The debate in the UK about how the exam system can best support students to become effective future contributors to the country’s growth and economic well-being has been a long running one. But for many countries, the challenges faced by schools are more fundamental.
In Kenya, for example, real progress is being made, but employing enough teachers, building enough schools and supplying them with the right equipment remains a struggle. Many schools operate in areas where there is no electricity supply and that is why we at Freeplay have been pleased to provide wind up and solar radios to a number of primary schools, giving students the opportunity to listen to educational broadcasts and gain a window on the world they would otherwise not have had.
One of the schools that has benefitted from using Freeplay radios is Patmos Junior School, a disadvantaged school in Nairobi which operates out of a large corrugated shack that has been very basically divided into six classrooms and accommodates 88 children and five teachers. The school has very limited resources and is reliant on donations for text books and school stationery.
In 2012 Freeplay Energy donated two Encore Primary solar and dynamo-powered radios to Patmos Junior School and, a year later, provided a further Encore Player radio, which includes an additional teaching aid in the form of an SD card.
On receiving the first two radios, the head teacher of Patmos Junior School, Richard Wanjala, liaised with the Kenya Institute of Education, who supplied the school with a whole year of educational broadcast timetables for upper primary classes.
The education system in Kenya not only focuses on equipping the students with knowledge on basic subjects but also aims to mentor the children on improving general skills and talents which can later help them take those skills forward into a career. A school learning course in Kenya aims at improving four main skills: listening, writing, reading and speaking.
Richard Wanjala says, "Because our school does not have sufficient teachers and is lacking in school equipment, the Freeplay Energy radios have become a very useful teaching tool. The children listen to educational broadcast programmes where radio presenters plan their lessons and teach them on the radio. Because the presenters are trained government teachers they produce the programmes in a very effective way that is both enjoyable and easy for the children to understand.
"During the radio lessons we have noticed the children improving their listening skills. They are also learning how to take their own notes from the radio lessons and this is greatly improving their listening and writing skills.
"From the radios the children have been able to access a wide variety of lessons and subjects which are not taught at school as some of them are not part of the school exam curriculum. However, these extra subjects such as life skills, home science and other vernacular languages among others, are adding much value to the children's general knowledge."
Using the radios to access educational programming and hear how the students in the programme answer their teachers' questions has also encouraged the pupils at Patmos Junior School to answer questions promptly and eloquently in class. Furthermore, many of the children are performing better in the school examinations. In addition to structured lessons, the radios also offer access to plays, proverbs and riddles which carry a lesson in them and which aim at teaching morals and leadership skills, provide information about the African culture and encourage the children to become good citizens.
In addition to the direct benefits experienced by pupils, there have also been advantages for the school's teachers, all of whom are volunteers. They have been able to have one class listening to radio programmes whilst they work with another group of children on other aspects of the syllabus. In this way, lessons have been arranged so that no lesson time is wasted and the heavy workload of the teachers has become more manageable.
Teachers are also gaining much-needed training skills and, through the educational broadcasts, are learning how to plan their lessons and present them in a similar manner to those in the radio programmes.
There have been further benefits for pre-school and lower primary children, who are widening their general knowledge as a result of the variety of subjects covered in the programmes and are becoming more active in class and more creative and eloquent in their language skills.
The inclusion of an MP3 record and playback function, using an SD memory card, in the Encore Player radio has encouraged an interactive approach to some of the lessons at Patmos, where rhymes, poems, songs, tongue twisters and prayers have been recorded and are frequently played back to the class to stimulate creative ideas and to feed their imagination.
Richard Wanjala continues, "Freeplay Radios have been of enormous benefit to the Patmos School, not only for the children but also for the teaching staff. We have seen a huge improvement in the grades of many of the children and, in the recent April 2014 school exams, the overall mean grade for the school was B-, which is a tremendous achievement.
"We give much thanks to the Freeplay Energy company who so kindly donated these radios to our school."
Viv Jenkins, Freeplay Energy's sales manager, adds, "Helping to improve educational opportunities in developing countries such as Kenya gives us a great sense of achievement. Contributing, albeit in a small way, to the achievement of the second UN Millennium Development Goal, the provision of universal primary education, is hugely satisfying. But the real success is in helping children in under-resourced schools like Patmos Junior School, to access the information they need to fulfil their potential. We are pleased and proud to be supporting the work of Richard Wanjala and his staff, whose hard work and commitment deserve the highest praise. And, crucially, we look forward to seeing the progress of his pupils who, I am sure, will go on to achieve great things."