ARTICLE: Colleges of Education at a Crossroad: Is face-to-face cum Virtual Teaching and Learning the way to go?

With barely two months and some three weeks to start the 2020/2021 academic year of the colleges of education in Ghana, a final decision is yet to be taken as to how academic work will be conducted in the face of an obvious residential accommodation challenge.  This residential accommodation challenge has come as a result of the implementation of the new 4-year Bachelor of Education curriculum which makes it mandatory for student teachers to stay on campus for three continuous years before undertaking their one semester out-segment supported teaching in school (STS) programme in their final year and return to campus for a further one semester in the fourth year.

Hitherto, teacher trainees spent only two years on campus and one year off-campus for their teaching practice. That arrangement under the 3-year Diploma in Basic Education (DBE) programme enabled the colleges to accommodate both first and second years on campus for effective academic work. Considering the current situation, it is becoming increasingly obvious that all the 46 public colleges of education are going to grapple with the problem of inadequate residential accommodation to host first, second, and third-year trainees upon resumption of academic work in January 2021. Today, the residential accommodation challenge which the colleges are going to face this academic year has become a topical issue in the teacher education front in the country. This article sought to examine the proposed option of implementing a blended academic work (“a modified double track system”) as has been put forward by some key stakeholders in the sector.

Before I go into the main subject of the proposed blended academic work which seeks to run face-to-face alongside virtual teaching and learning come January 2021, I will delve into the merits and demerits of the just ended Emergency Remote Teaching Learning (ERTL) which the colleges adopted to complete the second semester of the 2019/2020 academic year amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The ERTL which the colleges were forced to adopt in the face of Covid-19 came with its challenges even though it was a necessary decision that was taken to complete the academic year somehow. In the just-ended T-TEL Project Learning Event, it became clear that the ERTL was not completely successful because of the challenges that the college tutors and the teacher trainees encountered. Some of the key challenges which tutors who are the actual implementers of the new 4-year Bachelor of Education curriculum faced included absence of internet connectivity in the colleges, poor and unstable network connectivity, unavailability of quality ICT tools, difficulty in using teaching-learning resources effectively online, cost of internet data, very low participation of students, low patronage and inactive participation of students in lessons, insufficient time for effective teaching and learning, failure of students to submit assignments given to them among others. On the part of student teachers, they complained of lack of (or unstable) internet connectivity at their various locations, lack of quality mobile devices, inability to access the various Learning Management Systems (LMS) of the various affiliated universities, inadequate time at home for virtual learning, the challenge of combining domestic and household chores with virtual learning particularly for female students and so on. The foregoing challenges which characterized the just ended ERTL continue to pose a bigger challenge for tutors and student teachers if the decision-makers bypass the inputs of the college tutors and the student body and go-ahead to implement the proposed blended academic work come January 2021.

In an earlier article published in this journal a few weeks ago, I proposed that the authorities consider implementing an IN-IN-OUT-OUT accommodation policy in the colleges of education in the coming academic year to mitigate the obvious infrastructural challenge. This proposal was informed by a similar accommodation policy implemented by some of the public universities from the 2002/2003 academic year. In the 2002/2003 academic year, the University of Cape Coast (UCC) took an important decision by introducing an accommodation policy that was dubbed IN-OUT-OUT-IN that enabled the university to increase her admission of fresh students significantly. A few years after, other public universities like Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) implemented a similar policy that almost doubled the admission quota of those universities. We must all recognize the fact that tertiary education is reforming all over the world and Ghana cannot be an exception. Since the passage of Act 847 (2012) colleges of education have been run as tertiary institutions yet they still hold on to some norms and practices which are considered outmoded in the tertiary space. One such norm is the compulsory residential accommodation policy and the feeding system which every student teacher is entitled to upon admission to the college. This practice has always limited the intake of trainees in the various colleges. But for the introduction of the one-year off-campus teaching practice programme, which was undertaken by all third-year students in the just faced-out DBE programme, authorities in the colleges were able to accommodate all first and second years in campus accommodation.  In the face of the infrastructure challenge confronting the colleges in the coming academic year, one would have thought that the policymakers and the college authorities would consider reviewing the compulsory residential accommodation and feeding policy to increase the student population and to maintain the standard of teaching and learning in the colleges rather than contemplating a blending academic work from January 2021.

