International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

Formal Discussion Initiation

Radio as the Learning Bridge

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Time schedule:
Discussion: June 16-25, 2003
Summing-up: June 26-27, 2003

Ramesh Sharma
Indira Gandhi National Open University, India



Radio has been found to be an effective medium, which can cover large population packets within low cost and in short span of time. Its use in educational settings have been reported by many researchers. It can act as a community telephone, fostering information exchange at community level, and as an effective catalyst towards formal and non-formal education. Owing to the usefulness of radio in education, entertainment and other sectors of life, it has shown good signs of growth in developing countries as well, if compared to access to telecom or internet. In Sri Lanka, one person in 500 has access to the Internet, but virtually everyone has access to a radio. Bolivia had fewer than five telephone lines per hundred people in 1996, but more than 57 radio receivers per hundred. The All India Radio (AIR), India today has a network of 208 broadcasting centres with 150 medium frequency(MW), 48 high frequency (SW) and 128 FM transmitters. The coverage is 89.51% of the area, serving 98.82% of the people in the largest democracy of the world. AIR covers 24 Languages and 146 dialects in home services. In external services, it covers 26 languages;16 national and 10 foreign languages. There is an estimated 150 million FM Radio sets across India. Radio reaches a wider audience than any other medium: for example there are an estimated 94 radios per thousand people in the least developed countries, ten times the number of televisions.

Off late, the FM radio has been gaining momentum in the developing countries. Many developed countries such as the USA have set up specialized FM Radio Stations exclusively for Education. The trend is to set up local FM Radio stations  for e.g. the KQED Education Network Public Radio California; the WQED at Pittsburg since 1921; the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Inc. is the parent company of Connecticut Public Television and Connecticut Public Radio etc. Radio Cadena enables thousands of Spanish speaking people in CentralWashingtonState to remain informed about the events around them, and are connected with each other in a radio community.

The movement is now catching up in developing countries especially in Africa and the South East Asian region. For e.g., portable, low cost FM transmitting stations have been developed and digital radio systems that transmit via satellite and/or cellular are being implemented in many parts of the globe under the COLME project which included support for computer-based software systems and networks, radio, and video production models. New technologies like Internet streaming audio software technology,† windup and solar radios have enabled the global audience to listen to news from around the world. The case of† Nepal's Radio Sagarmatha (run by a body of environmental journalists) and the Community Radio Station in Kotmale, Sri Lanka,† are used to help villagers to get access to the information superhighway. Also the Bangladesh Coastal NGOs Network for Radio and Communication has attracted lot of attention of listeners.


A Dream remains a Dream: Education for All(Jomtien, 1990)

High illiteracy rates and low levels of schooling among disadvantaged groups, especially women, in many developing countries continues to limit their ability to lift themselves out of poverty. The existing conventional educational system has shown itself to be unable to respond to the massive demand for increased education.  This is especially true in many poverty-stricken countries with respect to meeting the substantial education needs of the rural poor. Consequently, disadvantaged groups continue to be denied access to information, knowledge, skills and technology transfer.

In order to empower disadvantaged groups as equal partners in development, the limitations of formal and non-formal education are now being challenged. New ways to achieve mass awareness and mass education, that can be both efficient and effective, need to be explored. The solution may lie in the use of distance education techniques and delivery systems such as radio and television based at the community level to address directly local issues and needs. In this context, radio, an effective telecommunications medium, was proposed at Jomtien in 1990, as the solution most likely to address this great need.

Radio can cut across geographic, cultural and literacy barriers. Given its availability, accessibility, cost-effectiveness and power, radio represents a practical and creative medium for facilitating mass education in peri-urban/rural settings. However, even a decade since Jomtien, radio still continues to be an under-utilized technology in education. This is especially surprising, because from a learner's point of view, radio is user friendly, accessible and a well-established medium. From an educational provider's point of view it is easy to set up, produce and broadcast programs. After almost one hundred years of broadcasting history, most nations possess more than a respectable level of engineering skills and broadcasting talent needed to apply the technology in education.

Radio is a very powerful technology that can allow information to reach large sectors of the population quickly and economically. Yet, due to national broadcast regulations in many countries, this potential could not be realized fully in the past. And community radio stations did not develop as they should have. In addition, the cost of transmitters, infrastructures, and equipment, placed most potential community broadcasters at a disadvantage, especially those in the remote rural areas. The result was a distinct information gap to the rural corners of some countries due to lack of service by national broadcasters who in some cases have weak or non-existent signal coverage.


Issues and concerns: Questions to be addressed

In the Philippines, Indonesia, diverse countries of Africa, Latin and South America, community radio is an important medium that imparts education, communicates information relating to health, helps identify and solve local problems and promotes local culture.

But still in developing countries, radio is still stuck at the delivery problem: how does audio content outside of government control reach the people it is designed for?

The private FM channels have given radio a new lease of life and expanded the listenerís base. Even after this success, the FM Channels are suffering losses (a private FM radio station of India Win 94.6 closed its operations, blaming the Govt in not taking a suitable decision on the issue of license fee). For example, in India they are required to payan annual license fee of nealy 65 per cent of their operations cost (whereas the global norms are five per cent). Being the free-to-air mass medium for the layman to have access to popular culture, FM radio fosters cultural unity, and creates new jobs. Therefore it becomes important to see how this collapse can be avoided by early sorting the issue of license fee.

The issues related to access to radio by the station target audience and ensuring the steady flow of content or regular broadcast schedule are equally important. The radio stations must be targeted to local users, as per their language and situation.

It may also be discussed as how to promote resource generation. The issue of advertising is important here. The radio has only 2.1 per cent share of total advertising pie in India as compared to global average of 5 to 12 per cent. This share is 13 per cent in USA, 12.7 per cent in Canada, and 9 per cent in Spain. Hence suitable policies need to be placed in place to increase resource generation.

One more issue which need to be discussed is rebroadcasting of national or international programmes by the local broadcasters. Obtaining permission, selecting relevant programme and keeping in mind the language and place etc need to be considered.


About moderator

Ramesh Sharma is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Karnal, India.

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