Photo credit : Lorenzo Moscia
Photo credit : Lorenzo Moscia

How radio acts as an education tool to help girls continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

Risk to Girls’ education and safety during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about widespread lockdowns and school closures around the world, including in Kenya, where more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. 

In a country where 1.2 million primary-school-age children were already out of school before the crisis hit, these closures have the potential to exacerbate the vulnerability of learners.  School closures can also widen educational inequalities, increase stress and trauma for vulnerable children, contribute to learning setbacks, and have lasting detrimental impacts on children’s well-being. 

The consequences will be more devastating for marginalized learners, such as girls from poor and rural communities, refugees, and children with disabilities. Kenya is home to over 491,000 refugees, with the largest populations located in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana County and Dadaab Refugee Camp in Garissa County. School disruption has the potential to seriously impact the lives of thousands of refugee youth, many of whom are already receiving inadequate educational support. For example, Turkana County ranked 45th out of Kenya’s 47 counties on educational outcomes at the primary level.

School closures and lockdowns pose a great risk to young women in particular, who are among the most vulnerable populations during crises such as pandemics. There is strong evidence that emergencies lead to a significant rise in gender-based violence (GBV) and increased rates of early and forced marriage, unwanted pregnancies, higher burden of care and domestic work, and school drop-out. Evidence from the West Africa Ebola outbreak shows that girls were more likely to be forced into transactional sex than before the epidemic and less likely to return to schools once they reopened. Young women who are displaced face even greater discrimination due to the added social and economic pressures placed on refugee families.

Radio as a far-reaching and easily accessible response tool 

To continue providing education while schools are closed, the Kenyan Ministry of Education is using radio to distribute education content developed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development. 

Radio is the preferred approach for the Government of Kenya and many other governments because it is low cost and has broad reach. It is also an engaging format, with many new models being developed to foster a better two-way flow of information between radio broadcasters and listeners. 

Radio has already demonstrated its ability as an effective tool for mass behavior change communication and awareness raising on COVID-19 related facts, such as the importance of handwashing, social distancing, and wearing masks. This is particularly key in refugee contexts, where there has been an urgent need to provide culturally-relevant information in multiple languages.

Radio is also more accessible for the majority of the population, compared to alternative high-tech options that rely on smartphones, computers, and internet connectivity. Even before the start of the pandemic, radio listenership was increasing in some of the hardest to reach areas of Kenya. Radio can also act as a strong complement to other low-tech education solutions, such as SMS-based learning, which WUSC has been piloting in refugee camps in partnership with Eneza Education, to improve learning outcomes of students in Grades 7-9. 

How WUSC uses radio in its education programming in Kenya 

With funding for two education initiatives from DFID’s Girls Education Challenge and from Global Affairs Canada. WUSC works with learners in the Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps and surrounding host communities in Kenya to improve the quality of education while also addressing the social and economic barriers that limit access, in particular for girls and young women. We work with students, teachers, their families, and their communities to create a stronger education ecosystem.

One of the ways in which we engage the community is through radio programming. Together with Africa Voices Foundation, we have been promoting positive social and behavioral change through interactive radio sessions on the value of girls’ education and gender equality. 

In recent weeks, we have mobilized our existing network of radio broadcasters and programs to respond to the challenging context presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We have also expanded our programming in other ways to help learners and families cope, such as increasing the scope and size of cash transfers and promoting the delivery of Eneza SMS learning support.

Adapting radio programs to raise awareness on the impact of girls’ education during COVID-19

We are working with Africa Voices Foundation to broadcast messages related to COVID-19. We are also developing content to raise awareness on the primary barriers to the education and well-being of young women during this time. Through these radio sessions, WUSC and Africa Voices Foundation will amplify the unique voices and experiences of women and girls to ensure their voices remain at the centre of our programs. 

Through this initiative, we are also contributing to prevention of gender-based violence and to child protection efforts; engaging teachers in the promotion of remote learning; and supporting parents to provide an optimal learning environment for their children. Given the opportunity that crises present to drive transformative change, the radio programs will continue to include messaging on inequitable gender norms, discriminatory beliefs and behaviors, and harmful practices that may impact girls’ well-being in an effort to create a more inclusive “new normal” for girls in Kenya. Due to the sensitive nature of some of these topics, WUSC will ensure that information is disseminated in a way that will not increase the spread of COVID-19, by discouraging listening groups for instance, or the risk of violence and abuse, by protecting identities and personal stories. We have also been careful to craft messages in a way that shows support for victims and advocates and avoids increasing social stigma. 

WUSC, Africa’s Voices Foundation, and our other local partners worked together to co-create the content of the radio programs and to ensure that it is accurate and relevant to the community. The ten radio sessions will cover the following topics:

Education at home

  • The importance of continuing to learn during the pandemic and how parents and guardians can continue to support education of both girls and boys at home;
  • How parents can talk to their children about COVID-19 and keep them motivated to continue their education at home. 

Gender equality and gender-based violence 

  • How an increased burden of domestic chores can be shared among boys and girls, ensuring both can continue learning while staying at home;
  • The differential impact of COVID-19 on women and girls—a focus on livelihoods, economic tensions, and negative coping mechanisms;
  • The effects of COVID-10 on early and forced marriage and teen pregnancies;
  • The increased risk of GBV, the role of the community in preventing GBV, and information on GBV referral pathways and the services that are still available/functioning.

Safeguarding and child protection

  • The role of the family and the community in ensuring the household is a safe space; preventing violence against children; 
  • The effect of lockdowns on the health and well-being of children; what support do families need to effectively support children’s safety as well as learning from home?

Embedded in each of these programs will be practical tips for learners and their families, including access to education experts. For example, teachers will be available to answer parents’ questions on education content; radio hosts will provide information on the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development’s radio programming, SMS-based learning tools, and other EdTech options; and protection experts and service providers will share options for reporting violence, and seeking health and support services. 

Though a one-to-many communication platform, such as radio, can be a powerful tool to broadcast important messages, we want to ensure that we can continue to adapt our programming to respond to evolving needs. WUSC and Africa Voices Foundation will continue to identify new risks and challenges to girls’ education in Kakuma and Dadaab using the Foundation’s two-way communication approach. The Foundation will broadcast radio programs with toll-free SMS and call-in options so that community members can actively participate in discussions on-air. The content of these calls and messages can be subsequently analyzed using a unique data analysis framework to better understand the evolving situation and to adjust messaging as needed. These continuous feedback mechanisms allow WUSC and the Foundation to better ensure our messages remain relevant to the evolving situation, while continuing to build trust with the community. 

WUSC works to create a better world for all young people. To learn more, start here or subscribe to get highlights straight to your inbox. Interested in volunteering internationally? View our current opportunities. Looking for a new career opportunity? Check out our current job openings. Or show your support for our cause by making a donation.


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