With the dawn of radio in the early 1900’s, a new era in public knowledge was born. With the first public radio broadcast, the way the general public became informed was forever changed. This change brought about an increased awareness of things happening beyond a person’s physical social circle. As the popularity of radio grew, so too did the realization that the immediacy with which radio could reach a population presented a powerful tool to support education. Through that realization, Educational Radio was born, quickly becoming a popular education medium in many countries around the globe. Countries such as Australia, India, South Africa, Canada, the United States and many developing nations all employ educational radio broadcasting in some capacity. Developing nations have embraced it as a cost-effective means to reach a diverse population of learners. These nations often have populations spread out across many different sectors of society and in order to bring about quality of life improvements to its citizens, have a strong need to provide mass public education at a reasonable expense. This education has to be relevant to the localized learners and accessible to as large a population as possible. Education by radio, also known as Interactive Radio Instruction, offers many opportunities for learning especially for remote and rural communities, as well as disadvantaged populations, affording unique and creative learning that supports constructivist methods (Bosch, 1997). It presents many unique opportunities to meet the need for low per student delivery and participation costs, while employing regional specialists to capture learner interests and meet local objectives.

With the provision of a simple radio receiver, a person can have access to an entire learning library of information. Mass populations based around a broadcasting area allows for distribution across a greater number of people. This distribution raises the local knowledge base and as the number of learners participating in a lesson increase, the per learner costs associated with development and delivery goes down (Bosch, 1997). This is unlike other forms of traditional learning which require increased resources to support growing participation rates. It was found that in one instance, an English language education by radio course was 1/3 to ½ as costly as alternative programs (Bosch, 1997). Additional cost savings exist for the rural learner who can learn at home or in their local community center, eliminating costs associated with travel and living local to the source of learning. In many cases, the needed delivery infrastructure for radio broadcasting is already in place and costs associated with their development are offset by income generated by commercial and community event advertisement. Far reaching and inexpensive to use, educational radio can enrich the lives of remote communities and disadvantaged populations.

Remote rural communities have always had challenges when it comes to receiving education. Due at times to challenging geography (Ho & Thukral, 2009), the potential for increased travel costs, unqualified teachers and lacking infrastructure, communities that are separated from large urban centers often experience equity gaps in education that can be reduced through the implementation of an educational radio program (Bosch, 1997). These programs can specialized learning content that local teachers are not trained in (Chandar & Sharma, 2003), allow for private at home learning about culturally sensitive topics like sexuality and other subjects empowering to women and girls. Attendance rates in norther Ontario’s indigenous communities has improved since the implementation of educational radio by allowing learners to remain in their local areas while attending secondary school. (Berman, 2008). Additionally, gender equity gaps are reduced; though both genders demonstrated learning gains when compared to control groups, the girls showed more gains which resulted in a reduction of educational gender gaps (Bosch, 1997; Ho & Thukral, 2009). Fragile state learners, orphans and vulnerable children, and marginalized populations are faced with many barriers to success, one of which is access to basic education. Thought radio education test groups show positive trends of improved learning gains over test control groups (Ho & Thukral, 2009), it does present a few unique obstacles to continued success and increased implementation. One of which is the challenges involved in the coordination of the entities responsible for the program delivery.

Due to the physical separation of the teacher responsible for delivering the lesson, the students, and even the specialist local teaching assistant, education by radio requires close adherence to a schedule. If recording devices are not used further complications arise from an absence of valuable pause times for reflection and review (Haworth & Hopkins, 2009). Delivery of the lecture must be carefully paced to ensure learners have adequate time to take notes and reflect upon the information and the broadcasting teacher has no way to monitor or asses the learners current state (Berman, 2008). Additionally, if there are any interactive lessons or lessons that require student participation (Ho, J., & Thukral, H., 2009), the potential for confusion or disconnection could arise without a method to pause or suspend delivery. Both the broadcaster, local instructor, students and, if applicable, delivery of text-based course materials need to be closely managed as synchronous communication is imperative for delivering a concise well-structured course. Additionally, geography plays a significant role in the range that a radio broadcast can reach as clear radio reception is greatly affected by obstructions created by hilly terrain, forest growth or even tall structures (Haworth & Hopkins, 2009). Education by radio often has limited or no interaction, instructor feedback, or opportunities for questions and discussion (Chandar & Sharma, 2003). Further impeding the widespread adoption of educational radio is the advent of new internet communication technologies. The improvements afforded by modern web connectivity, such as the ability of instant video, audio and instructor feedback draws development dollars away from the educational radio delivery mode (Berman, 2008).

Education by radio has a long history of providing low cost education to remote communities, helping to close educational gaps such as those found between rural and urban learners as well as gender based educational gaps commonly found in society. Further, allowing access to education for vulnerable and marginalized populations offers great community benefits that continue to be relevant in today’s technological world. Radio forever changed the landscape of public knowledge and quite possibly set the tone for current delivery systems for distance education. It is conceivable that, with the advent of modern internet communication technology, there could be a pairing of the two mediums ushering in the next generation of remote learning. Radio broadcasting offers ease of delivery, low cost and universality of technology. Radio frequencies are the same around the globe, allowing receivers made in one country to receive broadcasts from another, and it was noted that “In many areas of the world, radio is still the only medium through which educators can reach a mass audience, simultaneously and at relatively low cost” (Thomas, 2001 as cited in Berman, 2008, p.6). Education by radio offers a low barrier means to deliver public education and until western society finds a way to bring modern digital learning to its own remote communities such as Indigenous nations in the Canadian north, education provided by radio should be given resources and consideration in order to improve it’s impact on our own marginalized populations.


References

Berman, S. D. (2008). The Return of Educational Radio. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v9i2.563

Bosch, A. (1997). Twenty-Three Years of Improving Educational Quality. Education and Technology Notes. Interactive Radio Instruction, 1(1). Retrieved from: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/284461467989489813/Interactive-radio-instruction-twenty-three-years-of-improving-educational-quality

Chandar, U., & Sharma, R. (2003). Bridges to Effective Learning Through Radio. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v4i1.118

Ho, J., & Thukral, H. (2009). Tuned in to student success: Assessing the impact of interactive radio instruction for the hardest-to-reach. Journal of Education for International Development, 4(2), 34-51. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.456.9974&rep=rep1&type=pdf#page=36

Haworth, M., & Hopkins, S., (2009). On the air: Educational radio, its history and effect on literacy and educational technology — ETEC540: Text Technologies. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://blogs.ubc.ca/etec540sept09/2009/10/28/on-the-air-educational-radio-its-history-and-effect-on-literacy-and-educational-technology-by-michael-haworth-stephanie-hopkins/