Interactive radio instruction – a legacy of COVID-19 for marginalized adolescent girls of Baluchistan

Mehwish Raza (Department of Education, Forman Christian College, Lahore, Pakistan)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 14 February 2022

Issue publication date: 21 March 2022

284

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to report insights from the planning and execution phase of an interactive radio instruction (IRI) intervention envisioned as a medium-term response plan to address school closures amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic. The project has been envisioned by a local development agency in the province of Balochistan for adolescent out-of-school (OOS) girls.

Design/methodology/approach

This study reports respondents’ academic achievement through the one-group pretest-posttest design method across numeracy, literacy, civic education and indigenous crafts. Participating adolescent girl respondents were randomly selected from six districts of Balochistan and the results assert a positive impact of IRI intervention. Thus, showcasing IRI as a promising approach to address protracted challenges of educational accessibility in remote areas of Pakistan.

Findings

The mean score comparison of pre-test–post-test across four curriculum subjects indicates the greatest gains in numeracy and civic education. Results also highlight the significance of the pedagogical capacity of IRI developers and the quality of supplementary educational kits paired with IRI during this intervention.

Research limitations/implications

The findings of this study focus on design and implementation phases eliminating the analysis of learners’ behaviour, environmental factors and family support. Further research is suggested to identify gaps in related dimensions for the success of IRI in Pakistan.

Originality/value

This study contributes data-driven findings from a pioneer on-going IRI project in Balochistan, a hard-to-reach province where the ratio of OOS adolescent girls exceeds 78%. This study also proposes vital steps for the longevity of IRI to solve protracted educational crises in Pakistan.

Keywords

Citation

Raza, M. (2022), "Interactive radio instruction – a legacy of COVID-19 for marginalized adolescent girls of Baluchistan", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 55-63. https://doi.org/10.1108/JME-01-2022-0003

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

The COVID-19 permeated through national borders in Pakistan in early 2020 and since then has greatly affected the people of Pakistan regardless of geographic location, socio-economic strata and gender. The lockdown and consequent restrictions on social activities in response to COVID-19 interrupted several day-to-day activities, including conventional educational operations. Pakistan was among the first few countries in the region to institute nationwide school closures. COVID-19 induced school closure first began with the province of Sindh in February 2020, followed by Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to shut down over 300,000 educational institutions across Pakistan (Hunter, 2020). This project was an effort to use Radio-based instruction to reach the most marginalized students in Pakistan. This project was carried out in the remote areas of Balochistan where women are not allowed to read or write; for many, this was the first-ever attempt to educate girls of this age.

Like most countries, rapid growth in e-learning solutions was observed in Pakistan as an emergency response to minimize anticipated learning losses during the pandemic. However, access to technology is not affordable for all, and in March 2020, it was expected that up to 72% of k-12 students in Pakistan will remain deprived to access the basic infrastructure of computers and the internet (Hunter, 2020). The long-protracted challenges of educational quality and accessibility that added to the national burden of approximately 25 million out-of-school (OOS) children between ages 5 and 16 years, the coronavirus outbreak brutally exposed Pakistan’s deeply entrenched inequities and increased the risk of rocketing the overall number of OOS children in Pakistan (Martinez, 2018). Outside urban areas, broadband service, is not only expensive but, in some geographic regions, non-existent. The smartphone penetration stood at 51% during the year 2020 and only one million school-age children are estimated to have regular access to digital devices and bandwidth (PTA, 2021). Contrary to individual computers, an estimated 62.5% population, inclusive of 40-million students, have access to television, whereas 74.6% population has steady access to radio broadcast services. In the absence of policy and procedures to inform alternative educational methods in crisis situations, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training collaborated with EdTech developers and international development agencies to expand access to educational content for the most vulnerable communities, hardest to reach out to, and the ones at the highest risk of exclusion from the educational panorama of the country.

Interactive radio instruction: a review of literature

Interactive radio instruction (IRI) is a method that uses radio audio broadcast as the primary tool for dissemination of teaching and learning content to promote educational access in diverse learning environments, including those with the scarcity of school infrastructure, trained teachers and learning resources. Radios have been used for educational purposes since the early 1920s and evidence from recent years indicates the application of IRI to resolve challenges of educational equity and learning continuation in underserved communities and crisis contexts (EDC, 2021). This one-way broadcast of educational content ostensibly annihilates the high cost characterized by distant learning methods by overcoming the impediment of learners’ geographic location, mandatory access to internet service and other digital infrastructure essential for participating in distance learning methods (Khadija, 2020). Increasing adoption of IRI is emerging as an affordable alternative distance teaching and learning solution that reaches out to widespread geographic locations, deeply penetrating rural areas and learners from low-income families (Okeke et al., 2020). Alongside the data on the economics of IRI is a plethora of research showcasing the synergistic effect to close gender equity gaps. Analysis of IRI projects for English language development in Papua New Guinea, South Africa and Honduras has confirmed that it results in reducing the gender gaps in equitable learning (Bosch, 1997).

