willing to do! This is true whether for a pre-school or a primary school learner.

John, a mentor supervisor for Taonga Market, told us that the Lifeplayer is a very helpful tool for teaching mentors who are not formally trained teachers. He tells us that it gives mentors the opportunity to listen to the lessons first and to be prepared, which they really appreciate. 

In addition, Zambia’s Ministry of Education recently presented the long partnership between the Learning at Taonga Market programme and Lifeline Energy this month at an African education conference in Addis Ababa.

Stable, a volunteer teacher, teaching his class
Stable, a volunteer teacher, teaching his class

Taonga Market is Africa’s longest running primary school distance education program.  Lifeline Energy has been involved from the beginning in 2000 and we’re just as enthusiastic now as we were back then.  We continue to witness first hand how much children enjoy learning to radio lessons and how they score up to 10% better than children in government schools.  This is despite not having formal classrooms, books, school supplies, or even chairs to sit on. 

Our Kristine Pearson recently returned from Zambia where she trained Taonga technical staff and teaching mentors in the Southern Province in the use and care of the Lifeplayer MP3.  Some grades of Taonga Market still continue to be broadcast on community radio stations, but often at times not convenient for the young learners, especially during the hottest time of the day.  Throughout the rainy season walking to class on muddy roads is impossible, as is learning outdoors.  The Lifeplayer helps to overcome weather obstacles, in that lessons can be listened to in the mornings when children have more energy and the heat isn’t as oppressive, or when it isn’t raining.

A retired Ministry of Education official who continues to work with Taonga  learners in community schools said, “The Lifeplayer is truly a great device for us.  It makes learning possible any time and if a child misses a class she or he can listen later and make it up.  Children will be less likely to fall behind.”

The Lifeplayer is needed now more than ever.   Stable, a new volunteer teacher (pictured here) remarked that the Lifeplayer would allow him to listen to the lesson first so that he could be prepared. 

Your support is vital to sustaining our ability to provide these rural community schools with the Lifeplayer – a critical teaching tool for mentors and learners alike. 

We’re very pleased to report that the consignment of Lifeplayer MP3s has arrived in Zambia, and is awaiting distribution. Our initial plan was to undertake distribution and training for the teaching mentors involved in late September or early October. However, in discussions with the Zambian Ministry of Education officials, it has been decided to move out the training closer to the end of the school year.  The school year in Zambia starts in mid-January and runs through the first week of December, which gives a long break over the festive season. Moving the training dates is being done for two reasons: first, so that teachers can start afresh in the New Year with recently completed training; and second, to facilitate other teacher training programmes that are planned by the Ministry.

Lifeline Energy supports the Learning at Taonga Market programme in community schools in the Southern and Eastern provinces of Zambia. Our Lifeplayers will be loaded with Taonga Market lessons that cover primarily the foundation grades (Grade 1 and 2) to start, although some schools will include material for higher grades.

 You can be sure that we’ll keep you posted!

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.

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Project Leader

Kristine Pearson

Cape Town, Cape South Africa

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