Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Leaders

COVID-19 radio distance education program prepares Haitian children for return to in-person learning

Marc Maitre (right), a 1st grader, and his brother Daniel received a solar-powered radio and comprehension worksheet so that they can readily participate in USAID/Haiti literacy radio distance learning program. / Jean Cyril Pressoir

When COVID-19 forced schools to close in Haiti earlier this year, brothers Marc and Daniel Maitre, first and seventh graders from Cap-Haitien, did not know when they would see their school, teachers, or classmates again.

Without access to a computer or a cellphone to stay in touch, they worried about getting behind in their schoolwork. Even at this young age, the brothers understood the importance of education and the role it would play in making their dreams a reality. But thanks to USAID, students like Marc and Daniel, did not need to worry so much.

Today, thousands of students in Haiti who have returned to school, are sitting in classrooms, and well-prepared to learn from their teachers thanks, in part, to USAID’s Read Haiti weekly distance learning radio programs.

Prior to August 2020, Haitian students attended school for only 30 to 50 percent of their scheduled school days in the 2019–2020 calendar year, due, first, to political unrest, and then subsequently, COVID-19.

When COVID-19 prompted school closures, the Read Haiti team had to act quickly to maintain student learning during the crisis and drew from an existing literacy program used by USAID and the Haitian Ministry of Education called Je parle bien français, or I speak French well, and M ap li nèt ale, or I will read well in Haitian Creole, in order to develop a series of radio-based reading lessons quickly. This pioneer radio program began working to ensure that more than 36,400 students continued their studies through distance learning in a low-tech environment.

Martin Philogene François is a radio programmer who broadcasts USAID/Read Haiti’s “Reading Hour” radio program. Read-alouds give children the opportunity to listen to stories in French and Kreyol, and develop key literacy and pre-K socio-emotional learning skills. / Jean Cyril Pressoir

When students tune into a typical episode, an opening song greets them before the instructor begins the day’s lesson with a morning meeting (Sek Matine) that includes activities focused on social and emotional learning. Listeners then dive into a lesson in either Creole, or French before enjoying a read-aloud followed by comprehension questions. Next comes a song, dance, or some other interactive component before the episode ends, inviting learners to tune in for the next episode.

For more than five months during the pandemic, the radio broadcasts reached students enrolled in 340 schools across five of the country’s 10 departments.

“Being away from school, especially their teachers and friends, was difficult for our students. However, the Read Haiti radio programs played a crucial role in keeping students engaged in their studies and prepared to return to the classroom excited to learn,” said Christopher Cushing, USAID Mission Director for Haiti.

Cushing said he is particularly proud of USAID and the communities’ commitment to helping children learn during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Education has the ability to transform both people and society,” said Cushing. “This radio program is the culmination of the dedication, expertise, and hard work of the many partners and educators who worked around the clock to make it a reality.”

More than 65 radio episodes were created for children in preschool, first, and second grades, and more than 15,200 solar-powered radios were distributed to families with children in the program. USAID distance learning partners continued to expand on this initiative to ensure the continuation of learning for Haitian school children in low tech environments.

Radio learning helped keep Haiti’s kids dialed in to education during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. At right: First-grader Cesnie-Flore Dorelus, says she was excited to go back to school. When asked why, she matter-of-factly explained, “so I can get good grades!” She initially listened to USAID Read Haiti radio programs through her family’s telephone with her mom, Anuella, or her uncle. However, the radio provided better quality sound and the 6-year-old can charge it all by herself. / Jean Cyril Pressoir

Learning and Growing

Jamesly, a second grader at Saint Martin de Porres school in Cap-Haitien, and his mother Jesula, said they were happy to have received their own radio while schools were closed.

“When I first received the family’s new radio, I was excited about its potential to restart my children’s studies and motivate them more to study and learn together,” said Jesula who runs a small retail business to support her family.

Like Jamesley, Katia, 9, who lives in Cap-Haitien, was excited to be back in school. When her school first shut down due to COVID-19, she was anxious for classes to be back in session. “I’d like school to start so I can learn and be able to read and write…and to know all of my letters!” she shared.

Similarly, Cesnie-Flore , 6, eagerly awaited returning to her classroom. Why? “So, I can get good grades!” she explained matter-of-factly.

With schools back in session, and with the guidance of their teachers, students like Marc, Daniel, Jamesly, Katie, and Cesnie-Flore, continue to build on the knowledge they garnered through the USAID Read Haiti program and are excitedly diving back into their school routine.

USAID’s radio education program provided hope to parents and empowered students — especially those with limited access to online distance learning programs — to continue learning while schools were closed in Haiti.

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. Local radio stations worked with the Read Haiti team to get episodes up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible, often making accommodations for the shows to run at times that would be more convenient for children and their families.

Cushing noted, “It is a true collaboration of the 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.”

As schools opened on Aug. 10, students returned to the classroom excited to see their teachers and ready to learn, having cultivated key literacy and socio-emotional skills through the weekly broadcasts. The radio program will remain a valuable supplement to Haiti’s education system both now and during future closures.

Kate Schuenke-Lucien, the director of ACE Haiti, says that, “during school closures, necessitated by COVID-19, students and families in Haiti were faced with the challenge of distance learning in a context where access to technology, internet, and electricity is scarce. Given that radio is the most widely used and accessible medium to keep kids learning and growing, we were excited to provide students with an engaging as well as relevant tool.”

About the Authors

Mariama Cire Keita was the Chief of Development, Outreach and Communications for USAID/Haiti and is currently the Senior Communication Analyst for the USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Anna Hart is a Communications Associate for the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child Institute for Educational Initiatives University of Notre Dame.

About the Read Haiti project

USAID Read Haiti partners — the Alliance for Catholic Education Haiti, the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child, Catholic Relief Services Haiti, and Haiti’s Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education — created three radio programs: a literacy program, a reading-hour program, and a pre-K socio-emotional learning (SEL) and parenting program. The aim was to disseminate learning materials in a country where access to online learning is extremely limited. 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, social and emotional learning-themed lessons, interactive activities for younger students, and strategies for parents to support young learners at home.



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