“Teaching English by Radio,” a three-year-long experimental program that aims to improve English-language lessons in schools with the assistance of a BBC-produced radio program, has boasted dramatic results from its pilot scheme, with hopes now high that it can be expanded nationwide.
The project started in January 2010 on FM radio in Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces, and for comparative purposes in Phnom Penh, where general levels of education are much higher.
It was designed with the goal of upgrading the English language skills of rural Cambodian students, especially in speaking and listening, by supplementing their education through the use of songs, quizzes and voices speaking in English accents.
“Particularly in rural areas, teachers are struggling as the current curriculum is textbook based and is thus unable to communicate the correct way to speak or pronounce,” said Colin Spurway, acting country director of BBC Media Action, the BBC’s development arm, adding that the 15-minute “English is Fun” radio shows are specifically tailored to support teachers’ areas of need—not to act as a substitute.
And, after three years, the results are impressive, especially in rural areas, where voluntary participation was close to 100 percent. A total of 2,400 students in grades 7, 8 and 9 from 15 schools participated and were comparatively assessed with students who had not participated in the program.
In 2012, grade 8 students on the program exceeded those not on the program by as much as 80 percent, while grade 9 students this year scored 75 percent higher than the non-participating students.
Japanese philanthropic organization The Nippon Foundation, which has been building schools in Cambodia since the early 1990s, funds the project, which is operated by Education Support Center, a local NGO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
Shuichi Uhno, executive director in charge of Nippon’s international programs, admitted that it may be strange to have a Japanese organization promoting the English language, but said that in today’s world, it is important that everyone can speak English.
“First, English is the international language of business…and second, in Cambodia, there are layers of salaries—top level is in international business; then there are international organizations, and NGOs. All of these jobs require English,” he said.
The benefits of radio education have long been evident in Japan, said Mr. Uhno, who learned French by listening to tape recordings of radio shows. And while this is the age of computers, in rural areas where schools are poorly funded and have basic facilities at best, radio broadcasts are a cheap and handy resource.
“English is the dominant language in the world, so it is necessary for the younger generations,” agreed Pit Chamnan, secretary of state at the Education Ministry.
Nippon has signed on to extend the project for another two years, and the BBC hopes to expand the program’s audience to about 3 million people.
“Scores are three times better, and listening four times better than students who didn’t participate in the program. But its about something more than results—it gives students in remote areas the opportunity to pursue a future they may otherwise never have,” the BBC’s Mr. Spurway said.