The proposed blended teaching and learning (face-to-face cum virtual teaching and learning) has the potential of derailing the gains made in the teacher education sector since 2015.  The proponents of the proposed policy relied basically on the fact that during the Covid-19 pandemic, all the colleges were compelled to adopt the ERTL to complete the second semester of the 2019/2020 academic. The reality is that the ERLT which the colleges resulted to did not help neither the tutors nor the teacher trainees. The ERTL might have enabled the Colleges to complete the last academic year somehow, but the truth of the matter is that it was not the best for training professionals like teachers. What government and policymakers must recognize is that colleges of education are not purely academic institutions where writing and passing examinations are more important. Colleges of education are professional training institutions where both professional and academic work are combined to produce teachers who can stand up to the task in this present knowledge world. The suggestion for the colleges to implement face-to-face academic work alongside virtual teaching and learning because of lack of residential accommodation facilities to accommodate first, second and third-year trainees is probably a knee jerk reaction to a problem that needs a comprehensive or permanent solution. The proponents of the blended academic work for the next academic year hold the view that virtual teaching and learning has come to stay as a result of the Covid-19. I think that cannot be completely true. Since 2015, almost all college tutors have adopted the blended teaching and learning approach in their delivery of lessons whether colleges were in session or not. The Covid-19 only brought the ERTL which enabled the colleges to prevent the possible truncation of the 2019/2020 academic year and so must not be carried forward to the coming academic year. The training of teachers for the basic schools in this country should never be played with. In my view, the proposal to run a shift system where two-year groups will be on campus for face-to-face while one year group stay home and have virtual learning shall only lead to the training of sub-standard teachers in the near future. The new four-year B.Ed. curriculum makes supported teaching in school an integral part of the training of the graduate teachers and any attempt to continue the unplanned virtual teaching and learning has the potential of reducing the standard of training the colleges offer. Indeed, there must be a better way of addressing the accommodation challenge rather than resulting in a policy that cannot guarantee the quality training of initial teachers for our delicate education sector.

To address the accommodation challenges of the colleges in the coming academic year and subsequent years, the key stakeholders in this sector must not forget to engage the tutors and the students who are at the center of such a policy. Any attempt to impose such a policy on the tutors and the students could only lead to failure. In the just-ended semester, tutors suffered the most because they had to teach students who were never prepared for ERTL. The majority of tutors sacrificed their lives and resources to ensure that the academic year was not truncated. Furthermore, most tutors who used their data to do these online teaching and assessment were not given anything by their college authorities. On the other hand, students were never prepared for the ERTL but were compelled to partake in it to complete the academic year. We are yet to assess the outcome of the Covid-19 semester in terms of academic and professional training that students benefitted from. The solution to the accommodation challenges of the colleges do not lie in the introduction of the blended academic work but a better alternative which can be sustained to improve teacher education in Ghana. In this regard, I want to reecho my earlier position that the colleges must abolish the compulsory residential accommodation policy and implement an accommodation policy that gives room for some students to stay off-campus in rented hostels and other accommodation. When the IN-IN-OUT-OUT policy is introduced in the colleges as has been done in all the public universities over the years, the colleges would avoid sacrificing the quality training of teachers in this country. Student teachers would have enough contact hours in the lecture halls as well as on the field for practical training. Tutors can also exhibit the skills of lesson delivery in a face-to-face teaching and learning situation to enable trainees to learn and practice them in their teaching. Training basic school teachers outside a school environment is only a recipe for disaster in the future. Therefore, I call on the authorities to reconsider their stand on the proposed introduction of face-to-face alongside virtual teaching and learning in the colleges of education from January 2021. Such a policy is not sustainable and should not be encouraged if we indeed want to transform teacher education in Ghana. Let us continue with our traditional face-to-face teaching and learning whilst we abolish the compulsory residential accommodation policy of the colleges for the more forward-looking policy of IN-IN-OUT-OUT that can guarantee increased admission quota, efficiency as well as quality training of teachers for Ghanaian basic schools.

By: Thomas Ampomah

(Tutor, St. Monica’s College of Education, Mampong-Ashanti)

Email: [email protected]

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