Mobiles and community radio: together at last - Commonwealth of Learning

By Ian Pringle, COL Education Specialist, Media

One of the most exciting parts of PCF6 for me was the media centre set up to demonstrate appropriate learning technologies by actually putting them to use during the forum. Alongside daily programming, the centre was also the site of a promising marriage: the synergy of mobile telephony and community radio. At hand were two innovative mobile applications that can act as a complement to radio. Freedom Fone and GRINS enable people to use mobile phones to access content and interact. This has powerful potential for the community learning programmes that COL and its partners are supporting. Developed in Zimbabwe, Freedom Fone saves audio content on a server that people can access on their phone through an interactive voice response system. Callers can choose the content they want to hear – it could be current market prices, weather forecasts or health tips. They can also listen to past programmes, leave feedback through a voice message and cast their vote in polls. GRINS (Gramin Radio Inter-Networking System) was developed by the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi for use by community radio stations. It is a plug-n-play server that enables radio stations to schedule broadcasts, store content, manage phone calls and record live transmissions. With GRINS, community radio stations are better able to interact with their communities and increase access to their programmes through mobile phones. The marriage of mobile phones and community radio is a natural one. They both facilitate "anywhere, anytime learning", but in different, complementary ways. Learning programmes can use phones to interact with learners – register them, provide learner support and assessing learning outcomes – overcoming barriers faced by radio and other traditional media. Learners can access educational content as and when they need it. Radio, on the other hand, provides for an engaging and collective learning environment that can reach large numbers with a single broadcast at a low cost. Together, mobiles and radio can increase the degree of participation in learning for development, which is key. Communities must be active participants in community learning – by shaping priorities, sharing experiences and providing ongoing input.