IRI method is more deliberate than independent learning in a remote context. This method necessitates learners to react to learning material, questions or exercises while the program is broadcasted. Ideally, IRI should be paired with remote learning kits to facilitate experiential learning; deliberate pauses in the IRI content encourage the interaction of learners with learning material available to them for home-based learning (Bosch, 1997).

Although IRI is increasingly attributed to bridge the deeply entrenched digital divide and inequities in educational access by marginalized communities (Khadija, 2020), research also highlights some limitations of IRI pertaining to learners’ autonomy, social interaction, quality assurance of educational programs and overall learners’ satisfaction (Heather et al., 2020). Setting up IRI tools is a lengthy procedure and may present significant challenges to developers in the absence of audio learning resources and pre-existing partnerships for design and broadcasting educational content (UNESCO, 2020). Research asserts that collaboration between education authorities, educators and broadcasting companies is vital for the successful design and implementation of IRI (Okeke et al., 2020). IRI design evolves according to the context of the audience, thus, amplifying the significance of audience research to identify their needs and for making intuitive decisions on supplementary learning material, the script of IRI and evaluation of the intervention. These elements are knit together through coherent planning phases illustrated in Figure 1.

IRI project in Balochistan – a legacy of COVID-19

The province of Balochistan can be fairly categorized as a difficult geographic region with 81% women population without complete primary school education, and 75% have never been to school (Martinez, 2018). United Kingdom Aid (UK-AID) and International Rescue Committee (IRC) intervened in the protracted challenges of girls’ education by collaborating with local partner organizations and launched an accelerated learning program for OOS adolescent girls. Leave no girl behind the project was an initiative of Girls Education Challenge – 2019 taken by UK-AID and Teach and Educate Adolescent Girls with Community Help (TEACH) by IRC. However, the COVID-19 pandemic accentuated the need to have affordable alternative strategies to penetrate maximum OOS adolescent girls in five deprived districts of Balochistan, namely, Pishin, Chaghai, Noshkai, Kharan and Killa Abudullah.

(IRI paired with remote learning kits was opted as a suitable medium-term response plan (MTRP) to reach out to approximately 35,000 adolescent OOS girls. Depending on their ages, participants were segregated into two cohorts:

  1. girls earn stream (n = 8,318) for older girls (14–19 years old) with an objective to provide training on market-relevant skills followed by career support interventions inducing education on microfinance and village saving loan schemes; and

  2. girls learn stream (n = 6,014) for younger girls (between ages 10 and 14 years) to promote home-based literacy and numeracy skills in accordance with Pakistan’s national curriculum with an objective to accelerate girls’ education in the province and to enable them to transit into formal education.

This study presents insights from the girls learn stream, which is the pioneer IRI project in Pakistan to increase learning progress for OOS adolescent girls in Balochistan.

Girls learn stream – project overview

Four hundred and eight locations were designated to transmit home-based education to 6,014 OOS girls between 10 and 14 years through shared radio sets that broadcasted educational content twice every day. The daily broadcast of 45-min long IRI was planned by local public-school teachers who were selected by the experts of the TEACH program under the governance of the Balochistan Bureau of Curriculum. The lessons were recorded by TEACH in collaboration with experts from a local NGO, development in literacy (DIL). The content for the girls learn stream was based on the learning standards prescribed by the single national curriculum (SNC). The IRI projected various fictional characters as radio school instructors; most of these characters challenged cultural stereotypes by showcasing girls as superheroes who, through activities, games and exercises, accomplished planned learning objectives for numeracy, English language and life skills (Glow Consultants, 2021). The IRI was paired with three different types of remote kits: dignity kits included hygiene and sanitary items such as sanitizers, sanitary pads, soups and dental hygiene kit; learning kits comprising of supplementary learning content in the form of printed practice worksheets and stationery items and recreational kits with a range of resources to support hands-on activities such as storybooks, pictures of fictional radio characters for colouring and colour pencils. The IRI was broadcasted twice every day, a fresh learning episode in the morning and its repeat broadcast in evenings by Pakistan’s national radio channel.

Evaluation of learning progress was carried out through the pre-post-test method. An identical test was commenced by project associates. The tests were developed by a team of experts comprising of associates from TEACH, DIL and the Balochistan Bureau of Curriculum.

