Policy rhetoric or digital fantasy?
The joy of any parent would be to see their ward demonstrate understanding and skill in addressing everyday problems in society. This explains why parents and guardians will go the extra mile to make sure their children get the best education. In Ghana, many parents who have the financial resources prefer to enrol their children in private schools at the Primary (Grades 1-6) and Junior High (Grades 7-9) levels. This is because it is perceived that tuition in private schools is better at that level and prepares the children to better explore their potentials. However, these children are quickly moved to compete for spaces in public Senior High Schools (SHS) (Grades 10-12). The idea here is that the SHS are better than their private counterparts. The other reason is that there are more public Senior High Schools across the country. The decision of parents to enrol their wards in private schools paid off when schools had to close down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ICT in Education Policy 2015 is the current policy document that guides the roll-out of ICT in schools across Ghana. The document is anchored on three pillars:
- ICT as a learning and operating tool;
- Integration of ICT into teaching and learning; and
- ICT as a career option for students.
The policy document acknowledges the importance of ICT in education delivery and the prospects it presents for both learners and teachers in the use of information and digital literacy and competencies that will directly contribute towards the transformation agenda of the Ghanaian economy. In other words, the government sees ICT as an important tool that must be used to train the needed human resources for economic development. This policy is a direct response from the education sector to the national ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy framework which focuses on the use of ICT to achieve different development objectives in Ghana.
About a third of Ghana’s population are children below the age of 15 (Demographic Dividends, 2020) which puts them in the school-going age bracket. Data from the World Bank suggests that 82% of communities in Ghana have electricity as of 2018. Despite governments efforts at connecting rural communities to the national grid, UNESCO estimates that only a quarter of primary schools in Ghana have access to electricity. Even more worrying is that, of the 15,138 primary schools, only 8% have access to the internet (Ghana Statistical Services, 2018; UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2018).
The report suggests the implementation of the ICT in Education Policy disproportionately affects children in rural and hard to reach communities. Apart from the infrastructure deficit, some of these communities also lack competent instructors to guide learners in the use of ICT. The magnitude of the problem became clearer during the period of school closure. It remains unclear to me why the country will have such an impressive number of electricity penetration and at the same time do so poorly with connecting schools to the national grid. In hindsight, I have been reflecting on the following questions:
- Is the problem a reflection of our collective priorities as a people or we are simply not paying attention to the negative impact this has on the education delivery to our children?
- What is the working strategy for the ICT in Education Policy and do stakeholders in education consult this document in their decision-making process?
In our Project Update #8, the point was made that the future of education will hinge on what policy measures the government through the Ministry of Education put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure equitable learning opportunities for children irrespective of locality, gender or class. The Ghana Statistical Services in a recent study on the use of ICTs across households in Ghana conclude that there are low levels of computer ownership and internet usage in rural households but relatively high mobile phone penetration (GSS, 2020). These mobile phones as described in the report are basic analogue phones used to receive and make calls. For some of these households across communities in Ghana, the usage of the phones is restricted to certain parts of the community. This limits the extent to which phones can be used to advance teaching and learning in schools.
Currently, in Ghana, the number of children who remain out of school is estimated to be over 450,000 with the Northern sector of the country being home to a significant number of these out-of-school children. The Northern regions are also home to a number of deprived districts in the country with very high incidences of poverty (GSS, 2015). This development poses a threat to efforts being made to achieve Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4): “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
It has been six years since the revised ICT in Education Policy came into force. Yet, not much has been seen in being deliberate at making every Ghanaian child benefit from the policy. Rather, the policy in its current state of implementation continues to widen the inequality gap. One important reminder to stakeholders in education is that ICT for education and other digital technologies in education is dependent on basic infrastructure including electricity and internet connectivity. It is only fair to reason that, all primary schools in communities with electricity connection must be linked to the national grid as part of efforts to bring ICT to the learner and their teachers. This is a conversation I invite all stakeholders in education including our development partners, teacher unions, CSOs in education, Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) to. We must collectively take the bull by the horn and address the problem of educational technologies that will leave no child behind. If for nothing at all, COVID-19 has taught us the use of information communication technologies is a viable option to addressing the gap in education delivery in Ghana.