Conference sneak preview

Love is in the ear


Inaugurated last year by Deutsche Welle, a radio project called “Learning by Ear” is reaching into parts of Africa where computers are yet to be seen. Today, more than 33 million people on the African continent are able to listen to this distance-education programme. Its popularity lies in its unconventional format and true-to-life stories that embrace diverse themes depicted in the form of features, interviews and even soaps. Deutsche Welle Journalist Susanne Fuchs presented the story of these African-made radio shows at eLearning Africa 2009.

The development of ICT and eLearning is undeniably making progress in Africa. However, a look at the latest surveys and the Continent’s technical infrastructure shows clearly that too many Africans still do not have access to the appropriate equipment or knowledge to benefit from the internet or eLearning programmes.

In order to provide Africans with an alternative source from which knowledge can be drawn, Deutsche Welle, the German Government’s international broadcaster, in cooperation with the country’s Foreign Ministry, launched the “Learning by Ear” project in early 2008. It uses a technical appliance that can be found in even the most remote corners of the Continent: radio. The project particularly supports those Africans with no mobile phone or internet access, as well as people who cannot read or write.

A project by and for Africans, the radio programmes are produced by African authors from across the Continent supported by Deutsche Welle staff. The mutual goals are adding to the African educational system and equipping young Africans with the skills that they require. Among the African team are experienced authors such as the famous radio soap writer Chrispin Mwakideu.

The shows are broadcast everywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. In cooperation with 201 local radio stations, the programmes usually air on short-wave radio twice a week. The production is in six languages: English, Kiswahili, French, Hausa, Portuguese and Amharic. Additionally, all episodes are available in these languages for download as podcasts and pdfs on the Deutsche Welle website, making them accessible to Africans and the worldwide community, while also allowing them to be reused as teaching materials.

Radio edutainment

Young African girls and boys between the ages of twelve and twenty are the audience that the “Learning by Ear” team aims to reach and teach, but not in a tedious or ‘lecturing’ manner. The intention of the project is not to act as a substitute for schools and universities but instead to complement educational institutions by providing content in the form of ‘edutainment’: an entertaining rather than strictly scholastic format. Using this approach, the programmes reach out in more than one direction: not only towards the mind but also towards the heart. The result is a pool of diverse content articulated in an African voice with which the listeners can readily connect as they pick the topics they are personally interested in and curious about.
There is a lot to choose from. The productions, embracing important subjects relevant to Africa and beyond, are based around ten key themes with ten episodes each. These include globalisation in Africa, Africa’s environment, women and girls in Africa, health issues in general with an emphasis on HIV, political participation, jobs and training, general knowledge, and computer and Internet technology.

The broadcasts are anything but simple monotonic talks. Reminiscent of radio plays filled with sounds, authentic characters, and fictional and real-life stories, they invite the audience to make a personal connection with the subject matter. In one programme, listeners enter the world of the sixteen-year-old, sexually naive Angela, who finds herself pregnant, infected with HIV, and facing rejection by her family. In another, they follow the inquisitive teenagers Jack and Jenny as they explore how text messaging works, why car tires are always black, and experience the miracle of falling in love.

Connecting to the stories and identifying themselves with the characters, listeners have the opportunity to interact and get in touch with the Learning by Ear” team. They leave comments, raise questions, and suggest ideas; sometimes they even go as far as to ask for the protagonists’ phone numbers.

Earlier this year, Deutsche Welle was invited to present “Learning by Ear” as a fruitful example of informal learning at the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development held by UNESCO. Due to its growing fan community in Africa, the team is currently working on new programmes, including new topics such as African history and migration. Moreover, the success of “Learning by Ear” is carrying the project and its format beyond the borders of Africa to another part of the world where ICT and education are plagued by war and woeful underdevelopment: Afghanistan.

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