A Kenyan radio, food and bikes; homeschooling in Amudat

Monday August 31 2020
educpix

Dorcus Chepkopus reads through her self-study materials in Ashiokanon village, Kalita Sub County, Amudat District. PHOTO | COURTESY

by Paul Murungi

Kalya FM in western Kenya is a household name in Amudat district. But beyond entertainment, the radio station is serving another vital purpose - broadcasting home lessons for Ugandan school children under lockdown.
It is unsual for a Kenyan radio station to air lessons for Ugandan learners. And yet we live in the digital age, where students have easy access to radio, television or the internet for learning.

Here is why
When schools closed on March 20 due to Covid-19, it remained unclear when they would reopen. Educationists feared a wasted year and several initiatives were put forward to ensure continuity in learning.
Using mass media; radio, television and the internet to help students to continue learning seemed like the perfect idea. The bonus was home learning materials which would be distributed through local councils at the village level.
In a televised address on April 5, the Minister of Education Janet Museveni said the ministry was working with heads of primary and secondary schools to identify model teachers to prepare remedial learning to be delivered on radio and television stations across the country.
Several radio and television stations across the country were contracted to offer lessons with schedules within the day.

Remote areas left behind
On June 16, Daily Monitor reported that an emergency Cabinet meeting that sat on the eve of budget reading had resolved to buy 10 million solar-powered radio and TV sets meant for homes with school going children, a proposal which is yet to be realised.
In drafting the plan for continuity, economic inequalities for hard to reach areas received little attention. Amudat fell in this category.

No media in Amudat
Amudat, a district bordering Kenya in Karamoja region was born in 2010. Amudat has no radio or television station of her own. There are also no daily newspapers.
The district has for long relied on Kenyan radio stations for most of her information purposes.
This is partly because most radio stations in neighbouring districts such as Moroto and Nakapiripirit have lower frequencies. Often, these are taken over by Kenyan radio stations.
According to the Resident District Commissioner, Mr Adiama Ekaju Junior, those in need of communication services travel to Kenya for any commercial announcements; while others send tailor-made radio messages via the internet.
This also comes as a challenge since Kenyan radio stations have total control over how and when such information can be aired.
To teach using the radio under lockdown was challenging for a district already crippled in communication.

To Kenya for learning
Amudat has 20 primary schools and two secondary schools with an enrollment of 8,834 pupils and 638 students respectively. There are no tertiary institutions.
As learners tuned into radio and television stations countrywide, Amudat students saw it as a dream.
With no radio station in Amudat, ZOA Uganda, an NGO operating in the district turned to Kalya FM based in western Pokot in Kenya. Kalya FM presented a better opportunity for Ugandan learners because it is close to the Ugandan border.
The radio station uses Kiswahili, English and Pokot languages which are spoken on either side of the border.

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Content tailored for Amudat
According to Martin Etolu, the programmes manager at ZOA Uganda Karamoja region, his team got in touch with READ for life, an NGO based in Gulu District to help in producing the lessons.
The Amudat District Education Officer, Mr Benton Luke Logiel identified a team of teachers for English, Maths, Social Studies and Science to take part in the production.
Logiel says the government-distributed learning materials provided the main content in producing the lessons.
More than 70 lessons were produced between April and June using voice recorders at Kalas Girls Primary School in Amudat, while some were recorded in Gulu.
To make the audio lessons sound authentic, teachers prepared and conducted mock lessons with a few selected pupils.
“We wanted the recordings to sound normal and present the real situation that happens when lessons are being conducted in the normal classroom environment,” Etolu says.
Since radio programmes are limited in time, the teachers also selected the most relevant topics that cut across from Primary Four to Primary Seven, which they recorded. He says the lower primary was catered for using the distributed learning materials.

Aired from across the border
The recorded lessons were then sent to Kenya and run between 6 to 7pm daily from Monday to Friday. The class schedule was arrived at after consultations with parents who preferred evening hours since they said their children were engaged in work during the day.
To provide for feedback, the organisation created a segment after every lesson aired, for listeners to call in and provide their understanding of the programme.
The feedback has helped Etolu and his team to make changes. Initially, English was the main language used. However, parents also asked for Kiswahili to be included.

Learners’ experience
Titus Nanyimah, a Primary Seven pupil at Child Jesus Primary School in Moroto District returned to his home in Amudat when the lockdown was announced. The candidate has used the radio lessons, prioritising maths as his main subject.
“My son has a weakness in maths. That’s why he picked interest in radio lessons,” Nanyimah’s mother, Magdalene Munyes says.
His elder sister and mother have been helpful in supporting and assessing him during the radio lessons.
Nanyimah says teachers try to move at a slower pace while teaching to make sure learners understand the content.
Etolu says teachers were also nervous in the first lessons recorded but gained confidence in the subsequent recordings.

