Reopening of schools, jabs, and the future of education in Ghana
In this month’s project update, I will be reflecting on the COVID-19 situation in Ghana and how it has affected teaching and learning. While Selena had planned to discuss the concept of fairness this month, we thought it would be better to first offer you all an overview of what we have so far observed of the impacts the pandemic has had on learning, education, and technology in Ghana. Our hope is to draw some lessons as we look at the present and possible future of education in Ghana.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic was already having a negative impact on people in other parts of the world, many Ghanaians did not see it coming so close to the borders of the country. This explains why the announcement of the first two cases in Ghana on March 12, 2020, by the Minister for Health was received with shock and fear. The concern for most Ghanaians then was anchored on the fear that if countries with advanced health systems were overwhelmed, it will be a disaster for a country like Ghana to survive the pandemic.
On the advice of Health Experts, the President, through a televised address, announced the closure of schools across the country and public gatherings in Ghana’s two major cities: Accra and Kumasi on March 15, 2020.This was to prevent the community spread of the virus and to help health authorities contact trace all persons who might have had encounters with those who have the virus. The closure, though unexpected, was well received by the Ghanaian people. In response to this, some parents took up the responsibility to home-school their children.
To prevent learning loss, the Ministry of Education through its agencies and other development partners developed a range of online and remote learning approaches, such as television and radio broadcasts to support children. Some examples include the Ministry of Education’s Ghana Learning TV (a free-to-air National Television Channel and GBC radio stations) and Edmodo Ghana (a digital learning initiative designed to connect Ghanaian learners to their teachers and ensure continuity in their education). A few private media houses also created dedicated channels to engage children. One such example is the Joy Learning channel from the Multimedia Group.
Image source: Pixabay
While well-intended, these different initiatives came with their own challenges with respect to access, quality, and equity for most children in rural and marginalised communities. Currently, in Ghana, there are several communities mostly in rural areas without electricity connection, and households without television or radio to benefit from these initiatives. These children were naturally left out in the learning process. Access to power and internet is central when thinking about issues of education, technology, and fairness/equity.
During the 10 months that all basic schools remained closed, teachers and non-teaching staff on the government payroll received their full salaries. However, their counterparts in private schools were hard hit as some had to go without salaries for the entire period of the shutdown. In response, some pre-tertiary “first grade” private schools were able to migrate their teaching and learning online. Some examples include Ghana International School, Roman Ridge School, and the likes. For a child to participate in an online lesson suggests the availability of learning devices supported by reliable internet connectivity and other support services. Other private schools decided to drop weekly assignments to support the learning process at home at a fee. A well-known example is the Children’s Garden Montessori in Accra.
The migration online and weekly assignments were thus a win-win situation for all stakeholders. At least children could continue with their studies with support from parents, and at the same time, private school teachers could earn some monthly income, however meager. Even though the initiatives are commendable, the effectiveness of remote learning by the government and private school actors remained a challenge. The children mostly required parental guidance and support. For most parents, there was no experience in handling such tasks and this came as a real challenge.
Any Ghanaian who followed the regular Presidential COVID-19 Updates is very familiar with the phrase: “Fellow Ghanaians”. Every Sunday, Ghanaians looked forward in anticipation of new updates and directives on how the Government was managing the pandemic. One such update which was highly anticipated was the 21st address held on Sunday, January 10, 2021. It was speculated that the President was going to relax restrictions and announce the reopening of schools. This was after it turned out that the active COVID-19 case count was less than 400. In response, schools (mainly private) were seen making efforts to reorganise their classrooms to increase the confidence of parents. I recall asking for an emergency virtual parent-teacher association (PTA) meeting for the management of a private school my children attend to brief us on measures put in place to guarantee the safety of our children while in school. I was pleasantly surprised when after the meeting, the manager took us on a virtual tour of the investments that had been made-i.e. handwashing stations, automated dispensing sanitizer points, newly installed individualised furniture, remodelling of the dining area, among others.
Image source: Daily Guide
So the announcement was finally made, and public speculation was confirmed that schools were reopening across all levels. This for me was one indication of what the future of education was going to be like in Ghana. Although the announcement was received with mixed reactions, the school environment has so far been peaceful, except for a few isolated cases when cases were reported. In such situations, the Ministry of Health has been swift in moving in to make sure students are tested and infected persons promptly treated. The low rates of infection at the school level have been achieved largely because of continues public education, support from teachers, and the government’s deliberate efforts to supply PPEs including facemasks and hand wash stations to all schools across the country.
Ghana was the first country to receive 600,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX facility. Although teachers and students were not generally covered in the first round of vaccination, persons with underlying conditions – irrespective of age or employment status – were prioritised. It is expected that additional doses of the vaccine will be brought in to benefit the rest of the population. Presently, life has nearly returned to normal in schools except for the mandatory social distancing and wearing of facemasks. The introduction of jabs will greatly contribute to the future of education in Ghana.
The way forward
The whole country is watching with keen interest developments in the education sector and the kind of policy reforms that will be put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that the future of education is hinged on digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIEd). We cannot do business as usual and expect transformative change. So far, not much has been seen in the revision of the curriculum to focus on digital literacy. We invite all stakeholders including the Government, Development Partners, CSOs in Education, and all interested actors to work collaboratively to fashion out deliberate but flexible and measurable policies that will ethically attract private sector participation in digital technology and the AIEd space. These policies must find ways of reaching out to both in-school and out-of-school children in rural and marginalised communities while empowering teachers to be digital-friendly in their teaching.