News and analysis
June 30, 2011

Charity Uses Radio as an Education Tool

Karl Grobl

A Mass. charity is using radio in Southern Sudan to try to improve education in subjects such as English.

To improve education in southern Sudan, one nonprofit organization relies on a relatively old technology: the radio.

Nearly 150,000 students in 600 elementary schools receive instruction in English, math, their local language, and basic skills over the airwaves through Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction, which is run by the Education Development Center, in Newton, Mass. Evaluations by the group found that students who received the radio instruction achieved educational gains 5 to 10 percent higher than in a control group of similar students.

The Education Development Center provides sites with rugged radios that can be wound up or recharged by means of a small solar panel. “Most of the schools have no electricity,” says Richard Trewby, who oversees the program.

Despite the growing excitement about the use of mobile technology in international-development work, Mr. Trewby sees a role for radio, which is inexpensive and can reach remote areas that still don’t receive cellphone service. What’s more, he says, the medium allows for the distribution of more complicated information.

But that doesn’t mean the organization is opposed to mobile technology. Soon the radio-instruction program will start using text messages to provide support and professional development to teachers via their cellphones.

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