Educating through television and radio
By: Laeeq Khan
Pakistan’s literacy rate hovers around 37 per cent. We are not sure how many of our people are actually educated in the real sense but what we are sure of is that education has lifted countries out of poverty and improved their overall quality of life. Educational initiatives lie at the heart of efforts to create a productive workforce and a progressive nation. Policymakers are often looking for novel ways to enhance literacy rates. Some nations invest hefty sums on improving the quality of education for an already educated population. Pakistan spends only about two per cent of its GDP on education and is at the bottom of the list of countries where education is a national priority.
We have a long way to go and effort is required not only to provide access to schooling, but to utilise all available means for this purpose. In other words, while attention needs to be given to building schools and providing the best teachers, non-traditional educational means are also worth exploring.
Media can be utilised to provide simple, basic education to millions of children. It has the power to define public opinion and the potential to galvanise millions to action. Media is dictating the cultural and societal norms of society. If it has the potential to do all that, it can surely inspire a lot of good in the real educational sense.
Besides traditional mainstream media, such as radio and television, new media also offers immense opportunities to educate individuals. Distance learning has been expanding at an encouraging rate around the world. Pakistan’s Virtual University (VU) has satellite television channels that are purely for educational purposes but are only available via cable or satellite. Other internet-based platforms, such as the Khan Academy, also offer free online lecture materials to students. However, new media options are not within the reach of most Pakistanis.
According to a survey by the Pakistan Advertisers’ Society, television has the greatest reach amongst the Pakistani public followed by radio. For a truly national educational endeavour that employs mainstream media to supplement traditional education, the clear choice is television and radio. Since the technology is available and functioning, its use for formal educational purposes requires consideration.
Mainstream popular television channels need to allocate time for dedicated educational programming in line with the primary school curriculum and also make it interesting for its viewers — in this case, the Pakistani children and youth.
There are countless examples across the world in the vast media landscape that tell us how its power is harnessed for positive, meaningful issues. Programmes in the US, for example, have used the power of the media to get across messages, such as a balanced healthy diet for children, the importance of washing hands before a meal and controlling obesity.
It must be remembered that things did not change for the better without creating awareness amongst people about the value of educational television programming. History is rife with examples about how activism by different stakeholders made a difference.
One may question that for such initiatives, financial investment is the key. I believe that it is more about national will and an efficient reallocation of resources. The government’s role is very important for any education endeavour at a grand level. PTV2 was made possible through Japanese aid. How it transformed into a mainly entertainment channel is well known. This shows that there were positive steps taken but were not continued. There is a need to realise the potential of powerful television programming and cater to the educational needs of millions wherever television reaches. In rural areas and places where regular schooling is weak, educational television programming grounded in our own cultural values can supplement educational goals.
If we feel that television and radio can prove to be powerful tools for educating our people, let us ensure that television and radio outlets have to compulsorily allocate airtime for formal education programming for our children.