Education and COVID-19: Is Ghana ready to return to the classroom?

Blog post by Kenneth Gyamerah, Chevening Scholar, Professional teacher, and Global Youth Ambassador for Education.

Introduction

In March 2020, the government of Ghana announced a countrywide shutdown of schools as a precautionary measure to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. In response, the Ministry of Education (MOE)  in collaboration with Ghana Education Service rolled out remote learning interventions to provide education for the students. Data from UNESCO as of 29th  May 2020  shows there are 9,696,756 children and youth currently out of school in Ghana due to coronavirus. Of this number, 1,852,028 are in Pre-primary, 4,549,875 are in Primary, 2,851,160 are in Junior High School (JHS) and Senior High School (SHS) and 443,693 are in the tertiary institutions. In this blog, I will examine the MOE’s education response to COVID-19 in Ghana.

Government response

In April, the MOE initiated the Ghana Learning channel a nationwide television station that broadcasts lessons from kindergarten to Senior High Schools.  Additionally, Ghana Education Service (GES) has introduced an online platform (www.icampus.gh)  for students in Junior High and Senior High Schools to access lessons, digital libraries, virtual laboratories, and past examination questions.

Higher Educational Institutions response 

The universities have moved online with a few challenges. Although with online education, there are few concerns from students about the cost of internet bundles, the majority of students I have interviewed said they use google classrooms which does not require broadband subscriptions. Also, the universities are leveraging the Moodle platform, zoom technology, and recorded video lessons to connect with their students.

Review of responses

Even though  MOE  and GES have made efforts to ensure learning continues, we have witnessed an extreme inequality given that the modes of learning currently in place for basic school students reach those from economically advantaged homes. Children who need extra support and attention especially those living with disabilities, children from rural and urban-poor settlements are excluded.

Also, there is limited data to track students currently accessing the TV Platform. Available data could help stakeholders better understand the number of students who are benefitting from remote learning. Also, it would help decision-makers to identify the time of the day that receives viewership to help them adapt the lessons to benefit the larger population.

Furthermore, I expected government, teacher unions, school leaders, and national policy actors to find some creative ways and involve teachers to forge collaboration with parents of students who require special attention. This collaboration would ensure there is available support, guidance, and supervision to augment the virtual lessons on TV and radio. A  growing layer of research suggests TV lessons are effective when strengthened with opportunities for interactive engagement and involvement of family members especially parents and older siblings, outreach programs from teachers and volunteers, and access to learning materials ( Mundy 2020). From the  review, these support systems have not been wholly utilised. Also, there are no mechanisms  that provide guidelines for supervision and assessment of students currently taking the TV lessons. Therefore, it is  difficult to  track  the overall  progress  made from the alternative learning solutions  that have been deployed. If data is available, it would  be easier to estimate the percent of learning loss that will be recorded during the school shutdown  which will be useful for policy programming in  the recovery phase.

Additionally, alternative education lessons rarely consider the socio-emotional needs of the students. For instance, TV lessons primarily focus on curricular goals. They do not include extra-curricular, fun-based activities, art lessons, social distancing learning protocols, wellbeing sessions, etc. These extramural activities usually stimulate the interest of learners especially in these times when most of them are stuck at home.

Are the students and teachers ready to return to the classroom?

The government is considering the option to re-open schools. The stakeholder consultation process is currently underway and a formal announcement to resume schools is expected soon. According to the Ghana Health Service, the country has recorded 7,303 COVID-19  cases with 2,412 recoveries and 34 deaths as of 29th May 2020. From this data, plans to reopen schools should be informed by research. School leaders and policy actors should ensure schools continue to provide a safe space for both teachers and their learners to function. The decision to open schools at a time the infection rate has tripled within a month, clearly shows that key actors have not learned from elsewhere; Ghana has not reached the peak of infections and there is a  possibility that we will record more cases in the coming weeks.