Still challenged
Learning using television presents an impossible situation in a district where most residents have no access to electricity. Radio sets are also limited to a few homes, worsening an already difficult situation.
Beyond radio and TV learning challenges, Amudat also received self-study learning materials. However, most parents are illiterate and are unable to interprete them for children.
Dorcus Chepkopus, a Primary Six pupil of Kalita Primary School in Kalita Sub County received her self-study materials four months ago, but interpreting them has been difficult. She has no access to radio or television.

Illiterate parents and guardians
Chepkopus’ mother died last month leaving behind seven children, who now live with their 68-year-old aunt, Ms Elizabeth Cheman in Ashiokanion village, Kalita Sub County.
Chepkopus’ aunt cannot help much with the learning materials since she cannot read or write.
“I have no one to help. My parents didn’t go to school, and nobody can teach me, so I have to teach myself. Sometimes, I only study with friends,” laments the pupil. With no career guidance, Chepkopus is riding on a rough terrain to make it through school with her dream of being a nurse.
Her aunt says the challenge in her village is that most parents are illiterate. Picking the education materials is one thing; but using them is another hurdle.
Mr Logiel, the DEO in Amudat says the district has a 95 percent illiteracy rate, with only 5 percent of the population able to read and write.
Based on the 2014 population statistics, which puts the district population at 143,300, less than 10,000 people can read and write.
Teachers riding bicycles, footing to help
As children face difficulty in interpreting learning materials, teachers in Amudat district are volunteering to ride bicycles into the villages to help learners.
Sister Dorothy Sserabidde, a teacher at Kalas Girls Primary School is one of them. Sr Serabidde starts her day with a prayer before heading into the villages.
“Under lockdown we are sacrificing to help children in the villages,” she says, “Majority don’t know how to read and parents asked us to help because they received learning materials and but many don’t know how to interpret them.”
Sr Serabidde goes to Lokrimo, Kangole and Kokaim villages in Amudat town council.
At first, she says, her major task was to make sure children completed their work but of late, she moves around to mark.
“Most have finished their reading materials, so I am able to mark.”
To conduct effective supervision, Sr Serabidde says it depends on the number of children in a home since most homes are distant from each other.
“When I find many children, I tell them to sit in one home and we go through the learning materials. The LC1s in the area have been helpful in mobilising the children.” she explains, adding that when the children are few, she has to move from home to home.
“We study for an hour, I leave them doing work and then I go to another home.”
The main challenge she has encountered is that sometimes when she arrives in certain homes, the children have already left to go for farming and grazing.
Sr Serabidde hopes to cover more villages in the coming weeks.

Hunger pangs
Amudat is largely occupied by the Pokot tribe who are cattle keepers. Cattle keeping extends across the Karamoja region as the main economic activity and a source of livelihood.
Despite the richness in milk, Karamoja region also faces an acute shortage of food.
John Byabagambi, the Minister for Karamoja Affairs says the region was hit by insecurity, floods, diseases and locusts and then a lockdown also coincided with the lean season and cut off of school meals, which attract children to school.
Byabagambi notes that these compounded elements created an unfavourable environment for home-schooling.
Sometimes, Chepkopus says, it’s hard to read through her study materials because of hunger. On some days, lunch is just a cup of boiled milk.

Take-home package
Before the lockdown, she was among155, 000 children who enjoyed a daily hot meal served to all school going children in Karamoja region under the World Food Programme.
The food is meant to help them stay and finish school. To help children learn from home since there was no more school feeding, WFP distributed take-home food to 101,000 pupils in July, covering more than 300 schools in all of Karamoja’s nine districts.
Each child received at least 9kgs of cereals, 1.8kg of beans and 600 gms of fortified vegetable oil. However, for schools that did not submit or have class registers, some children did not get food.
Only pupils who were verified to have attended at least 20 percent of school days in the first term were entitled to the take-home rations.
Whereas Chepkopus received her food ration, it is no more since it was shared among her family members.
For children in hard to reach areas such as Karamoja, trekking long distances and crossing seasonal rivers to get to school is a fact of life. The benefits enjoyed by urban children are still a dream in this part of the world.
Covid challenge
Amudat has no radio or television station of her own. There are also no daily newspapers. The district has for long relied on Kenyan radio stations for most of her information purposes.
This is partly because most radio stations in neighbouring districts such as Moroto and Nakapiripirit have lower frequencies. Often, these are taken over by Kenyan radio stations.
According to the Resident District Commissioner, Mr Adiama Ekaju Junior, those in need of communication services travel to Kenya for any commercial announcements; while others send tailor-made radio messages via the internet.
This also comes with a challenge since Kenyan radio stations have total control over how and when such information can be aired.
To teach using the radio under lockdown was challenging for a district already crippled in communication.

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