In this pandemic, a lot of things have changed. Please note that no closure had been planned, it caught us by surprise. Schools have since been moved online, so to speak. It was a hard time for decision makers as schools were closed, examination to not take place, students would be graded on assignments etc. The decision makers created plans to ensure continuity in education in the case of temporally school closure. TA'ing in the university, I knew how hard it can be for lecturers and students to teach and learn in this hard time. But it's still life experience, we are living through a history!
I have since been asking myself questions. Would some challenges render the solution offered a complete substandard approach, and hence lead to poor outcome? This became the objective for this not so difficult research I carried out recently.
If anyone doubted the importance of the Internet and smart phones before the covid-19 pandemic, those doubts have vanished like shaking hands and coughing.
Students sent home from schools are encouraged to continue their studies online. But many students returned homes without electricity and an Internet connection capable of watching lecture videos and uploading assignments. This presents a case of problem-solution gap.
A review of what people have said about covid-19 and education suggest that online classes is the way to go since there is no easy way to reopening schools. How do you operate institutions designed to mix people and ideas without also mixing viruses?
An encounter I had with some students who travelled from their villages to campus to have easy access to technology to aid their assignment submission redefines education this year as all about those with access to online educational resources versus the rest.
As aforementioned in the beginning of this article, the uneasy relationship between access to Internet and online school should arouse our attention about what exactly need to be done going forward.
During this time, the Internet has proved to be a lifeline, delivering the latest corona virus health and emergency updates and facilitating online classes. But this is the case for those lucky enough to have access to educational resources in this time. Research suggests 7 out of 10 students in rural areas remain without access to fixed, high capacity broadband, making matters worse. Many of these students don't even have a cellphone signal, much less a broadband Internet connection. No Internet access means no access to opportunities the Internet holds.
In an extreme situation, students must travel to areas with Internet connection to submit their assignments, and we must ask how this should be so.
Presenting the findings of this research reveals that lack of access to Internet, laptops, smartphones leave us behind. Many students can't learn online whiles waiting this out. This means they are the last to receive important updates from their lecturers, and updates on health and emergency procedures, which are important for prevention.
The Internet was always important but covid-19 is illuminating the colossal crevasse between the connected and the unconnected, those in the life raft and those left in open water.
The Minister of Education, Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, took the bold decision that 'No public university is allowed to write timed examination online. After clapping for him, we failed to extend the analysis that if online exams is unfair to some people then such people are not enjoying the online tutorials too.
Anyone can point out the problems and how inappropriate it is to conduct online exams for two groups with access to Internet differences, but are we creating the solution to address the problem going forward?
The problem is not conducting same online exams to the "haves and have not", but the corona virus is showing us why this is a problem.
Having identified the challenges of our time, courtesy of covid-19, it is important we use this pandemic to discuss the future of the country and call on our leaders why they have made access to these essentials almost completely inaccessible in the time we need them most for the disadvantaged. Decision makers need to do more.
Sadly not. There are still infrastructural and institutional problems that covid-19 hasn't chased entirely away.
Let us use this opportunity to transform our frustrations into policy and recommendations. Students need access to information more than ever.
Until school resumes, there is, and will be no school. One of the few things we know for sure about covid-19 is that breathing the same air as other people is an excellent way to transmit the disease. Another thing is mixing events such as school classes, where students can trade droplets with others, to send contagion flying all over campus.
When educated people talk about the value of education, they often adopt a lofty language, but the corona virus is not so sentimental, and it doesn't care about students' need for tuition. If anything, the desire of the virus is to propagate and the desire of the schools to educate are in dangerous harmony, and reopening school has become a challenge.
Online difficulties and our inability to address this problem would make school remain forever closed, both online and offline (physical classroom).
The writer is a Teaching and Research Assistant at the Department of Accounting and Finance, KNUST School of Business.