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04.09.2019 Feature Article

Mitigating Admission Deficits Envisaged by the Free Senior High School Policy – A Case for Open Education

Introduction
Traditionally, Ghana inherited the brick and mortar system of higher education from the British. The system worked well for Ghana considering that infrastructures was enough or in excess to absorb persons qualified into the higher education system. This infrastructural adequacy had witnessed changes over the years with population growth, increased quest for higher education, and the influx of international students into the country. Consequent, the classroom and related infrastructure that took care of the Ghanaian higher educational needs in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s is currently insufficient for the absorption of the bulging numbers of qualified applicants.

Free Senior High School will Compound the Admission Deficits in Ghana’s Higher Education

The introduction of the Free in Senior High School (SHS) policy in 2017 will further heighten the number of persons who will be seeking higher education admissions after the first batch graduates next year. The Minister of Education in charge of Tertiary, Professor Kwesi Yankah reports that, about 145,000 students would be seeking admissions into universities next year. It is to be noted that, the minister’s assertion is related only to universities without other institutions of higher learning. The 25th February 2019 Edition of the Business and Financial Times, further reports that, next year about 400,000 Free SHS beneficiaries are expected to complete school and seek higher education admission with a backlog of about 200,000 students, created by merging two batches of SHS 4 and SHS 3 students who sat for the West Africa Senior High School Certificate Examination in 2013. These observations will further threaten the existing infrastructural inadequacies that have resulted in the annual inabilities of Ghanaian institutions of higher learning to admit many qualified students. The above assertion seem to gain supported by the admission of the minister as reported in the 2nd October 2018 edition of the Daily Graphic.

“He said the ministry was encouraging tertiary institutions to vigorously embark on infrastructural expansion to meet the expected “avalanche”. Prof. Yankah described his discussions with the vice-chancellors and representatives of the private university colleges as successful and encouraging. He said he also met with the various councils of the technical universities and explained the issue to them and urged their respective universities to rise to the occasion”.

It is to be noted that, while the ministry’s efforts are applauded, it may seem a short term reactive measure when there are opportunities for proactive measures such as open learning. As at 2018, the number of accredited tertiary institutions in Ghana stood at 212 according to the National Accreditation Board. They further, in their Tertiary Education Statistics Report for 2015/2016 academic year, opined that, Diploma enrolments for the year was 53,178 while undergraduate enrolments for the same year was 167,090. These two categories of qualifications post-secondary brings the total figure to 220,268 for the 2015/2016 academic year enrolments. Without recourse to current statistics from the Board, it will be proper to work with these figures whiles making room for marginal increase in enrolments for 2016-2019. Consequently, it may be safe to envisage that, by next year when the first batch of the free SHS student would be graduating (400,000) and the about 200,000 backlog created as a result of the merger of two batches in 2013 (minus an estimated few who have already gained admissions over the years), the numbers will still be threatening for admission in 2020 considering that the last enrolment figures for 2015/2016 was 220,268 representing close to 50% of the anticipated total number of the Free SHS graduates in 2020 and the 2013 backlog. In the wake of this, the question arises as to what prudent measures government can embark on to curtail these annual admission deficits, especially in the face of the bulge of graduates expected next year as a result of the Free SHS.

A Case for Open Education
Following current trends in the world and narrowing such to our region Africa, it is not out of place to recommend the introduction of a National Open University of Ghana and also a government policy for all traditional national institutions of higher learning to introduce Open Learning as part of the school system. The Open Higher education system would be one that will help mitigate the deficit in classroom infrastructure associated with our current educational system. Perhaps an understanding of the Open Higher education system will suffice. The Open Higher education system is a borderless educational system that allows both learners and teachers to interact from every location of the world for the purpose of teaching and learning. The system is supported by the internet with the teacher providing materials of learning through video, text, quizzes, virtual classes, discussion fora and practices on the subject in discourse. The system replicates the traditional brick and mortar learning model except that, the instructor does not have learners sitting in one classroom at the same time, taking a lecturer, quiz, discussion forum, examination etc. An additional features of the open learning model is that, it automatically requires both student and learners to be internet literate. With this explained, it is important to assert that, when Ghana introduces the Open education system nationally, all qualified students applying into Ghanaian institutions of higher learning will have the opportunity to study their course of choice without putting a toll on the infrastructure of the institutions since they would be learning via the internet from their own locations or destinations. Further, it will enhance revenue for the institutions since enhanced admissions will attract more fees from learners. It is to be established that, this will further increase employment opportunities for the educational sector since more lecturers and support staff will be needed to effectively impart on the students.

Preparing For the Policy – What Government Should Do

Without looking far, within the African region many countries have started these on national and institutional levels. The National Open Universities of Nigeria and the Open University of Tanzania are good benchmarks Ghana can lean on. Also, a number of private universities including the University Of Applied Management, Ghana Campus and the Laweh Open University have started and in some instances graduated students using this same methods with accreditation from the National Accreditation Board. This paper further suggest that, while these benchmarks are considered for study, government in its drive to implement this policy will as a matter of urgency;

train faculty of Ghanaian traditional institutions of higher learning on how to deliver courses on online platforms.

equip traditional institutions of higher learning with the infrastructure need to deliver online course. These infrastructure include good internet, recording studios, technical support services, purchase of requisite software amongst others.

ensure acceptance of the Open learning certificates by ensuring proper accreditation of course on a piece mail basis. This can be assigned the National Accreditation Board. This will not be new since the same board as accredited some private institutions doing well in this regard – University of Applied Management, Ghana Campus and the Laweh Open University worth citing.

With accreditation comes the perceptional related challenges, since traditionally it appears to Ghanaians the government does not recognize online certificates. The misconception is glued to the ambiguity in the minds of many Ghanaians as to what constitute a good online degree. In line with this, it is important for the government through the National Accreditation Board to streamline the conversation with emphasis on accreditation and not mode of receiving the learning. This drive will not be devoid of the evidences of what online graduates are doing on the labour and other markets – ‘good things sell themselves’ a Ghanaian proverb provides.

Conclusion
Maintaining the progress of the Free SHS in a progressive manner in Ghana will not be sustainable without holistically investing in Open education infrastructure to absorb the numbers that will be churned out of the free SHS system annually into Ghana’s institutions of higher learning that are already struggling with infrastructural deficits.

Fred Awaah
Fred Awaah, © 2019

This author has authored 9 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: FredAwaah

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