The DRC’s Accelere!1 Pilots Remote Reading Program During COVID-19
According to the World Bank Group, 85 percent of students worldwide were out of school as of late April 2020 due to COVID-19. The impact of school closures is especially profound in low- and middle-income countries, where 53 percent of 10-year-olds were unable to read and understand a simple text even before the pandemic began.
The implications of long-term school closures on learning are severe considering that, on average, students lose about 25 percent of their learning during the summer. In 2020, this will likely be exacerbated by the extended time out of the classroom due to pandemic-related school closures.
In a recent webinar, Michael Crawford, an early learning specialist at the World Bank Group, referred to the lack of in-classroom support for reading skills during the pandemic as a “crisis within a crisis” noting that 97 percent of households in Africa have less than two children’s books.
In response to this crisis, education programs globally have shifted from in-person instruction to distance learning approaches to reach students.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ACCELERE!1, a USAID and UKAID funded project implemented by Chemonics, launched “Lecture pour la vie”—a local language, interactive, audio instruction radio pilot program to respond to COVID-19 school closures. The pilot transformed ACCELERE!1 scripted teaching and learning materials into audio to support distance learning, develop literacy, and improve social-emotional skills for students amid the pandemic. The program aims to reach more than 200,000 students in first through fourth grades and accelerated learning centers in Kinshasa, North Kivu, Haut-Katanga, and Kasai Central regions.
Awam Rugengano is one of the students in Kinshasa who relies on the “Lecture pour la vie” program to continue his education while schools are closed. Using the solar radio he received from ACCELERE!1, he listens to lessons along with his mother, Maman Aisha Kafita Rugengano, and his sister Safi Rugengano—a sixth-grade student. The program helps them learn the Lingala language, maintain the knowledge they acquired in school before closure due to COVID-19, and prepares them for the new school year.
Awam’s and Safi’s mother has witnessed particular growth in her children’s writing skills since the broadcasts started. She is very pleased with the reading and writing lessons and hopes the program will expand its offerings in the future since it’s working so well for her household.
Learn More About Awam and SafiRead Their Story
Distance Learning Content
The “Lecture pour la vie” multigrade instruction focuses on extending vocabularies, introducing new words, reviewing important lessons from previous years, and building social and emotional skills through distance learning. The interactive audio instruction targets key literacy skills, including oral language development, comprehension, phonological awareness, and alphabetic awareness through a variety of activities, games, and songs.
Since the content was already scripted prior to the pandemic, the process of turning it into audio was relatively quick. However, when tailoring the pre-existing literacy content to audio broadcasts, the program also added new information on preventing COVID-19, stopping and reporting sexual exploitation and abuse, and ending gender-based violence.
ACCELERE!1, which partners directly with the Direction des Programmes et Matériel Didactique (DIPROMAD), community radio stations, and community organizations, broadcasts lessons for all grade levels three-times per week in each local language. These 30-minutes lessons are then rebroadcast the following day or week, depending on the grade level, on national radio, and about 100 community radio stations.
Improving Reading, Access, and Accountability in the DRCLearn more about Lecture pour la vie
ACCELERE!1 developed “Lecture pour la vie” with inclusive programming at the forefront to reach all targeted students. While “Lecture pour la vie” was designed for students who have benefitted from formal programming, the content can also be followed by students who don’t have books at home. By using radio broadcasts, ACCELERE!1 makes the programs accessible to students who were not previously enrolled in school.
ACCELERE!1 has also distributed over 1,600 solar radios to some of the most vulnerable households, further expanding access to the reading program. In addition, the program provides video content to increase accessibility for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In the absence of in-person teachers and administrators, ACCELERE!1 has a three-pronged system to provide support for students: family facilitators, community liaisons, and project agents. Family facilitators are designated in each household to guide students through the material. These facilitators provide structure during the lessons and excite children about the content. Community liaisons support family facilitators by helping them, answering questions they have about the program, and creating crucial links to their communities. Project agents manage logistics like providing radios for families who need them and communicating needs from family facilitators to program managers. These three groups provide the infrastructure students are missing by not having traditional classrooms.
Results provide important insights for the program to succeed moving forward. One such insight is that more than 95 percent of all families surveyed were familiar with COVID-19 Prevention Measures—an important part of the programming provided by ACCELERE!1.
The program is continuing to identify key lessons. For example, ACCELERE!1 will conduct interviews with direct beneficiaries to gain more insight and collect stories and experiences. Further learning will inform future potential program extensions.
Like the rest of the world, the DRC is learning that the pandemic does not only affect the health and wellness of societies; it also affects education. To minimize disruption to learning, USAID and other programs will consistently monitor and adjust as needed.