Methodology

The data for this project was collected in a multi-tier approach illustrated in Figure 2. Participants of girls learn stream (n = 6,014) comprise the research population mainly due to the academic nature of IRI content designed and delivered to this stream of adolescent girls.

The first stage of data was collected by 36 associates in four weeks through field visits of 3,261 households in the participating districts of Balochistan. This quantitative data collected against eighteen items designed on a 5-point Likert scale established the context of this study.

The result of contextual analysis determined a high penetration of radio (m = 4.5) and the availability of large-scale broadcasters in the target area (m = 4.86). This information was used to shortlist IRI as the most suitable approach to reach out to the targeted population. Issues of accessibility were significantly improved through creating peer listening groups in which radio devices were shared to maximize the number of girls reached with radio sessions (EDC, 2021; Yagoda, 2020).

Two hundred and seventy-six facilitators were recruited and prepared through robocall technology to assist peer listening groups, learning cohorts and the local community to maximize the benefit of 18 months long IRI plan. The facilitators were trained on pedagogy, content knowledge, child protection and safeguarding, gender equality, social inclusion and social-emotional learning.

In the preliminary stage of this project, 32 radio/audio lessons, each approximately 45 min long, were broadcasted twice daily to reach the maximum number of OOS girls. The IRI focused on interactive learning activities to develop literacy (phonics, word recognition, three and four-lettered word formation and basic grammar); numeracy (numbers, writing in words and core operations of division, multiplication, addition and subtraction) and life-skills (civic education and indigenous crafting).

Additional caregiver messaging through calls was piloted, tested and rolled out to provide parents with scheduling, listening tips and use of supplementary kits for the IRI. Information about this project was disseminated in selected districts through flyers and Panaflex in the target population.

The participants (n = 1,840) of this study were randomly selected from the girls learn stream across all target districts of Balochistan and were subjected to academic tests before and after 12 weeks of intervention. The baseline and post-intervention assessments were developed according to early grade reading and numeracy assessment (EGRNA). The nature of the tests is listed in Table 1.

The tests were administered in person and average by project facilitators. A comparison of mean pre-test and post-test scores illustrated in Figure 3 indicate that the IRI program has successfully closed protracted equity gaps for OOS adolescent girls by enhancing their learning achievement levels.

Findings

The girls learn stream enrolled extremely educationally marginalized adolescent girls. Seventy-eight per cent of participating candidates had never been to schools, whereas the remaining girls dropped out of schools before completing the primary years of education. Results of the contextual analysis validated challenges to girls’ education that have been identified in earlier studies and can be largely grouped as cultural, economic and social barriers (Glow Consultants, 2021), such as low priority of women’s education because of early marriages and limited scope of employability for financial gains. Gender discrimination, inadequate transport facilities, lack of parents’ support and economic crisis are other leading factors. In addition to indicating weak parental consideration in favour of female adolescent formal education, the results listed in Table 2 also confirm the non-availability of home-based television and the deep penetration of home-based radio devices across the study sample; thus, asserting the suitability of radio technology for this project.

In the pre-tests, participating respondents of girls learn stream were not able to recognize alphabets in accordance with phonics, and 65% were not able to correctly read three- and four-lettered words. The respondents were not able to correctly apply rules of two-digit addition (40%) and rules of division (92%), multiplication (89%) and subtraction (12%). The mean score in English (accumulative) and numeracy were below average EGRNA, which marked the respondents’ ability level between Grades 0 and 2. The average mean scores in civic education and indigenous craft were average, with a mean score of 5.

Identical tests, when administered by the project associates post 12-weeks of IRI intervention, projected a gradual increase in performance in English reading skills and operations of addition and subtraction within numeracy. Based on post-test results, most errors were recorded in word formation in English language competence and multiplication/division operations in numeracy. Although there is a slight increase in mean scores, still it promises gradual progress and slow acceleration in literacy outcomes for this highly marginalized group of adolescent girls.

Discussion

This has been for the first time in the long-protracted girls’ education in Balochistan that the local government, in collaboration with development agencies, launched a wide-scale IRI program to curtail the downfall of girls’ education in the region (Hunter, 2020). The IRI modality is a crisis response action due to the limitations imposed on face-to-face interactions amidst COVID-19; thus, this project is the silver lining for vulnerable adolescent girls amidst the global pandemic.

The IRI project in Balochistan made significant strides in increased accessibility of educational content by marginalized adolescent girls. The mean score comparison of pre- and post-test was taken by randomly selected participants (n = 1,840) conforms with prior studies that affirm a positive impact of radio and audio learning programs on learners’ academic achievement. The mean scores of four tested curriculum subjects indicating the greatest gains made in numeracy (3.50 pt). Progress is also evident in civic education, where the scores raised to 2 points.