Also, the MOE  has not taken advantage of the bulk resources available in the field of Education in Emergencies (EiE). The coronavirus pandemic is not the first time education has been disrupted. The EiE community can offer lessons learned and good practices in cases where education is disrupted for a long period. From the review of past incidents, it is worth highlighting that in every emergency, plans for school closures last for several months, not a few weeks. For that reason, policymakers and stakeholders shouldn’t rush to re-open schools without putting certain basics- adequate training of teachers on health and first aid, availability of Personal protective equipment (PPEs) (because not every parent can afford nose masks given that the medical ones have to be changed every day to prevent kids from risks ), proper monitoring of the virus and its impacts on children, adequate testing of teachers and students etc.  The ‘new normal’ will require that schools improve their health and safety measures. For instance, in Ghana, at the Basic Educational level, many schools currently do not have access to clean water. Hence, school leaders should conduct adequate risks and safeguarding assessment before they resume schools.

Evidence from previous school  closures in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the past 25 years,  some parts of Africa have seen some form of conflicts, wars, natural disasters, and epidemics which caused schools to close for several months. For Ghana, a very classic learning experience is the 2014  Ebola epidemic. During the Ebola era, schools in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were closed to 8 months. In educational terms, the success story of the neighbouring West African countries could serve as a useful comparison and guidance. In the case of Ebola, schools were closed between 5 and 8  months in the 3 countries. To return to the schooling routines, schools in these countries were fumigated systematically after the epidemic was brought under control. Moreover, teachers and school leaders were trained on proper monitoring and prevention measures, including taking students’ temperatures each day and requiring they properly wash their hands upon entering and leaving the school premises. The MOE and the stakeholders of education in Ghana should consider investing in mobile water stations in schools, ensure adequate training of health volunteers to identify at-risk groups and while ensuring proper isolation strategies. The government could possibly allocate school health officers to every basic school in Ghana for proper monitoring.

 

What can we learn from the  Education in Emergencies research community?

There is a relevant body of knowledge on schooling during prolonged crises. Over the last 20 years, research about education in emergencies has combined practitioner-oriented intervention by the international development communities and scholarly works by academics and institutions working in humanitarian aid and global education development ( Winthrop 2020). There is concrete and vast research developed, including technical guidance, new research for education in emergencies which may provide useful evidence and strategies to reopen schools’ post-crisis. During crises, education response and activities should not be designed as short-term ‘stopgap’ measures (Winthrop 2020), but rather as rapid response activities with longer-term developmental goals (UNICEF 1999). It is noteworthy that this principle is still relevant in this COVID-19 situation. Therefore, plans to reopen schools should be informed by science and driven by data with proper surveillance and risk assessments.

Conclusion

The blog reviewed the current education response to COVID-19 in Ghana. It was revealed that students in higher educational institutions have not been severely impacted. The students in the pre-tertiary levels are the most affected by the shutdown of educational activities. I argued that the government’s education response to COVID-19 has exposed the stark structural inequalities. That is, with the remote learning platforms, only a few students are able to receive some form of learning support. Children living with disabilities and those in underserved communities are not benefitting from the lessons. Therefore, I  recommend that the MOE, GES, and the various stakeholders utilize teachers, parents, and older siblings to provide supervision and guidance for at-risk, vulnerable groups of learners to help them learn from home. Also,  policymakers should consider the lessons from Ebola-affected countries in their policy planning especially now that they are exploring the option to re-open schools.

Additionally, the government should use this time to provide some infrastructural support, develop the capacity of teachers and center their decisions to resume schools  based on empathy and evidence. We  understand there’s pressure from parents and even from some students who miss their classmates, however, policy actors should validate all health and safety measures including the WHO, OECD,  UNESCO, and  GHS guidelines before they consider a possible reopening of schools.

Bibliography

Mundy, K. ( 2020). Equity-Focused Approaches to Learning Loss during COVID-19. Retrieved on 25/05/2020 via https://bit.ly/3eAOENP

UNESCO (2020) COVID-19 impact on education. Retrieved on  23/03/2020 via https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures

Winthrop, R (. 2020). COVID-19 and school closures: What can countries learn from past emergencies. Retrieved on 29/05/20 via https://brook.gs/36DbIso

About the Author

Kenneth Gyamerah is a Chevening Scholar, Professional teacher, and Global Youth Ambassador for Education. He has an MSc in Education (Policy and International Development) from the School of Education, University of Bristol.

