With the Ebola outbreak raging in West Africa, Liberia shut down schools and set strict limits on group gatherings. To help some older students continue their studies, one charity has turned to radio.
After long years of civil war and widespread poverty, Liberia has large numbers of teenagers and young adults who have had little or no schooling.
The Advancing Youth Project provides basic reading and math instruction, job training, and leadership development to people ages 13 to 35 to help them improve their economic prospects. The night classes, which had almost 12,000 participants last year, took place in primary schools.
Long before the current health crisis, Education Development Center, the nonprofit that runs the program, had recorded audio lessons on topics for beginners, like letter names, phonics, and introductory math concepts, which teachers sometimes had trouble explaining to older learners.
Ten community radio stations are now broadcasting those lessons twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Students can follow along at home with their workbooks.
"We don’t want them to lose all the learning they’ve gained during the year," says Lisa Hartenberger-Toby, Education Development Center official who oversees the program in Liberia.
The first lesson aired on October 20, and the charity has enough material to continue the broadcasts through the end of April. To let students know about them, the charity sent text messages and the stations aired advertisements.
Students have contacted Education Development Center saying that the lessons have been helpful and a good way to review what they’ve learned, says Ms. Hartenberger-Toby. The organization is also fielding calls from more-advanced students in the program and parents of elementary-school students asking if the group can develop additional radio lessons, something she says her group is exploring.
While the academic reinforcement is important, Ms. Hartenberger-Toby hopes the radio lessons also help boost students’ morale, especially in areas hard hit by Ebola.
"It’s a very isolating and scary experience," she says of the crisis. "At least being able to continue your studies at home gives you the feeling that you haven’t stopped entirely. Your life is still going on."