The Covid-19 Pandemic has had a large impact all around the world. In Uganda, the government reacted quickly by closing the borders, schools, non-essential businesses and banning travel and movement in general. The message was clear: stay home. The impact on youth livelihoods in Northern Uganda as a result of these measures will need to be studied. In terms of our research, the measures arrived as we are in the middle of data collection, and initially it left us scrambling. At first, we waited to see how long the restrictions would last, but as it became increasingly apparent that they are here for a while, we had to try to find a way to collect data in different ways. In Uganda, especially in the rural regions of Hoima and Gulu, it is not practical to move online because most people do not have access to or understanding of webchat platforms such as ZOOM. So, we have returned to our adult education roots, and taken to the radio.

Community Learning Café and on-air data collection
In Gulu, we were on the verge of hosting one of our Community Learning Cafe’s, to capture youth aspirations, challenges, and pathways in VET and we decided to take the Cafe on air. A local grassroots – feminist – community radio station supported by FOWODE (a leading women’s advocacy organization in Uganda with the mission of community development), has a weekly Saturday youth program so we reached out to them. Our research objectives align with the mission of the radio station, and so they have given us a weekly slot on the youth talk show. Radio has been used since its inception as a tool for education. In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation used to run degree programs in adult education for example. Neighbours would gather around the kitchens of someone with a radio and participate in classes. They would mail their assignments and questions into their instructors, which would then be addressed in subsequent programs. It was the original MOOC!

In Uganda, where internet connectivity and access to devices is limited, it is a very practical way of engaging with a broad community. The Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports is in fact using it to deliver content to public school children during the lock down.
So, with some minor adjustments to our community learning cafe’s, VET 4.0 has entered the covid-era world of on-air data collection. It fits well with the participative research process- we present the research questions for the day, provide a guest panel who can speak to their experiences on the topic, and open up a discussion with the callers. In many ways the panelists are participating in a live interview themselves, so while this is not the primary objective, we choose our panelists strategically. In this way we can engage quite a broad audience, and we will be targeting other radio programs to target different VET stakeholders. In subsequent shows we plan on including different formats such as live debates, to further engage the community about VET. We will also invite people to share their stories on Facebook and through WhatsApp.

Thus far we have had one radio show with Speak FM, asking youth to share their professions, aspirations, and pathways in VET. We have yet to see the transcript for the show but based on the rich stories we heard live, we are hopeful and excited for the future shows. COVID or not, this has become an important tool for our case study.