Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children

by Lifeline Energy
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Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children
Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children

This is an interim report as we are in the process of undertaking another distribution of Lifeplayers in Zambia’s Eastern Province during August. We’re particularly excited about this new distribution as we will be placing Lifeplayers into a pilot programme for pre-school classrooms and co-creating a training programme for teaching mentors, in collaboration with UNICEF.  The Eastern Province was selected for the pilot because it's the province with the highest level of teen pregnancies and the lowest level of female literacy.

The Ministry of Education has recognised the importance of instituting a national early learning programme, particularly in poor homes where parents are often illiterate. Generally, mothers lay the foundation for their children’s literacy and educational success, but in homes where mothers cannot read and books are an unimaginable luxury, children need a basic grounding before reaching Grade 1. Research shows that children who’ve been exposed to early learning are more likely to complete their schooling, often with better results.  

Also funded by UNICEF, excellent interactive pre-school content has been created by the Ministry, in local languages. This content will be pre-loaded onto our Lifeplayers, and distributed for the pilot programme, along with the teaching content.  Most of the teachers at pre-school level are grandmothers or local women wanting to help out. 

In our next report, we’ll be able to provide detailed feedback on the distribution and training happening during August.

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We’ve started 2016 with some exciting developments on our “Solar MP3 players to educate Zambian children” project. When we began working on this high impact initiative more than 12 years ago, the Learning at Taonga Market radio lessons were envisaged as a viable solution for children living in rural areas, with either no access to schools or with parents who could not afford to send them to school. For these highly vulnerable children, one-third of whom were orphaned, Learning at Taonga Market offered the best chance at a quality basic education.

Zambia today is facing tough economic challenges from a collapse in the price of its major export, copper. This has meant mass layoffs in the mining sector, and a related influx of families streaming into the capital city, Lusaka, looking for work. With this has come severe overcrowding in schools, particularly in the lower grades.

In some of the schools we visited in and around Lusaka, primary school classes average more than 100 learners, and some schools run two shifts a day to try and cope with the numbers. Teachers are overloaded; and this is made worse by a lack of basic teaching supplies. Some of the schools are electrified; however, with the high cost of electricity and regular power cuts, they operate mostly without power.

In an effort to try and alleviate the teachers’ burden, the Zambian Ministry of Education has informed us they they require more Lifeplayers to help fill the gap.  It’s already an official Ministry learning educational tool for urban, as well as rural, schools. Given their own budget cut-backs, they’ve appealed to us to fund an urgent supply of 500 Lifeplayers for pre-schools and grade 1-3 classrooms in and around Lusaka. We will be sending the first consignment of Lifeplayers to Lusaka in June, and conducting training teachers how to use and maintain them.  

“This is the exact type of situation that the Lifeplayer was designed for,” said Kristine Pearson, our CEO, who has been visiting Zambia regularly for nearly 20 years.  “It is impossible for a teacher to manage and provide meaningful instruction to classes of this size.  The Lifeplayer will help ease the burden while the children have fun learning.”

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Chipeko and Joyce love the Lifeplayer!
Chipeko and Joyce love the Lifeplayer!

We ended 2015 with a productive trip to Zambia, to connect again with our partners and visit schools that are using our solar and wind-up Lifeplayer MP3s.  What a wonderful trip it was, too!

We’re excited to report that the Ministry of Education has committed to installing a radio transmitter with a national footprint, which will have dedicated channels just for education programs. The first programs to be broadcast will be Learning at Taonga Market, the interactive radio instruction (IRI) lessons that have been used in the country for the past 12 years. This means children everywhere in the country will be able to access radio school; and even government schools may decide to listen, given the severe shortage of trained teachers. We’ll be working with the Ministry to supply more Lifeplayers to community schools, beyond what we had initially thought.  This exciting news means we'll be able to support many more students and their teaching mentors.

Although we hadn’t planned for our Lifeplayers to be placed into urban schools as a priority, we visited an elementary school in Lusaka through our old friend Mr Mvula, the very first teaching mentor we worked with in Zambia. Impossibly crowded with 5,000 students, the school runs two shifts a day; one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Of the students, 75% are orphans, all are from poor families, and double shifts are the only way to cope with the number of children enrolled. Even so, each class has around 130 children.  The job of teaching such large classes is made more difficult by a lack of resources and basic supplies like chalk. Having Lifeplayers provides an outstanding solution to support teaching at these urban schools.  

As a second grade teacher told us, “If I had a Lifeplayer half the class would listen to the radio teacher, while the rest could listen to me. Then we could switch. Having a radio teacher is like having a teaching assistant.  It would be such a help to me and a benefit to the children because they love the lessons.”  And we saw for ourselves how much they enjoyed learning through songs, dance and movement.  This school alone wants 20 Lifeplayers – and as soon as possible!

We’re looking forward to another trip to Zambia in the near future, where we’ll be visiting community schools in the eastern part of the country.  With your help, we can help provide a high quality, basic education to hundreds, even thousands of learners, for around $1 per student.  One Lifeplayer reaches at least 60 learners and often it’s more than 100.  We think it's a great investment! 

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The Learning at Taonga Market radio distance education directly addresses SDG#4 or the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Taonga has a great track record of teaching children to read and write, as advocated by Project Literacy. We’re thrilled to be seeing a renewed push for and focus on literacy, and see an important role for Lifeline Energy in this – providing a cost-effective tool that’s able to reach tens of thousands of children in remote and deprived areas, particularly in Africa. 

Primary school lessons in reading, writing and life skills training are loaded onto the Lifeplayer, allowing children to make up a missed lesson or to listen as often as they like.  Lifeplayers are placed in community-based schools as a priority, often called ‘radio schools’, where a literate adult or teaching mentor coordinates the classes and provides support to the learners.

Books and stories can be loaded as well. Many children in rural areas have parents who are illiterate and unable to read to their children.  The Lifeplayer provides an alternative voice.

Children in Taonga Market radio schools often score higher than in conventional government classrooms.  This is why the Ministry of Education is rolling out the project to a further 200 schools and community centres in eastern Zambia. With the fall in copper prices, which is the country’s main export earner, the ministry has had its budget cut.  They’re relying on us to provide the Lifeplayers and we’re relying on you, our donors, to help us.

Our CEO Kristine Pearson will be visiting Zambia this month to visit radio schools and plan the rollout with the Ministry of Education.

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More of our Lifeplayers have been distributed in the eastern and southern provinces of Zambia to community schools to listen to the Learning at Taonga Market Grade 1 and Grade 2 lessons.  The feedback is positive from the teaching mentors and pupils alike.

For the first time, teaching mentors are able to schedule classes at times that are convenient and suitable to the children they teach. This is important, particularly in the rainy season when children may not be able to walk to school. With Zambia’s high rate of deforestation, areas now flood more easily, making it very difficult for children to reach their schools.  In addition, small streams may become impassable.  Even young rural children often have household responsibilities like collecting water or firewood, caterpillars for food or tending livestock.  All these will cause a child to miss a class. The Lifeplayer allows the child to listen to a missed lesson.  One teacher, Mr Phiri, remarked how he appreciated being able to listen to the lesson himself first, enabling him to be prepared. 

We are planning another field visit to Zambia in the second half of the year, where we will again visit schools and mentors using the Lifeplayer as a teaching aid.  As always, we have the cooperation of the Zambian Ministry of Education. 

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Organization Information

Lifeline Energy

Location: Cape Town, South Africa - South Africa
Website:
Project Leader:
Kristine Pearson
Cape Town, Cape South Africa

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