Twitter: @kennethgyamera

LinkedIn: Kenneth Gyamerah

 

 

Document Summary Service chart toppers Spring 2020

Blog post by Helen Aberdeen, Director of the Document Summary Service

What a Spring term it turned out to be for those of us in the education sector! In my role as a PGCE tutor I have been on a steep learning curve getting to grips with all things online. In my other role as Director of the Document Summary Service, things have carried on a more even keel. As we moved into March I had wondered if every report research and guidance report produced would be focussed on the current crisis, but this turned out not to be the case – interesting and useful reports continue to emerge from a wide range of sources. I should also mention that the summaries have become an invaluable resource as out student teachers move to working independently.

In keeping with my last blog, I would like to present a ‘Top Ten’ – the summaries which have received the greatest number of downloads over the last 3 months. There are always one or two surprises for me when I receive the statistics, but I love to see what interests my subscribers most.

Reports from Ofsted, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) each had two reports featured in the Top Ten. Two key reports from Ofsted – the first was the Annual Inspection report (summary 51) – always a popular download. The second, ‘Building Great Teachers’ (summary 41) reported on research by Ofsted to develop a new curriculum for Initial Teacher Training; it fed into the development of the new ITT inspection framework which will come into effect in September 2020.

Both reports from EPI focussed on mental health and wellbeing. The first (summary 49) looked at the wellbeing of the school workforce – not wall to wall good news, but an encouraging finding that ‘with the exception of teachers in further education, all educators, and especially teachers in mainstream schools, are happier, more satisfied with life, and find their lives more worthwhile than the average graduate’. A quotation to pin up on the staffroom wall, perhaps? The other EPI report (summary 45) explored children and young people’s access to mental health services, finding that although there has been some progress in recent years, we are still a long way from where we want to be.

A summary of the EEF report on behaviour (46) was our winner for the Spring quarter. A wide-ranging review of the evidence on what works and a great springboard for those wishing to explore the issue in depth. Also popular was a curricular guidance report on improving maths in the early years and key stage 1 (summary 64).

The DfE made it into second place in our Top Ten with a research report on attitudes to education (summary 53). Good to read that 47 per cent of the survey respondents in the research said that teachers worked too hard and 42 felt they were not paid enough. Perhaps after the current period of home schooling, many more will feel that our teachers are underpaid…

In addition to reports by Ofsted, we had a report about Ofsted in the Top Ten. ‘The Watchmen revisited’ (summary 62) by the Policy Exchange presents a critique both of Ofsted as an organisation and of the new Schools Inspection Framework. Subscribers obviously found it an interesting read!

In sixth place was a report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) (summary 56) which explores the links between teacher autonomy, retention and job satisfaction. The main takeaway here – leave teachers to get on with it! And in 8th place was an interesting report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) which looked at students’ wellbeing (summary 65). Some interesting feedback here on a range of issues, including how the quality of teaching affects anxiety levels and life satisfaction – a ‘must read’ for teachers in the HE sector!

I hope that the above has given you a taste for what we at the Document Summary Service aim to provide in order to produce something of interest to educations across all phases. As I said in my last blog, we do want to be responsive – I am aware that in spite of extensive ‘summary mining’ there may be things which I miss, so any suggestions from subscribers are welcome, as is feedback. We did recently conduct some small scale research and were encouraged that the words which came up most frequently were

Do continue to follow us on Twitter @BristolUniDocs!

Rebuilding Bristol as a City of Care

Scene of Bristol harbour
Blog post by Dr Helen Manchester, Associate Professor Digital Inequalities & Urban Futures, School of Education and Bristol City Fellow.

I was today asked to speak at an event organised by the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees and the City Office team that brought together academics and other interested in rebuilding Bristol. I was asked to respond to the following question and thought people might be interested in reading the full text here.

‘Bristol, along with cities all over the globe, is facing an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis. This brings both a challenge and an opportunity to rebuild our city. If we do it well, Bristol will be more inclusive, more sustainable and more resilient in the face of future shocks. If we do it without thinking, falling into old assumptions (ie. badly), the opposite is true. How should we rebuild our city?’

