ICT and the Digital Divide: Experiences from fieldwork in Rural Ghana
Overview of Fieldwork
In this update, we seek to provide our cherished partners and the wider public with a pen portrait of the schools we visited during the fieldwork as we work at analysing the data. As previously communicated, our survey focused on engaging with grade 8 students in selected schools in the Central region of Ghana. Our interest was to understand the extent of ICT use in the pedagogical activities and how these activities were carried out under resource constraint settings. The schools we engaged with were located in both urban and rural settings. As anticipated before fieldwork, it was fairly easy to access some schools (urban schools) and very difficult to access some rural schools. We had to keep constant communication with our contacts in some rural schools while monitoring the weather to ensure that our visit to those schools did not coincide with any downpour. This was crucial because in the event the rains came, one could not access the community or return from the community. Thankfully, we managed to move out of the danger zone before the rains came in.
We would like to seize this opportunity to celebrate the heads and teachers of the schools that the survey was carried out. The support and cooperation during the survey administration is deeply appreciated. Irrespective of the school’s location, one thing was clear, nearly all schools lacked basic ICT infrastructure to instruct their students. Only four out of the 24 schools visited (less than 2%) had a functional computer lab. This explains why headteachers and teachers continue to carry their personal laptops to school to support the teaching and learning of specific concepts. While we applaud the efforts of these teachers and their heads, it is practically impossible that every child may get the opportunity to touch the keyboard of a laptop under such resource-scarce settings not to talk about digital literacy.
After one month of data collection (October 13-November 12, 2021), we managed to obtain data from all three districts profiled for the study. At the end of the fieldwork, a total of 823 students from 24 schools, 214 teachers, and 19 head teachers returned their instruments. With the exception of the numbers reported for the headteachers, the number of students and teachers recorded was in excess of what we had anticipated prior to fieldwork. For instance, we anticipated interviewing about 30 students per class and 5 teachers each for the selected schools. This would have translated to 720 students and 120 teachers. Even though we had programmed our survey in JISC, we had to resort to a paper-based survey because of the non-availability of basic infrastructure to support online data collection. All the paper-based instruments have since been captured into the JISC platform.
A brief overview of the data
Overall, the gender distribution among teachers who teach at BS.8 (Grade 8) is skewed in favour of males (60.3%). At the district level, more teachers in the Komenda Edina Eguafo Abrem (KEEA) responded to the instrument than the rest of the districts. We also observed that nearly half of all teacher-respondents (47.4%) were under the age of 30 years. A good majority of teachers (over 90%) have access to and used the internet on a regular basis but on their own devices. This explains why a number of teachers will make their devices (mobile phones and laptops) available to students in an attempt to help with teaching specific concepts (See Selena’s December update). While a part of the teacher’s devices was used to support teaching and learning and in some instances given to students to watch specific concepts, a lot of the time spent on the internet was for the teacher’s own personal surfing.
Among student participants, our survey showed that there were more females (54.6%) in the selected schools than males (45.4%). Despite the low proportion of students who indicated access to a desktop (23%), or laptop (36.9%) at home, more than four-fifth (86.3%) of students indicated having access to smart mobile phones in their homes. Mobile phones serve as the main devices from which students access the internet.
Nearly all schools visited had access to electricity mainly from the national grid. While this position is supported by the data, our observation is that, access to electricity was generally restricted to selected spaces in the school, mainly in the administration block (head teacher’s office and staff common room). Most classrooms in schools visited did not have electricity. This possess a challenge for digital inclusion as ICT is power dependent.
The next steps
Three out of the 24 schools have been identified to be used for the ethnographic component of the study. While we are warming up to the start of this part of the fieldwork, the Ministry of Education through the Ghana Education Service has just announced a reversal of the academic calendar from a semester to a trimester calendar. This means we have to re-strategize and hit the ground running. This notwithstanding, we remain optimistic that our observations, participation, and documentation in the selected schools will be smoothly carried out. While at this, we will continue to work on analysing the data for a couple of conferences and other academic publications.