Article

Learning through radio and television in the time of COVID-19

02/06/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest disruptions to education the world has ever known affecting more than 90% of the world student’s population. Many countries turned to online based distance education to ensure that learning never stops.

However, some 826 million students (50%) kept out of classrooms by the pandemic do not have access to a computer at home, according to a recent study by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and the Teacher Task Force. Around 706 million students lack internet access and 56 million live in areas not covered by mobile networks. Many countries had to quickly find effective solutions and television and radio have proven to be a good alternative in a context where online learning is not possible.

UNESCO and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) organised a virtual workshop on Wednesday 27 May inviting representative from national broadcasters to present the programmes and innovations put in place as well as discuss the lessons learned on the use of radio and television-based distance learning.

What are the needs?

Considering this technological divide, most countries around the world are also using television and/or radio-based programmes to implement distance education. Africa seems to be the most active in the efforts to leverage either TV or radio (70%), some combining both (34% of countries), while Europe and North America seems to be using less radio than other regions, yet very active in deploying TV-based distance education programmes.

The value of educational broadcasts through television and radio also goes beyond the needs of students alone. In some countries, these programmes are conceived to provide intergenerational learning, including in local languages. They also include issues such as health and psychosocial well-being, both of which are important in supporting populations affected by the threat of COVID-19.

However, the setting-up and use of radio and television as tools to provide distance education present major challenges, such as:

  • The non-availability of educational content in audio-visual formats
  • Difficulties  of countries to produce  content in quantity and quality in short time
  • The absence of pre-existing partnerships for the design and broadcasting of the educational content.
  • The need for communication and collaboration between education specialists and the professionals of the audio-visual sector for the production of educational programmes.
  • The lack of the knowhow and expertise in monitoring and evaluation of learning ...

All invited presenters agreed on three core aspects for successful implementation of these programmes: collaboration, pragmatism and a learner-centred approach.

No success without collaboration

Collaboration between broadcasters, education authorities and educators was a main factor of success in implementing radio and television based educational programmes.

Indeed, as each of these sectors have their own areas of expertise, they were able to complement each other, especially in the development and production of educational content. In Lithuania, Georgia and Australia, collaboration with the Ministry of Education was key to the development of programmes, as it was important that the classes proposed on radio and television fit the national study plan.

Dr Ricaud Auckbur, Director of e-learning, Ministry of Education of Mauritius, explained that a dedicated working group was established to development educational content for radio and television. This group included volunteer teachers, departments of primary and secondary education, inspectors of primary and secondary education, the Open University of Mauritius, curriculum development agencies and the national broadcaster.

Most broadcasters called on teachers to host their educational programmes, building on their knowledge and expertise to transmit knowledge. Ms Elene Gabashvili, International Relations Manager, Public Broadcaster, Georgia, indicated that her network solicited 20 teachers from both the public and private sector, selected by the Ministry of education, to film their programmes.

Making pragmatic decisions

Due to the limited time available to create and produce educational content for radio and television, most broadcasters chose to lean on their existing programmes.

In Lithuania, Mr Gytis Oganauskas, Deputy Director General of the Lithuanian National Radio and Television, explained they decided to adapt existing formats to educational & entertainment needs, adding educational contents and interactive elements. They also leveraged their audio-visual archives by designing learning packages on different subjects using documentaries, shows and movies from their databases.

Mr Robert Fortuijn, Channel Manager Zapp & Zappelin, Public Broadcaster, NPO, Netherlands, recommended to focus and be honest with ones’ capacities: “It is better to do a little of what you do best, than to do a lot, but of poor quality”. He also added that consistency was key to encouraging learners to follow their programmes.

Ms Anabel Head of Digital Education, ABC Australia, indicated that due to the sanitary measures in place in the country production teams had to be very creative to shoot the programmes as they only had access to one camera and two producers.

A learner-centred approach

Reaching students and ensuring the continuity of education were the main goals of the various initiatives presented during the workshop.

Most broadcasters thus designed their programmes with more interactive components to capture the attention of learners, particularly the youngest ones. The programmes are also designed to provide a platform for the exchange of information and experiences between generations. Several examples provided during the workshop included the use of apps or videos as well as online quizzes.

For example, in Lithuania, the national broadcaster put together interactive homework challenges, encouraging children to actively participate in the activities by recording themselves and sending their videos.

A sustainable solution?

The use of radio and television broadcast as distance learning solutions is a powerful way to bridge the digital divide in the education sector and reach the most marginalised learners. However, there are still some important matters to consider.

Many questions related to the quality assurance of educational programmes, motivation of learners, particularly the youngest ones, the assessment or measurement of learning outcomes have been addressed but still need more investment.

Moreover, the question of long-term sustainability of these programmes is also in discussion. Some countries, like Georgia, have decided to continue airing the programmes developed during the pandemic post the reopening of schools.

Those are immediate areas of thinking where UNESCO ad EBU commit to produce knowledge and evidence to ensure no one is left behind by the distance education responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UNESCO and the EBU’s virtual workshops on the use of radio and television for learning are also being held in French and Spanish (to come soon).