COVID-19: The Silver Lining for Ghana’s Pre-Tertiary Education Sector

Ghana’s education has been undergoing some level of transformation albeit at a slower pace. The sector now attracts vibrant and qualified young graduates from our tertiary institutions who purposely seek to develop a career in teaching and administration. The pre-tertiary educational institutions now boast of professionally competent teachers and administrators comparable to many countries in the world. 

Thanks to the commitment of and the investment made in the sector by successive governments especially in the 4th Republic, our schools now have better school infrastructure whilst enrolment levels are encouraging. What gladdens the heart more is the fact that in many of our schools, the female to male ratio is higher in favour of our girls. This means that more than ever, more of our girls are defying the odds and are staying longer in school. This has reduced the high attrition rate that used to characterize our pre-tertiary education.

So, regardless of the criteria one uses in rating our pre-tertiary educational space, one cannot overlook these successes although concerns remain in the areas of learning outcomes, teacher accountability and rural-urban differentials in education.

Despite our successes in the affore-listed areas, we have not chalked so much of success in the area of ICT integration into our pre-tertiary education delivery in the country notwithstanding our previous attempts at equipping teachers and the schools with laptops and computers. ICT integration into our teaching and learning tasks remains low paced. We still consider ICTs as tools of learning instead of considering them as tools for learning. Hence, innovation remains one of the major hurdles our educational system must cross going forward.

I must disclose that COVID-19 ante; few individuals including the celebrated educationist, innovator and conference speaker, Annis Haffer had made calls for the integration of ICTs into teaching and learning. Calls were made for students to be allowed to use hand held devices as tools for learning in schools, but such calls were ridiculed by some segment of our society. As usual, the moral argument always held sway whenever the call was made.

All of a of sudden, there came the dark cloud of Covid-19 with its negative disruption of virtually all facets of life including education and the once untouchable religion, leading to the shutdown of such institutions by governments across the world. So as necessity is the mother of invention, our schools and the religious centres now lean on the tools of new media and apps to reach their clients/ members, and suddenly, the moral argument appears dowsed.

Thus, COVID-19 may appear disruptive as it has caused huge blows to our economy and jobs, but in its dark clouds is a silver lining. That silver lining is the recognition that our education delivery must not be same and conventional post-Covid-19. There is that widespread recognition that the administration of our schools must witness drastic changes as a legacy of the dreaded COVID-19. In Ghana as may be the case in most countries, the change should begin with the integration of ICTs into our curriculum and see all teachers using these tools and resources or apps for teaching and learning, besides the conventional methods.

For starters, the Ghana Education Service may have to reconsider its ban on the use of hand held devices by students during school sessions. Instead, the Service/ Ministry may have to consider partnering parents/ guardians to consider procuring these devices for all students/pupils and request of teachers to encourage the use of these devices in our schools. Secondly, the Ministry will have to continue its policy of equipping the schools and teachers with laptops and computers and accessories as a way of transforming the delivery of education in the country. More importantly, the application of these new and additional resources must be at the heart of the curricula of pre-tertiary teacher education and training, so that new teachers will appreciate the importance of blending these resources with the conventional teaching and learning regime. 

There is no denying the fact that the success of this enterprise is hinged on stable internet connectivity. In this regard, the government through the Ministry of Communication will need to continue its policy of providing internet services all across the country whilst the Ministry of Education also fast track its programme of providing Wi-Fi services in all our senior high schools. There is now the recognition that we must consider extending such services to our basic schools and preschools as well.

As a policy, the Ghana Education Service will have to consider organizing special purpose workshops for all teachers – public and private – on the use and integration of teaching and learning apps such as Zoom and Moodle in lessons and assessments.  Teachers should be made to appreciate the importance of these tools and apps in their teaching tasks. Efforts must be made to demystify the use of these tools and apps, allay the fears of the teachers towards these tools/ apps being too complex to manipulate, or their being too old to begin using these tools.

Government and parents/guardians may want to enter into some cost-sharing arrangements in the procurement of handheld devices for beneficiary students. Stakeholders in education – teachers, parents, GES/MOE, Teacher Unions, students and the public will need to initiate discussions on how to regulate the use of these devices and apps among our learners in order not to engender our moral values. Towards this goal, the Ministry can consider engaging the Telcos and software engineers whose expertise may come handy.

So what does our educational system stand to benefit from the integration of these tools/ apps with the conventional system (Blended learning)?

For students, blended learning will help them to realize and leverage their learning mode. Over the years, we appeared to have treated all learners as equal. We overlooked their unique qualities and differences by deploying similar modes of teaching and learning, and then tended to condemn those who could not cope with such modes as unintelligent or unfit for academic work. All learners are not the same. They do have unique differences which the blend of conventional methods with these Apps/ resources can help teachers to discover. Our learners may be visual learners, auditory learners, or kinaesthetic learners.  Thus, Apps such as Zoom, Google Classroom, Bluegeans, Cisco WebEx and Google Meet will enable teachers to integrate videos, audios, audio-visuals, texts, charts, illustrations in their teaching and learning tasks to be able to capture the imagination of the learners and get them to discover themselves. This will make teaching and learning enjoyable to these learners as they will feel comfortable in their comfort zone of learning instead of the traditional book and chalk system which they appear to be losing interest in because of their era.

For teachers, Blended learning will enable them to better organize their lessons by leveraging on additional resources such as videos, slides, illustrations, audios and audio visuals of relevance to their lesson delivery. It will also help them to keep track of their lessons. The students will have the added advantage of watching or listening to previous lessons for purposes of revision or remediation, which the conventional system lacks. Also, the system will create further impetus to assessment of learners.  In addition to the conventional system, teachers will better organize assessments, create question banks and monitor the performance of the learners.  With better supervision, the system will encourage teacher accountability and improve learning outcomes.

In the case of the state, the deployment of these Apps and devices in our schools will help achieve the twin goals of access and quality in education. The introduction of these resources will make it a lot easier for schools to reach out to their students who are in the track system or during school holidays. So instead of the current system where teachers who teach in the track system say the Gold Track will have to wait till their students report to school before they can teach them, the adoption of these resources will make it possible for such students to be taught remotely.  This will make it quite possible for the government to deliver on its Free SHS/ Double Track Mandate. The blended approach to teaching and learning will also help learners to be a bit more innovative and creative thereby translating into quality education (albeit incremental) which our country aspires for.

For the West African Examinations Council [WAEC], the lesson of COVID-19 must be a rethink of the way it conducts its examinations. Going forward, the Council may have to invest heavily into Information Communication Technology. The Council may want to try its hands on new assessment tools as Moodle. 

There, however, remain challenges in the implementation of these suggestions. First, internet connectivity remains a privilege, and only a handful of the Ghanaian public has access to it. This is why government’s policy of connecting all SHSs to the internet is commendable. Covid-19 has taught us to fast track the implementation of this project. Towards equipping teachers with these resources, teacher Unions (GNAT, NAGRAT and CCT), industry, Telcos, PTAs, NGOs and CSOs will need to support our teachers with laptops, internet access, apps, capacity building and training.

Covid-19 should help us build upon the gains we have made in education in Ghana. It should instigate some positive disruptions in the way education is delivered in Ghana. It should be a shot in the arm for previous efforts aimed at transforming the sector.

Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse

[email protected]

The writer, Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah, is a writer and conference speaker on topical issues in education, political-history, school leadership and innovations.

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