Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders: Radio Distance Learning Program for Haitian Children

[Port-au-Prince] – When COVID-19 forced school to close in Haiti, brothers Marc and Daniel, a first and seventh grader from Cap-Haitien, did not know when they would get to see their school, teachers, or classmates again. Without access to a computer or a cellphone to stay in touch, they began to worry about getting behind in their schoolwork. Even at this age they know education is important and parents know it’s vital for making dreams a reality. Today, students like Marc and Daniel will benefit from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Read Haiti distant learning radio programs regardless of their location or access to the internet.

In the 2019-2020 school year alone, Haitian students will have attended school for only 30% to 50% of their scheduled school days due to political unrest and COVID-19. In response, the United States Government, through USAID, has produced a pioneering radio program to make sure more than 36,400 students continue their studies through distance learning. Using a pre-existing USAID and Haitian Ministry of Education (MENFP)-sponsored literacy program, M’ap li net ale (Haitian Creole) and Je parle bien français (French), the radio broadcast is the first of its kind in Haiti and will reach students enrolled in 340 schools across 5 departments served by Read Haiti. This education program is implemented by partners at the University of Notre Dame USA (UND) through its Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Haiti and the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child (GC-DWC). Over 65 radio episodes have been created for children in preschool, first, and second grades and more than 15,200 radios given to families with children in the program. To ensure the widest availability across Haiti, the open-source collection of episodes can be accessed by anyone and can be downloaded here.

Recognizing radio as the most effective means of disseminating learning materials in a country where access to online learning is extremely limited, Read Haiti partners – ACE, GC-DWC, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Haiti, and Haiti’s Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education (CEEC) – created three radio programs: a literacy program, a reading-hour program, and a pre-K socio-emotional learning (SEL) and parenting program. These programs make up a comprehensive approach to distance learning in a low-tech environment. Made possible through USAID’s Global Development Alliance, the radio programs include learning opportunities in both Haitian Creole and French, SEL-themed lessons, interactive activities for younger students, and strategies for parents to support young learners at home.

U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Michele Sison, expressed, “I am excited about USAID’s new radio education program.  In addition to bringing hope and good news to parents and students while schools are closed, it will be a valuable supplement to Haiti’s education system when schools open on August 10.”

Having the support of the business community has been key to the success of this program and its ability to respond quickly and effectively to the current crisis. It is a true collaboration of community and educators to serve Haitian students and families during the pandemic, from faith based and community radio stations, local and national NGOs and other civil society groups, to Education Boards and the Haitian Ministry of Education.

USAID Haiti Mission Director Christopher Cushing noted, “This is a great example of how our partnerships with the private sector quickly made distance learning available to more than 36,400 students, providing more opportunities to continue developing key academic skills despite school closures.” In addition, “Our partners are currently exploring how to further develop this initiative to ensure the continuation of learning for Haitian school children both now and during future closures.”

In talking about the program, Jamesly, a second grader at Saint Martin de Porres school in Blue Hills, Cap-Haitien, as well as his mother Jesula Alce, are now happy to have their own radio. As a mother of five, Jesula, who runs a small retail business stated, “I am excited about the radio’s potential to restart my kids’ studies. The programs on the radio are great because they will motivate the kids to study and work.”