Harnessing radio as a tool to continue a life skills programme for Kenyan adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic

Keeping the conversations going among adolescents despite challenges caused by the COVID 19 Pandemic

By Catherine Asego

The school bell did not ring for the better part of 2020, thanks to the covid-19 pandemic. In Kenya, just like in other countries, the education sector bore the brunt of the pandemic with school closures instituted to curtail its spread. The closure affected over 15 million learners in primary and secondary schools. Education interventions at the community and school levels were disrupted given the social distancing restrictions. The A LOT- Change programme – a community-based after-school programme implemented by APHRC- had to adjust their modus operandi and adopt new ways of delivering the programme activities. Education interventions at the community and school levels were disrupted given the social distancing restrictions.

Even prior to the pandemic, young people in Kenya were experiencing numerous social challenges including unwanted teenage pregnancies, involvement in risky sexual behaviour, sexual and gender-based violence, substance abuse and mental health issues. Given that the A LOT Change programme aims to equip adolescents and their parents with soft skills, academic support, career awareness, and parental counselling, it was imperative that these interventions continued even in this moment of acute crisis.

As such, APHRC adopted radio as a tool programme to continue the A LOT Change programme remotely. These radio programmes targeted communities in Korogocho and Viwandani informal settlements in Nairobi and were jointly implemented with local radio stations – Koch FM and Kwa Reuben. The mentors and counsellors, who were already part of the programme and selected from the communities targeted, were discussants on the radio shows. The radio programmes entailed pre-planning sessions with the project team and radio hosts to agree on the topics of discussion and key messages. On the live radio shows, communication lines were open to the public to call in, ask questions and contribute to the discussions. A mix of the local Sheng language as well as Kiswahili were used to appeal to the audience. Finally, reflection and feedback sessions were convened to review the shows.

Given the wide listenership, the radio programmes ensured that the intervention had a broader impact beyond the targeted audience. As a result, whole communities are now aware of their role in supporting the adolescents around them. “A LOT  Change is transforming their lives yet they are not part of the program but they feel they want to come in and benefit from what we are doing and that is very helpful…’’, says one of the mentors on the impact of the radio programs. The flexibility of the programmes enabled parents to listen in while they continued working in their small businesses.  The switch to radio incidentally worked to improve A LOT Change mentors’ communication skills and their capacity to repackage key information for wider audiences. The decision to partner with counsellors and mentors from target communities was critical as it enabled the audience to easily relate and open up about some of the challenges they face. Furthermore, contextualizing the content and using examples based on local case studies during the live shows was important in enabling the audience to relate to the issues being discussed. ‘’…It’s an issue that is in Mukuru kwa Reuben it’s in kwa Njenga and it’s something that needs to be addressed. So for me you are involving everyone with something that is happening, something that they can relate to. Using radio as a platform means you get everyone involved even those that, that issue is not for them everyone else gets involved in the conversation, whether you are listening in or whether you are giving feedback back, whether you are affected or not whatever the case we involve a larger audience in matters of concern’’ – Respondent from Viwandani

Lessons from the implementation of this project through radio show the need for education partners and stakeholders to be flexible to adapt to and incorporate innovations into their project design and implementation. It is also important to note that that APHRC’s long relationship with the Korogocho and Viwandani environment of trust and understanding that made the shift to radio, admist the pandemic, possible. Thus illustrating the importance of strong community partnerships and involvement for education interventions, particularly during crisis.

The 2022 CIES conference provides for an opportunity for a global community of idealists to engage with the challenges that we face in the education sphere especially during the COVID 19 pandemic and how the political, economic, social, cultural, linguistic, religious, and other forces intersect with education, and share possible solutions to these challenges. Innovations in education programming that reach the most vulnerable populations are important to ensure the gains made towards the education for all agenda are not reversed.

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