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Forget The Internet, Education Through Radio Is Bigger, More Affordable!

It was 5pm in Tado, a small village in the center-est of Togo in West Africa. Adjovi nervously chased away the domestic nanny-goat which was yelling to gather its babies before sunset. It was time for Adjovi’s third radio course on small business accounting.  She is eager to learn, because she wants to improve her seamstress business.

Adjovi’s seamstress business was doing well, but has dramatically

slowed down in the last months. She is worried. Revenue has declined and there are less and less customers’ orders.  It’s 3 months she has given birth to her long awaited first kid, and can’t spend as much time as she wants in the workshop. She has 3 apprentices. Two of them are in their last year of 3years apprenticeship, and the last one has been admitted only 9 months ago. Adjovi has to do something, because her business is the main source of cash revenue for the family.

Two months ago she has received the visit of a local nonprofit organization which empowers rural women in business. Adjovi could receive up to $500 grant to develop her business, but first she has to complete a 6 weeks business development course on a local community radio. A reminder is sent to her one day in advance of every next course and 30min before the radio course would start. If she will be successful, she will receive the grant, therefore she is very motivated and hopeful.

Adjovi is illiterate. She neither reads nor writes, but she still can learn.

In the era of the Internet, we tend to overlook another medium that is simpler but reaches much more people; affordable even for the poorest, and is the only medium that reaches 100% of the planet.

For the excluded from the Internet, which now amount to more than 70% of the world population, radio is the only available medium to stay connected.

In Africa, radio is the biggest media, and the most influential. Internet is marginal in terms of timeshare and influence. In The Hidden Trap That is Killing The African Internet Entrepreneurs I argued that the current Internet is mainly a text based medium that works very well in the western or eastern world because of 99% literacy rate. In those worlds, most people can read and write. In Africa, there is no such thing. In many countries the illiterates made the majority of the population. They don’t know how to write and read. A text based website is of no use for them.

If you want to reach millions of Africans instantly, Radio is your media.

Most has been said about the huge penetration of mobile phone in Africa, but what is often ignored is that the FM Radio is the most used function on mobile phones in Africa. Like a friend told me “I listen to radio and play music more than I make phone calls.”

I’m an advocate for using radio for rCommerce  (radio commerce, while waiting for the eCommerce and mCommerce to come). Today, I want to advocate for rLearning (Radio Learning) or MOOAC (Massive Open on Air Course) because radio learning has much more potential in Africa at this current moment than the trumpeted eLearning, and MOOC.

Why Radio?

The reasons are simple:

1. A community radio could be launched for the price of one Apple computer. No expensive technical equipment or significant material investments required to set up a local transmitter.

2. Small and handy transistors are available and affordable by even the poorest people.

3. Radio is a very low cost technology but with adequate reliability in all climates

4. Radio needs very little maintenance and the content is cheap to produce and distribute. By the way, anyone who can speak can produce content for Radio.

5. Radio is the only media that is accessible even in remote rural communities where infrastructure is lacking (include electricity, tap water, roads, etc.)

6. Radio speaks to an individual as to millions at a time, at no additional cost. For receivers, no expensive data plan required. No data limitation. It’s Free like Air!

7. For the excluded from the Internet, radio continues to be a highly effective medium

8. Radio often remains the only source of information and entertainment for the rural population.

10. Due to its portability and high accessibility, people can listen to the radio on their way to and from their fields, while doing housework, during mealtime – in short, anytime and anywhere. It is well-suited to combine with other medias and methods (as we will demonstrate later).

12. It is neither costly nor difficult to arrange for radio programs to be broadcasted in all the different languages of the population. This makes radio a particularly suitable medium for fostering multilingualism in countries where many regional languages are spoken alongside the dominant language.

The Big Question

If we ask ourselves, How might we increase the availability of affordable learning tools & services for students in the developing world? The Answer is simple: Start with Radio.

Through the use of local radio, which many people have access to, children could be educated without the need of costly supplies.


I’ve heard that Kenya is about to spend $1b buying laptops for 6year olds for the purpose of eLearning. Now Imagine how much Kenya could have achieved with the same amount of money used on a more reliable and proven medium like education through radio.


There are historical evidences to justify our call:

“In United Kingdom, education was taken up through radio just after two years of starting of broadcasting in 1922 with initiation of British Broadcasting Company. This company became British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) after 5 years. Then educational radio was controlled by an Educational Council. Twenty local radio stations are now in operation in England, each of them broadcasting locally devised programmes.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation introduced educational broadcast in 1929 where representatives from schools assisted in their earlier attempt. The State Department of Education took up the responsibility of production since 1939. Presently all the schools receive information about next years’ school broadcast on a regular manner. The broadcasts are more of ‘open-ended’ style giving students scope to draw their on conclusion.

Early thirties saw the beginning of school broadcast in United State of America, first with National Broadcasting Company having ‘Music Appreciation Hour’. ‘American School of the Air’ has had a significant contribution by broadcasting daily programmes on science, music, history, literature, and current events. Even prior to 1936, about 202 radio stations were broadcasting educational programmes which gradually came down within next thirty years. It has seen some increase in number with the advent of FM broadcasting by 1945.

In Canada also Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) started school broadcast on an experimental basis at various places. On getting positive response it was made permanent with daily 20 mts. broadcast for schools. It was here in 1941 that radio education was successfully used for providing agricultural information for “Farm Radio Forum”. Here it was proved again that the radio can contribute substantially to the process of transformation of agricultural tradition, as well as some social and economic attitudes in general.

Then this was  extended to other countries including India. Education through radio in France devotes more then one half of its output for education both in Primary stage as well as in Secondary grades. Japan, though a developed country, has used radio for education since 1933. The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nihon Hoso Kyokai—NHK) broadcasts for kindergarten, elementary .middle, high school etc and provides yearly time table of educational programmes, teachers’ guide and text book for students to all the schools. Radio plays a supplementary role in enriching the knowledge of class teachers here in Japan.

In Malaysia also educational programmes are broadcast in four of their National language like English, Chinese and Tamil from Monday to Thursday. Utilisation of educational radio in developing countries was more significant and covered various field of the development. Whether agriculture or health, adult education or family planning, the educational element used to take-the first priority.

School broadcast, in Mathematics or Science, Civics or Language, sometimes takes a major chunk of radio broadcast in various places.” – J. K. Das


Some people complain that Radio is not interactive enough for education, like say the Internet. Now there are two possibles answers here:

1. First, even if the Internet itself is very interactive medium, studies show that only 2% of people consuming content or information on Internet interact with that content (in other ways than clicking). Less than 2% of Internet users would for example comment on content they have just read, viewed or watched, and less than 1% of Internet users produces all the content available online)

2. Radio could be easily combined with other medias and methods of interactivity:

Radio + telephone

People listen on radio but can call a desk to ask questions that would be answered by the teachers.

Radio + SMS

People listen on radio and send questions and contribution by SMS

Radio + paper materials

People receive in advance paper materials, then listen to a teacher on radio, and can ask questions

Radio + TV

Images and course illustrations are displayed through a TV set, but voice comes from Radio, and interaction happen with telephone and SMS

Radio + Internet

People can receive necessary course material by internet in advance, and then the live lesson happens on Air.

There are a lot of possibilities, and there is enough evidence that learning through radio works. Instead of biting too hard the hook of the new technologies, we still could give a chance to the old one, because People Who Can’t Read or Write Still Can Learn. Let’s Not Forget Them.

source: Silicon Africa


Written by PH

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