Schools in several states across the nation have opened their doors to start a brand new school year this August, and they expect many more to do the same in September.

Students in Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana, and several other states have made their way back into the classrooms despite the risk of coronavirus. The question is whether these schools will remain open as the school year progresses.

Many of the schools that have re-opened are already reporting outbreaks and students and faculty have been forced to quarantine. Recently, one hundred students at Gulfport High School in Mississippi were sent home to quarantine for 14 days after a teacher came down with Covid-19 symptoms. In the Cherokee County, Ga. school district, almost 1,000 students and staff had been quarantined because of exposure to the virus.
“We anticipate, as we have communicated throughout this process, there will be additional quarantines and school closures as we operate during this pandemic,” the Cherokee County School District superintendent said in a statement.

These schools may soon realize that it could be too early for in person learning as the coronavirus continues to spread. There are now over 5.4 million cases in the United States and 170,000 deaths with no end in sight for the pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, social distance learning programs for K-12 children have ramped up this year and the use of Edtech has been climbing. Video conferencing platform Zoom is now the leading tool to help many students continue their learning from home. The service temporarily removed the 40-minute time limit on free Basic accounts for all K-12 schools, making it convenient for teachers to still give their lessons over the internet.

“Zoom was used by more than 200 million callers last month, up from 10 million in December, and is now used in over 90,000 schools across 20 countries,” said Zoom CEO Eric Yuan back in April.
To implement distance learning and keep students and faculty safe, the role of radio is also being looked at mitigating this education emergency. Many students in the U.S. are lacking access to the infrastructure or the equipment they need to keep up with distance education, making radio-based education an alternative to consider.

Rachel Christina of the Education Development Center (EDC) has found radio to be an enormous penetration globally. “Broadcasting over the radio makes it possible for everyone to access programming. Because interactive audio is scripted and the radio teacher is guiding them through the lesson, parents or caregivers can help without feeling the full burden of homeschooling their children,” she explained. “The radio teacher is guiding you through what you’re doing. It’s like having another adult in the room. And that adult is always positive, always encouraging, always assuming that you’re getting it right so that you feel safe trying it out.”

Radio is proving to be an effective tool for students who lack access to a computer or the internet. A recent study by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and the Teacher Task Force has found that around 826 million students (50%) that are kept out of classrooms by the pandemic do not have access to a computer at home. Roughly 706 million students lack internet access and 56 million live in areas not covered by mobile networks.
The World Bank has been cataloguing emerging approaches in education, including radio, in an internal database. Several countries have successfully been using broadcasting over the airwaves as a means for education, including Argentina and Sierra Leone.

In Argentina, the program “Seguimos Educando” has been developed by the Ministry of Education and the Secretariat of Media and Public Communication and began broadcasting educational content from April 1, 2020. Seguimos Educando airs 14 hours a day of television content and 7 hours a day of radio content specially produced for students because of school closures. For both radio and television, each lesson broadcast will have a teacher and a conductor (journalist, artist, scientist), besides the dissemination of teaching materials.

Sierra Leone has implemented Rising-On-Air, a free distance learning solution that uses the Rising Academies Network’s curriculum content, redesigned for delivery via radio and SMS. The radio ECE program targets children of ages three to five years and includes a family-child interaction component. Radio reading/numeracy program is divided into lower and upper learning levels with content focused on foundational skills that all students must master.

Radio may play a vital role in education as the U.S. continues to go through a transformative shift in its approach to schooling. The distinctive rise of remote learning is shining a light on radio airwaves offering a constructive method in teaching students all across the world.
“It’s a great moment for learning,” remarked Andreas Schleicher, the head of education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, an international organization that works to build better policies for better lives. People are looking for solutions that in the past they did not want to see.”