The content of IRI was tailored to OOS girls’ context and the success of intervention heavily relied on learners’ situational analysis; however, the educational content was pre-planned by the academic team of the TEACH program and was not altered for IRI; thus, compromising the high standards of planning for successful IRI (Bosch, 1997).

Training of facilitators and learning peer groups corroborated with prior studies and amplify the possibility of enhancing the professional capacity of teachers and learners’ agency through narrative and immersive action-based learning (Bosch, 1997; Okeke et al., 2020). The use of supplementary kits encouraged split attention and multitasking that benefit planned teaching intervention at intervals (Elekaei et al., 2019).

Barnett et al. (2018) emphasize multisectoral collaboration and educational policy for audio educational transmission. This project highlights the need to have a dedicated policy on audio education for large-scale projects commenced through a national radio transmission broadcaster, radio Pakistan. At present, this is a neglected area and requires further research to suggest a robust policy for distance learning radio programs. Similarly, evaluation of the learning process and progress is an underscored dimension of this project. Contrary to other educational technologies, IRI does not allow for the gathering of usage metrics and other data in a straightforward manner (Barnett et al., 2018). The IRI project in Balochistan has been active for the next two years, and considerable attention is given to developing a robust learning evaluation system (Yagoda, 2020).

The longevity and success of educational radio depend on pedagogical capacity and diversity to cater to a range of learning needs. The project may consider expanding the pedagogical approach of IRI to a variety of didactic strategies such as spaced repetition and peer-testing. Educational content developers should also consider pairing IRI with other available and affordable technology such as television and short message service. Possibilities of courtyard exhibitions for craft developed by adolescent girls is another possibility to bring IRI closer to real-life experience in real-time. To ensure successful uptake of educational radio nationwide to all marginalized communities, it is imperative to have a national broadcasting policy to support a centralized delivery of educational content. Evidence suggests that educational radio broadcast delivered by national radio transmission is likely to reach more people and are massively accepted as a distance education modality. Ownership of government is also likely to expand the scope of IRI to real-time classroom teaching (Damani and Mitchell, 2020).

As this is the first project of this type to be carried out, the findings are still new, and there is much to be learned. For many, this is the first attempt to educate girls in this region. The results are largest in areas of practicing crafts and exercising better self-care, but with more research and effort, we hope to see greater gains in all domains.

Conclusion

Factors analysis of earlier project reports reinforces the vulnerability of adolescent girls’ education escalated due to inadequate facilities, community and cultural rigidness about girls’ education, lack of community-based schools, scarcity of funding for OOS girls and resistance to expose girls to environments outside the comfort of their homes (Damani and Mitchell, 2020). Moreover, the non-existence of modern digital skills, lack of individual access to education technology gadgets, instable power supply, unavailability and accessibility to broadband service are the evident impediment to online education choices for OOS adolescent girls in Balochistan. The study affirms the wide outreach of radio broadcasts made it more possible than ever before to reach out to the severely marginalized community of OOS adolescent girls in Balochistan. The central view of this study is to highlight the utility of IRI as a potential tool to address a protracted educational crisis in Pakistan. With the advent of SNC in the country, IRI may also mitigate the discerning implementation of curriculum delivery in different geographic regions of the country.

Like many other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic effects will have a long-lasting impression on the educational sector of Pakistan. The question to consider is how we can use our options to address both pandemic-driven and pre-pandemic challenges through innovative solutions such as IRI.

Figures

IRI planning roadmap

Figure 1.

IRI planning roadmap

Stages of data collection

Figure 2.

Stages of data collection

Comparison of mean scores

Figure 3.

Comparison of mean scores

Overview of pre-post-test items

No. of items
Subject Oral Written
English reading 20 10
English writing 0 30
Numeracy 0 30
Civic education 8 2
Indigenous craft (Practical project ×1)

Summary of initial contextual analysis

Items Mean SD
Preference for girls’ formal education 2.75 0.21
Preference for girls’ non-formal home-based education 4 0.15
Provision of home-based television 2.85 0.75
Provision of the home-based radio device 4.5 0.20
Provision of a large-scale radio broadcaster in the targeted region 4.86 0.10
Possibility of shared radio accessibility for a targeted population 4.06 0.19
Provision of receiving supplementary learning material via SMS 3.50 0.24
Preference of time (morning) 4 0.13
Preference of time (evening) 3.78 0.18

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Further reading

Vegas, E. (2020), “School closures, government responses, and learning inequality around the world during COVID-19”, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, available at: www.brookings.edu/research/school-closures-government-responses-and-learning-inequality-around-the-world-during-covid-19/ (accessed 12 July 2021).

Corresponding author

Mehwish Raza can be contacted at: mehwishraza81@gmail.com

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