How did Sierra Leone implement radio instruction during the Ebola crisis?

With support from its partners, including re-allocated funds from a GPE grant, the Government of Sierra Leone developed radio instruction to ensure that the millions of children who were at home could continue to learn.

April 29, 2020 by GPE Secretariat
3 minutes read
Children listening in a classroom in Sierra Leone  Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer
Children listening in a classroom in Sierra Leone

GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

When the Ebola virus struck West Africa in 2014, three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – had to shut down their school system to prevent the spread of the disease.

With support from its partners, including quickly re-allocated funds from a GPE grant, the Government of Sierra Leone developed radio instruction to ensure that the millions of children who were now at home could continue to learn.

3 months from school closures to lessons on the radio

The response was quick: Schools had closed in July 2014 – at the end of the school year – and the Emergency Radio Education Program (EREP) started airing in October 2014.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology broadcast an information campaign about the radio instruction to get the word out about the different types of programs and their schedule. To prepare the content, the ministry identified about 30 teachers (the “crème de la crème” of the teaching force, as one of them said) and worked closely with them to prepare the lessons.

Once the lesson scripts were ready, the teachers recorded them in a studio. The lessons were then aired later from these recordings, but once a lesson had been broadcast, a “live” phone line was opened the end of each segment to allow children to call in with their questions.

Lessons were broadcast on 41 radio stations and the country’s only television station. The programs aired for three hours every day, five days a week, in 30-minute increments between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm. This allowed some children to still help out with chores at home in the morning.

Teaching core subjects and essential life skills

All levels of education were covered (Grades 1 through 12). The programs included core subjects – English, mathematics, social studies, physical and health education – aligned with the national curriculum.

They also included other important topics like psychosocial and life skills, hygiene and handwashing, and basic information on Ebola. This helped children cope with the crisis and gave them essential information to protect themselves and their families.

UNICEF provided portable solar radios to 34,280 vulnerable families, including 2,000 children in households that were under quarantine because of the virus. Children also received printed materials and lesson notes to complement the radio lessons. UNICEF also recorded the lessons on CDs and USBs to give to families in remote areas where coverage and radio reception was poor.

When schools reopened 8 months later, many students had been able to keep on learning, as demonstrated by the good results they obtained on their exams.

Impact of the radio program

In November 2014, a survey was conducted to determine the awareness levels of the radio program, and associated attitudes, behavior and practices including listenership. The survey showed that:

  • Coverage of EREP was 81.6% of vulnerable households with school-aged children.
  • Listenership of EREP lessons was high for all levels (69.2% for preschool, 62.2% for primary, 70.6% for junior secondary school, and 75.8% for senior secondary school).
  • Learners could recall learning in 40.6 % of the households surveyed.
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School health
Sub-Saharan Africa: Sierra Leone

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