RadioSchooling via Digital Radio Free-to-Air: Delivering the Key to Development to Secluded Areas of the World

Distance education via DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) is an innovative approach to provide pupils in secluded areas of the world with accessible and affordable education.

What does sustainable development mean? The United Nations have developed 17 goals to achieve sustainable development worldwide, including zero hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, and responsible consumption and production. There is an underlying element all these goals have in common: none can be achieved without at least a basic level of education. But even though this makes it the key to development – personal, economic, societal – it still is not easily accessible in many world regions. Especially in secluded areas, making education accessible and affordable for the majority of the population is a big challenge. RadioSchooling via DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) broadcast provides an innovative approach that could help overcome those challenges.

Enabling Distance Education via Digital Radio Broadcast

Radio has traditionally been used as an educational tool, indeed, some of its inherent features benefit this use: its closeness, ease of use, and broad free-to-air accessibility. Back in the analog era, radio education often meant endless lectures delivered by a disembodied teachers’ voice – and thankfully, this has changed by today. Fraunhofer IIS provides a range of technologies and solutions for Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM). This digital radio standard provides a lot more than just audio lectures and brings the traditional medium into the 21st century: in addition to excellent audio based on the latest-generation xHE-AAC codec, it can deliver advanced text and images using the Journaline advanced text application standard. When it comes to RadioSchooling, digital radio DRM can be your teacher, textbook, and personal library, all in one. Using DRM in the AM bands, for example, makes the classroom lessons and latest textbook content accessible for everybody, even across large areas (rural and urban). Neither the clear audio signal nor the complete and up-to-date textbook information requires any Internet availability. This allows the textbook content to be accessed by students easily and at any time through a simple menu structure, which can be referred to during a teacher’s live lessons and be used for students’ self-study afterwards. This interactive textbook content is particularly powerful and useful when combined with cached material in the DRM receiver that can be used later.

How to Set Up an Educational Transmission via DRM

First, educational bodies and teachers must create the audio-lesson content and the textbook information. In most cases, the required textbook content is already available for printed and online use and can simply be converted into the XML text format used by Journaline, a data application for the DAB and DRM digital radio systems. In addition to the core learning material, every subject can be enriched with Q&A-information, quizzes, re-broadcast of students’ questions, and more.

Both low-power local community radio services in the FM band and efficient large-area services using shortwave bands can be used to ensure the teachers’ audio lessons reach the largest possible audience. On the signal receiving end, there are several options: Students could be provided with their individual DRM receiver. For schooling, the device requires a large screen to access the textbook information (and is therefore likely to be at the higher end of receiver prices). A more cost-efficient and accessible solution is a standard tablet that is equipped with a small SDR dongle, which receives and decodes the DRM signal. Then, it can be accessed through apps such as the STARWAVES DRM SoftRadio Android app.

In addition, there are several efficient and low-cost solutions, granting access to the DRM RadioSchooling content to entire classrooms, family households, and community centres. Receiver manufacturers developed an innovative approach to make an even more powerful impact and to give more students access to the valuable lessons: DRM receivers with built-in WiFi hotspot and web server powered by Fraunhofer’s DRM MultimediaPlayer Radio App for embedded devices. This allows the DRM receiver to be positioned near a window for perfect reception quality, while multiple students or users in the area can simply connect to the provided local WiFi signal using any personal device that supports a web browser. These access devices include entry-level phones, cheap tablets, smart TVs serving as a classroom whiteboard, and so on.

This diverse and easily accessible approach to receiving RadioSchooling will enable students of varying financial means to pursue their education even when the nearest school may be out of reach.

For technological details, read IEEE’s (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) article about RadioSchooling here.

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