The Ghana Education System has come under a real-time test in the midst of the global outbreak of coronavirus. Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Ghana government under the auspices of the ministry of education and the Ghana Education Service had directed the closure of all public schools to curb the fast spread of the virus should any case be registered in schools.
We were hoping the closure will not last only for the government to come and announce a lockdown that has come to deepen the uncertainty in the hopes of many students and pupils across the country.
COVID-19 has unleashed unprecedented health, social and economic crisis on the country. In education, the impact on students, staff and systems is enormous. The Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Education are adapting fast to support learners, but the negative consequences for the quality and fairness of education could have a dire consequence.
The immediate fight against the virus is ongoing, unprecedented school closures and adaptations in educational practice are welcomed but the government is failing to see the larger picture and pretending that the situation will be and is under control. The sudden shift to remote and online teaching, insufficient and unequal access post enormous challenges to the current systems we have in place.
Perhaps, the flexibility of the online teaching could suffice only with university education but not with the basic and senior high schools. Many university students could afford laptops and smartphones and are more in tune with the internet and teaching them online will produce the kind of result one may expect.
Unfortunately, millions of primary, junior and senior high students do not have direct access to smart phones, television or any form of internet. More importantly, government had banned the use of smart phones in the senior high schools and many parents are not prepared to get their wards smart phones due the distraction the device can post to many vulnerable students.
Again, many families in Ghana do not owe television and even if they do, it serves the whole family and cannot be used exclusively by children. The polarization of the media terrain tells it all that children might struggle hugely trying to adjust to learning through television and online portals. They are addicted mostly to Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and other social chats as well many television programmes such telenovelas. The worst of the incidence is that many poor and average homes cannot afford the internet charges that come with online learning even if they posse a smart phone.
It is clear and without mincing words that, the current strategy by the ministry of education and the Ghana Education Service to mitigate the current situation amidst global pandemic might lack the potency of achieving the quality of education that we continue to grapple to achieve. When a country which is struggling to make impact with classroom learning is now challenged to adopt online learning and television broadcast to achieve the same result, could possibly be doing cost ninety work. Considering the number of poor families in Ghana, the immediate solution intended to arrest the downturn in education might even end up creating more gaps that could take years to reverse. What is worse, this situation has shone a light on the fundamental flaws in the way Ghana had managed her public services – including education. We need a radical rethink of how the situation can be properly be managed rather than resorting to online learning and television broadcast as the only way to arrest the downturn.
The disadvantages that the measures that had been put in place post to the poor and average families are enormous. Many families will virtually use the children who are now home for many chores and farming activities. Others are busily assisting their poor families to make income through rigorous selling of goods and wares. Children who had been abandoned by their parents are busily doing by day jobs to survive. Only few families can quarantine their children to access online learning and television education broadcast. Apparently, I can be quick to say that the measures in place now favour more of rich families and the actors of education must rethink through.
Again, many teachers are alarmed about the situation. They are thinking of a possible ambush by the government on their salaries: either salary cut or no payment of salary if the situation persists. It is interesting how the government had opened a television station to run the education broadcast for all levels of education. The haste and the urge by GES are stunning and unprecedented and it is leaving many thoughts open to uncertain future of the teaching profession.
The Ghana Education system as it stands is not ripe and fully prepared to integrate online learning and television broadcast due the poverty level of many households. I personally think that Ghana was so quick in closing her basic schools due to the level of panic situation created in the country. The quick recall of the final year students back home was a classic example of a panic situation because the government could have manage the situation easily without recourse to any fear of pandemic outbreak. Now the students and pupil are home and restless doing virtually nothing. If the instance of the corona virus continue to persist, the situation will be aggravated as more students and pupil may likely not to return to the classroom after the corona is brought under control. It is most likely also that the measures put in place will yield little or no result as the government might not have any form of tracking system to check the impact.
Well, the corona is still hanging on our neck. What do we do then? I think there are more solutions to the current situation than online learning and television broadcast. Doctors recommended social distancing as an effective tool of curtailing the spread of the virus. Again, they also admonish us to continuously sanitize and wash our hands under running water. They have also set up centers that we can easily report a possible incidence of the corona. What is important now is that, the lockdown has nothing to do with the remotest areas of the country. The virus might not be threatening many parts of the country as it stands and some students are psychological grappling with the situation.
On the issue of social distancing in schools, I will advise the government to adopt the shift system in managing the numbers. Primary and Junior High Schools can run a perfect shift system to reduce the sheer numbers in some classrooms. Even not all schools will be eligible for the shift system. Government can proceed to monitor the school in each district with health van to constantly check the health status of the children. Each district has one ambulance and they can be used for such purposes. School begins at 6am for the first shift and closes 12 noon for the second shift to continue. Government can equally install sanitizers in schools and provide schools without standing pipes with more veronica buckets. Intensive health education can provide our children with a lot of security from the virus infection.
With the final year students in the senior high schools, the government can recall all of them to school and put them in the boarding house. They could run shift system whilst at school to ensure social distancing. All other measures applicable in the basic schools can be undertaken in the SHS as well. WAEC might announce a new time table as soon as the incident of the corona comes down and we cannot afford to disadvantage our students. WAEC is not exclusive to Ghana, other nations might not be experiencing any corona or less impact of corona and Ghana cannot get exclusive time table different from them. As for students in year one and two, they could take the break as their holiday whilst they prepare to come and fill up the gap they have left.
Besides, teachers could be given additional motivation whilst they are encouraged to teach the children amidst calmness and inspiration of hope. Insurance and other forms of incentives could be available to them whilst the government strives to protect them from the virus infection as he does to the health workers.
I will commend the government for his frantic effort to help sustain the shock in the educational sector but must come with all alacrity. For the negative consequences for the quality and fairness of education could last for years if the current situation is not well managed. We must save the future of our education now because the sector is already suffering.