Written by Ross Tanner, Manager Monitoring and Evaluation at War Child Canada
Uvira is a small but bustling town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that extends down the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The town itself is nestled in the foothills of one of Eastern DRC’s many mountain ranges. It’s here that War Child has been implementing a radio-based education program that provides young girls who are currently not enrolled in school with the opportunity to continue their education.
As I approached the entrance to the classroom, I could hear the start of the lesson. Sung in a mixture of French and Swahili, the opening lines begin each lesson:
C’est mon tour [It’s my turn]
C’est ton tour [It’s your turn]
C’est son tour [It’s his turn]
Notre échance [Our chance]
Turudi shuleni [Let’s return to school]
When I entered the classroom – one of ten supported by this program – the students were all seated in rows and intently focused on the instructor. It’s immediately clear that this school is different than most. The students attend each morning for one and a half hours and instruction is delivered through the radio. Two education assistants guide the students through the interactive lessons, encouraging them to get on their feet, shout out answers, and write out the solutions to grammar and math problems on the blackboard.
But what you cannot see is that for many of the students, this is their last opportunity to attend high school. Although students registered in the program have completed their primary education, none of the students were currently enrolled in school. When I talked with them after class, the students insisted that the ability to complete their schooling was an opportunity they did not think they would ever have. As one student beamed, “I did not think I would ever get to attend secondary school, but here I am!”
The lessons are delivered like a play or ongoing skit – rather than an audio lecture – and use six different characters, such as Bahati, Neema and Nyana, to reinforce the lesson. The students each had their own favourite character and wasted no time in sharing the reasons for their choice. It seemed as if there were just two things the students wanted. First, to finish high school. And secondly, to meet the characters in person!
The immediate question most have is, why aren’t these kids in regular schools? The answers vary by child. For some, the nearest secondary school is simply too far away. For others, household commitments keep them from attending school on a regular basis. The most common reason, however, was cost. The local high schools cost approximately $6 per month to attend, beyond the means of many families in Uvira. One parent told me that he had ten children and could only afford to send some of them to school. This program had given him the opportunity to educate his daughter.
This pilot program, known as “Making Waves” will help War Child assess whether using radio-based accelerated learning programs to reach out of school secondary students is an effective way to bridge the education gap faced by many children in the DRC. Initial results from the program are positive: instructors are trained, classes are up and running, and the majority of students have passed their first exam – for many it’s the first exam they have taken in several years.
There are still many girls and boys in Uvira without the opportunity to continue their education, but if successful, this model could serve to reach many more of those children and provide them with the tools they need to carve out the future they deserve.