NEWTON, MA | June 28, 2007
During a five-day visit to Africa, First Lady Laura Bush met with students who are listening to radio to learn basic education, life skills, and HIV/AIDS prevention. For millions of children across Africa who don’t have access to traditional schooling and for teachers who do not have access to adequate training, the radio programs reach them in community centers, their homes, and in school settings. Mrs. Bush, accompanied by her daughter, Jenna, visited schools in Zambia and Mali that use the participatory programs, created for each country by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), a U.S.-based nonprofit development organization. The programs and training to use them are funded by USAID through President Bush’s Africa Education Initiative.
As part of her four-nation tour, Mrs. Bush visited the Regiment Basic School in Lusaka, Zambia, in southern Africa, the first country where interactive radio was used to systematically improve access to education for out-of-school children. The radio programs, which feature entertaining characters, guessing games, and rapid question-response segments are used by more than 80,000 children in community schools in all 72 districts of Zambia, and students in grades 1 to 7 receive a 30-minute program each day.
The radio programs have been successful as a low-cost means of providing education. Testing has shown that children learn as much with radio as they learn in conventional schools. Because of their success, the Ministry of Education made the programs available to all government schools in 2007. During her visit, Mrs. Bush saw a demonstration of an interactive lesson, and Zambian First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa danced with the children to one of the songs.
In Mali, Mrs. Bush met with EDC staff and took part in a radio-based teacher training program and demonstration of a math lesson, accompanied by Malian First Lady Touré Lobbo Traoré at the Nelson Mandela Public School in Bamako. “As a former teacher and librarian, I especially appreciate President and Mrs. Toure’s commitment to the education of all the citizens of Mali,” Bush said.
The Malian first lady praised the lessons, saying, “instead of [broadcasting] three times per week it should be five times per week and…reach all the schools in Mali.” Working with the Malian Ministry of Education, EDC develops the radio lessons to help teachers improve their instruction methods. Teachers use bright blue wind-up radios that don’t require batteries. Since the Mali program was launched in September 2004, over 2,700 teachers have been trained and more than 150,000 students have participated in the radio lessons.
“An investment in education, no matter how significant, is always worth it,” said Mrs. Bush while speaking at a school in Senegal. “By investing in education, governments meet their other fundamental obligations to improve opportunities for families and children, to strengthen their economy and to keep their citizens in good health.”