Can broadcast media foster equitable learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
This post is the second in a series of articles focused on helping children continue to learn at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic, emphasizing the need for multiple remote learning platforms to meet the needs of all students. As discussed in the first post in this series on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures around the globe mean that remote learning is now the only option for more than 1.3 billion children across 177 countries. MICS6 data reveal that many of the world’s children do not have internet access at home, particularly among poorer households. In response, UNICEF, governments and partners are actively considering an array of solutions to support the continuity of learning for children and adolescents, and the data indicate that television and radio broadcasts offer an effective way for education systems to reach children with the greatest needs. Access via the airwaves: Reaching the most children with television and radio [caption id="attachment_2516" align="alignright" width="303"] Figure 1[/caption] As illustrated in Figure 1, broadcast media can be a core component of a data-driven, multi-pronged approach to the alternative delivery of education content and has several advantages in delivering educational content during the COVID-19 crisis. New analysis of MICS6 data shows that television and radio broadcasts have the potential to reach a majority of the world’s children, especially the most vulnerable.  According to UNICEF’s COVID-19 education rapid response tracker, 77 per cent of countries include television in their national response to COVID-19 school closures and radio is part of the national response in more than half of the countries tracked. TV and radio lack interactivity, but parents and caregivers can address this shortcoming by engaging with their children to discuss broadcasted educational content, supplemented by printed materials. The importance of effective engagement and support from parents and caregivers was discussed in detail in this recent UNICEF blog post. Television Our analysis shows that in the countries studied in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, television would reach 80 per cent or more of the school-aged population. In countries like Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Montenegro, and Tunisia, even children in poor households have high rates of access to television making it an equitable way to deliver educational content (Figure 2). However, in the countries analyzed in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, household access to television is neither common nor equitably distributed – television reaches half or fewer school-age children, and gaps in television access are very stark for the poorest children, where 10 per cent or fewer have a television at home. Radio While its reach is not universally high, radio has an important role to play in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where it can potentially reach more than 50 per cent of school-age children in countries such as The Gambia, Suriname, Sierra Leone and Ghana (Figure 3). Boosting the benefits of broadcast media through blended delivery The broad reach of television and radio broadcasts makes them a good choice to serve as the backbone of many remote learning programmes, but countries are encouraged to explore how they can enhance their educational offerings with high- and low-tech complements like internet-based instruction and the use of printed learning materials. For example, in April, Peru launched “Aprendo en casa” (I learn at home), which uses radio, TV and web-based platforms to provide instruction in math, Spanish, social sciences, art and physical education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary education levels. UNICEF is coordinating with UNESCO, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and Peru’s Ministry of Education to ensure the programme is equitable and inclusive in reaching indigenous, migrant and disabled children. At the other end of the spectrum, for many of the most marginalized school-age children – i.e., those in very rural settings and/or from very poor households – even radio and TV may be inaccessible, making delivery of printed education materials the only alternative. In March, UNICEF and other partners supported Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education in their launch of educational radio programmes covering the national curriculum. About half of the households in the country have a radio, andhomes in rural areas are more likely to have a radio than a television. The radio broadcasts are complemented by home delivery of printed materials, which are crucial to reaching children without radio access. MICS6 data drive informed decision-making The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in terms of delivering education services to children. Speed is of the essence – the education sector must move quickly to find solutions, especially for the poorest children. COVID-19 school closures threaten to rob vulnerable children of the opportunity to catch up with their more advantaged peers, further deepening inequalities. Remote learning means the home environment is even more important to a child’s ability to continue learning. Marginalized children are more likely to be in homes with fewer learning resources, have lower access to devices, and their caregivers may lack the time or knowledge needed to support learning and development. In some countries, television and/or radio have the potential to reach almost all children, including the poorest. In others, their reach is limited and uneven. While MICS6 data show there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reach all children, using data to drive decisions regarding the most effective channels will help ensure education is both widely accessible and equitably provided.  The analysis included 19 countries/regions (a total of 20 surveys) conducted between 2017-2019: East Asia and Pacific: Kiribati, Lao PDR, Mongolia; Europe and Central Asia: Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Montenegro, Montenegro (Roma settlements). Eastern and Southern Africa: Lesotho, Madagascar, Zimbabwe. Latin America and the Caribbean: Suriname. Middle East and North Africa: Iraq, Tunisia. South Asia: Bangladesh, Pakistan (Punjab). West and Central Africa: DR Congo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Togo.  Source: DHS 2015.