Bangladesh brings education to the airwaves

“Every student should continue learning during these school closures. Students should learn at home, otherwise, we shall fall behind,” says grade 5 student Omor Faruk. He, like millions of students in Bangladesh, had to adapt to remote learning when his school was suddenly closed due to COVID-19. In response to the closures, the Government strived to ensure the continuity of learning by putting in place educational programmes on television for primary and secondary students. However, as only some 56% of households in Bangladesh have access to a TV, this excludes almost half of learners.

To bridge this gap and reach the marginalized 44% who do not have access to a TV, UNESCO, through the Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme, is supporting the Government roll out a nationwide radio-based distance learning programme for primary level called ‘Ghore Bose Shikhi’, which launched in August 2020.

“I can imagine my house as a school,” says Grade 5 student Mosammat Munira Akter Disha who listens to the radio programme with her friend and explains that during the broadcast, teachers set questions, reveal the answers and hand out homework. When asked to recount a lesson she enjoyed she said: “I liked the story of ‘Kanchanmala and Kakonmala’ in Bangla class. It is very interesting. The teacher told it in such a way that I will never forget the story.”

With support from CapED, the Government is preparing 600 engaging audio lessons in Mathematics, Social Science, Bangla, and English. In Bangladesh, school lessons per subject usually last 45 minutes but to keep the attention of young students in grades 1 – 5 the radio lessons, which are aired daily, run at approximately 10 minutes per subject. They follow the national curriculum and official textbooks to ensure the continuity of students’ formal education and also include frequent awareness raising messages on COVID-19.

The lessons are prepared by a group of 40 teachers, who received specific training and support from pedagogy experts on producing compelling audio content. This training, which is currently being rolled out, aims to ensure pedagogical quality of lesson content. The content, after several rounds of review, is then recorded and sent out for broadcast. To further support teachers, CapED is creating teacher guidelines on developing learning content for the radio and is incorporating the guidelines into its teacher trainings. Awareness raising messages on COVID-19 are also present in the guidelines so that these messages are integrated in all lessons.

“I think, this programme should continue even after schools reopen as it has opened multiple channels of learning, including reaching marginalized students,” says Khairun Nahar Lipi, a primary school teacher who works on the radio programme. She explains how she adapt her teaching methods for radio: “As teaching through radio is a one-way system where you talk with invisible students, I follow alternative methods to make lessons attractive. I try to establish a bond with students and usually use popular words and examples so students can easily relate. I tell stories and present lessons using a dramatic approach to maintain students’ interest.”

To offer students a way to interact with teachers, a toll-free hotline will be established. A group of eight teachers are tasked with answering incoming calls and providing students with clarifications, as well as recording lesson feedback. A guideline for phone correspondence has been prepared and teacher training is underway.

“I think that the radio-based distance learning programme is a very effective means to educate students during this COVID-19 crisis,” says Firoj Alam Sikder, another teacher who participates in the radio programme. “This radio-based learning programme is very helpful as most students, including those from marginalized families, don’t have access to a TV. Besides, frequent power-cuts and load-shedding in rural areas are another barrier in accessing TV,” he adds. He also explains that many students come from low-literate families, meaning that “students don’t get any assistance from their parents and thus face problems in continuing their learning.” This is why the accessible no-cost solution of radio is so important, as offers a way for students to continue their learning.

To monitor and evaluate the audio lessons and to continuously refine the content and pedagogy, student feedback is frequently collected, and learning progress is assessed at multiple stages. CapED is also carrying out comprehensive user analysis from radio personnel to teachers and parents. This feedback will help identify where there is room for improvement, which will feed into the planned 310 lessons that are yet to be recorded.

UNESCO, through CapED, is supporting the radio education initiative in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and the Government’s a2i programme. The lessons are broadcast on community radio stations, and through Bangladesh’s state-owned broadcaster National Betar. They are also available through Facebook, YouTube and online.

CapED has launched COVID-19 Education responses in 17 countries. Find out more about CapED’s work in Cambodia, Chad, Madagascar, Mali, Nepal, Senegal, and South Sudan.