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Parliament blocks purchase of radios. Were they worth it?

By Conan Businge

Added 21st November 2020 05:27 PM

Much as Parliamentarians have blocked this move; one would wonder if the purchase of radios was worthwhile or not?

Parliament blocks purchase of radios. Were they worth it?

Government needs the legislators’ approval before purchasing the radios. (File photo)

Much as Parliamentarians have blocked this move; one would wonder if the purchase of radios was worthwhile or not?


The Parliament of Uganda last week blocked the purchase of radios, which had been intended to be sent to households to help children learn during the lockdown. Most Parliamentarians, contrary to the Government's planning, argue that the radios will not be effective in conducting lessons for learners.

This means that the learning for students will remain in suspense, much as they are expected to do promotional examinations to avoid having a dead year.

Much as Parliamentarians have blocked this move; one would wonder if the purchase of radios was worthwhile or not?

The Government needs the legislators' approval before purchasing the radios. Do Parliamentarians have a legitimate concern? Are radios really effective?  

The closure of schools due to COVID-19 seven months ago, has presented Uganda, like several countries around the world, with a very complex issue of ensuring that children keep learning. In Uganda, apart from a 1.2 million students in candidate classes who have resumed studies at school, there are around 13.8 million learners who have had to stay home. 

Uganda's Government, in a plan to help learners keep engaged and studying ahead of their promotional examinations in months to come, has opted to use radios; alongside sending printed materials alongside uploading it on the digital platform. 

The Government needed Parliament to approve the expenditure of sh336.8bn to purchase nine million radios for students around the country.

A number of studies show that radios can help students learn. However, in most instances, teachers would have to be in class with students, and there are no many studies which show children learning, at a distance far off their teachers. 

Research from developed and developing countries indicates that the use of school radio programmes assist pupils and teachers to learn foreign language like English faster and help them to improve the pronunciation of difficult words. The school radio broadcast was introduced in neighbouring Kenya in 1961. 

One of the reasons was to help improve the standard of spoken and written English language and set the standard for spoken English in the country. Radio was chosen because it is affordable and simple to maintain.

In a 2011 study by Florence Y. Odera, "Learning English Language by Radio in Primary Schools in Kenya". She noted that very few of them used radio lessons citing various problems, such as lack of resources, broadcast time tables and teachers guide notes, negative attitudes and a large number of pupils in the class. Those, who listened to English radio lessons, valued them very much and noted how it has helped to improve the pupils spoken English and performance in Kenya certificate of primary education examination.

She further noted that 50% of the English teachers listened to English radio lessons and valued the programme very much. They also noted that schools broadcast provide them with well researched English language that helps to correct the confusion posed by different English textbooks they come across. This they believed helps to remove the confusion when they teach the subject. 

The pupils also acknowledged the benefits of listening to English radio lesson and noted that they gain confidence when they speak the English language after listening to radio programmes.

More so, other World Bank studies show that radios can be of great value when combined with active learning in the classroom. This COVID-19 pandemic will probably create an opportunity for researchers, ascertain if the use of radios, without class students and teacher interactions, does work. 

According to the World Bank reports, the use of radios to learn in the classroom is termed as Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI). 

A World Bank toolkit published on the topic in 2005, Interactive radio instruction (IRI) is a distance education system that combines radio broadcasts with active learning to improve educational quality and teaching practices.

The use of radios, under IRI, has been in use for more than 25 years and has demonstrated that it can be effective on a large scale at low cost. IRI programs require teachers and students to react verbally and physically to questions and exercises posed by radio characters and to participate in group work, experiments, and other activities suggested by the radio programme.

The key difference between IRI and conventional use of broadcast radio to deliver education audio content is suggested by the term interactive.  In this context, radio instruction is considered interactive because it prompts specific actions by teachers and students in a classroom. 

The state minister for higher education Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo, affirms that research literature around the positive, cost-effective impact using radios to teach in low-income communities in developing countries is pretty solid; "Especially when compared with the still-weak evidence base we have demonstrated positive, cost-effective uses of other ICTs in educational settings in these places."  

The World Bank also notes that there is consistent and significant evidence that IRI can increase learning across subject matter, age, gender, and rural or urban location. Students show progressively greater learning with time.

Many of the criticisms of the use of educational technologies stem from the poor evidence base on which related decisions for investment are made.  In comparison, such criticisms are quite muted when discussing the suitability of investments in IRI programs in developing countries.  

Michael Trucano is his piece, "Interactive Radio Instruction: A Successful Permanent Pilot Project?" on the World Bank blogs, explains that despite their increased diffusion through rich and poor communities around the world, many people still have serious reservations about large scale investments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) within education systems.  

He says the use of educational radios, is a low-cost educational technology with a long history that has demonstrated positive impact in many developing countries; and is specifically known as interactive radio instruction (IRI).

Trucano writes, "Yet, given what we know about its cost-effectiveness, and almost 40 years after USAID funded the first experiments with IRI in Nicaragua, why do we not see more sustained large-scale IRI programs?  It is true that IRI has been used (quite successfully, most would argue) in almost 35 countries around the world, but IRI programs often wither after donor funding for them expires and foreign experts move on to another program in another place." 

The First Lady and education minister, Mrs Janet Museveni is also convinced that the country needs radios to support the children's learning. During her launch of ‘PlayMatters' project for refugee in Uganda project last week, she appealed to Members of Parliament, to approve the purchase of radios, to help children from lower classes who are still home. 

"I want to appeal to our colleagues the Members of Parliament on the Education and Sports Committee to support our need for a supplementary to fund the nine million (9,000,000) Radios for the families of Ugandans who still have children sitting at home, because of the terrible COVID-19 Pandemic," she said.

She added, "We need nine million radios and not five million because we want to ensure that we have a direct channel to reach all the children for education because we do not know how long this Pandemic is going to be with us."

Her appeal followed the MPs' rejection to approve the procurement of nine million radios.

Are conditions for radios favourable? 

A number of parents have been concerned, whether all local radio stations will be given an opportunity to deliver this content; especially that some of the Kampala City's radio stations do not reach upcountry.

Annet Nakyeyune, a mother of four children, all in primary schools in Masaka says, "Most of us do not pick all the stations in the city. I do hope that the programmes will be effectively aired by our local radio stations." 

But Dr Muyingo says, "We will work with several radios stations, including the privately-owned ones, to air out the lessons." 

According to the Uganda Media Landscape Report in February 2019, Uganda has a diverse media sector with nearly 300 licensed radio stations and 30 (free to air) TV stations. The report indicates that radio is a more popular medium than TV mainly due to poverty and lack of electricity in many parts of the country. 

The education ministry's Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza, also told Parliamentarians last week, during the education and finance ministries appeal for clearing of the supplementary budget for radios, "The radios use solar internal batteries, which will make it easy for several homesteads to use them; even when they do not have electricity or money to buy batteries." 

Listenership figures also show that radio is the most popular medium in Uganda. People can listen to the radio at home, at their friends, relatives or neighbours, and work.

The director of basic and secondary education Hajj. Ismail Mulindwa also explains that the ministry is going to provide the materials that are going to be aired on radio.

According to Mulindwa, there will also be teachers who are to facilitate these lessons on radio. "These lessons will be in a clear timetable that will be followed by the various radio stations that will be facilitating the learning programmes." 

He requests that parents to use the radios purposely for learning, in case they are provided. "Parents should endeavour to guide and supervise their children during the lessons," Mulindwa emphasized. 

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