Rising Academy Network
Rising Academy Network is a school network in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana with the mission to create schools that open doors and change lives. Founded in Sierra Leone in 2014, Rising provided emergency education to children kept out of school by the Ebola epidemic before opening their first school in April 2015. In Sierra Leone and Ghana, Rising innovates through schools they own and operate themselves on a low cost private school model, then take these learnings and work with the government and other partners. In Liberia, they are in a public-private partnership with the government, providing high-quality structured curriculum content, intensive teacher coaching and regular school monitoring with rapid feedback loops to the schools they partner with.
Rising On Air
Rising responded to the closure of schools in March 2020 due to the COVID19 pandemic by adapting their curriculum content to create a radio program that aims to strengthen and build students’ foundational skills even when they are out of school. Rising On Air is a 20-week program of free, ready-to-air, radio scripts and SMS content made available to partner organizations around the world. The program leverages Rising’s proven, high-quality structured curriculum content, re-designed for delivery via existing, widely available technologies: radio, phone and SMS. It also builds on key lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic: the importance of deploying a solution quickly to keep children anchored to the education system; the value of being able to access high quality, engaging content rather than trying to start from scratch; and the need to weave health and safeguarding messages into the approach. Interwoven throughout the content are messages designed to help keep children safe from Covid-19 and also from the broader array of heightened safeguarding risks they will be exposed to while out of school.
Content of Radio Lessons
The Rising On Air content covers literacy, language arts and numeracy at five different levels across K-12, from early childhood education to senior secondary school, with health and safety messages. The program is currently in English and French, with an upcoming Arabic translation. In addition to supporting students, Rising also recognizes the need for teachers to feel connected to their professional learning communities during the pandemic. Rising's radio teacher professional development content focuses on core, high leverage skills as well as grade-level and subject-specific knowledge. The teacher professional development content always begins by affirming teachers’ sense of professional identity. Additionally, each radio session ends with a short section focused on teachers' mental health and wellbeing. Each activity can also become part of a teachers toolkit that they can transfer back into a classroom setting when schools reopen.
Adaptability to New Contexts
The Rising On Air program is very adaptable and has been used in a range of ways by partner organisations. Rising provides an overview and structure of the lessons for each grade level and subject area so partner organisations can quickly understand the components of each lesson and choose which they want to use. The lesson frameworks were created in a consistent way with color-coded highlighting for timing and contextualisation to make it quick and easy for partners to adapt. The use of the lessons has been extremely diverse. Some partner organisations have used the lessons as is and purely translated them (particularly for numeracy lessons). Other partner organisations used the content of the lessons but changed the medium of instruction from radio to WhatsApp voice messages or interactive voice response messages. Organisations in other sectors used the structure and approach to develop their own content, such as myAgro that provide radio lessons aimed at 400 000 farmers in Senegal and Mali.
Rising plans to continue using the radio lessons after the COVID-19 pandemic as complementary and additive material to Rising’s core curriculum. For example, the teacher professional development lessons can be used as consistent refresher or extension courses after the less frequent in-person teacher training sessions. These lessons allow for revision and review and cover more than what Rising can in the limited time they have with teachers in person. A new feature of Rising On Air is the SMS program that will also be used in the long-term as a new medium of communication with families.
There is also potential for these radio scripts to be used in the informal learning sector to reach out-of-school children around the world. They have the power to address an ongoing problem that existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. As extended school closures or intermittent school closures around the world have become likely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rising On Air radio program has the potential to support the most remote rural students both during the pandemic and afterwards to ensure they have access to education.