In 5 minutes I can only hope to raise some issues and matters of concern. There are many present here today who will know a lot more than me about aspects of social justice- esp around race, disability and class and I hope they will join in afterwards with comments and concerns. This is intended to be a provocation for ongoing conversations that bring diverse knowledges and expertise together so that we can begin to rebuild our city to be more inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

We knew before this pandemic struck that many communities and organisations were facing an ongoing crisis – a crisis in which inequalities are growing, where austerity and a desire for growth at all costs had pushed cities around the world into a situation where social, economic and environmental justice were comprised.

The pandemic has helped to make visible where people and communities are falling through the cracks in our cities and illustrated more widely that a return to business as usual is not an attractive option for those of us interested in social, economic and environmental justice. It is not an option for those families living in crowded accommodation who don’t have enough food on a daily basis, it’s not an option for those living with disabilities or ill health who rely on inadequate, time rationed segments of care delivered by care workers who are undervalued and underpaid. It’s not an option either if we want to take our responsibilities to the planet seriously.

So what have we seen during this crisis that helps us to understand our challenges as a city and the assets that we have to draw on in rebuilding them.

  • We have seen the incredible efforts of the community and voluntary sector in the city who have built on established and designed new alliances to tackle their communities’ needs. These initiatives have gone way beyond reactively responding to the everyday, urgent needs of their communities. For instance, Knowle West Allaince, developed over the last 2years, brings together large and small community organisations- they have set up a community food bank, coordinated volunteers, communicated through digital and postal service with all community members, used the amazing Bristol Can Do platform to recruit volunteers and assign them to a brand new befriending service and committed to reflecting and learning as part of this discussion. The Support Hub for older people, set up in 2 weeks in order to bring together organisations in the city concerned with the needs of older people, were determined to draw on their collective expertise to provide a range of support for older people including practical and emotional support but also virtual activities. These examples, and many others, demonstrate how through working collaboratively across sectors and alongside our communities we can go way beyond provision of ‘crisis’ support. They have shown the value and strength of the civil society sector in the city in working alongside communities at the margins building on their ongoing, long term work and trusted relationships with the communities that they serve
  • We have finally appreciated and valued the key workers who support systems of care in the city – the care workers, teachers, food delivery workers and community development workers. Raising questions around how we might change our systems of value in the city,
  • Our neighbourhoods and streets have fostered intergenerational and cross cultural discussion and we have made new friends – we have come together in Whats App groups and through socially distant street gatherings to share our concerns, to provide care where this has been needed and, importantly, to laugh and cry together. A question we might want to explore here relates to how we might develop ‘community’ across our neighbourhoods providing the support we all need across generational and cultural difference, in and between hyperlocal areas?
  • Our green spaces have provided the space for those without gardens to enjoy fresh air and exercise, whilst socially distancing. Roads, free of cars, have provided new found space for children and families to play and cleaner air, particularly in those areas of the city where poor air quality is a particular concern. Lizzi has already suggested the need to capitalize on this in bringing forward environmental change in our city and globally.

I would argue that in Bristol’s response to COVID 19 we have seen that our city is a place resplendent with learning, creativity, innovation and care.

I want to pick up particularly on this last word which I think is highly relevant. I want to suggest that if we want to tackle issues of social, economic and environmental justice we need to retain a focus on the role of care in the city. I draw on the feminist scholar Jean Tronto’s definition of care as ‘everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair ‘our’ world so that we can live in it as well as possible. Feminist approaches to care foreground our interdependencies, and encourage us to take notice of peoples’ lived experiences, their existing knowledges and expertise and the stories they tell about them. They encourage us to do what Jane Jacob’s the great American City planner suggested – to take notice of the complexity of our city, to look closely ‘at the most ordinary scenes and events and attempt to see what they mean and whether any threads of principle emerge.’ (Jacobs, 161, p.23). I think we have seen a lot of these ordinary scenes during this pandemic but that we need to work quickly to recognise the threads of principles and new values that might emerge.

My suggestion is that we need to work care-fully together to build on the wide range of vital and lively existing learning, innovation and creativity in our cities. However, a word of caution. We must not make assumptions that there is consensus on what these principles or values might be and we need to recognize that ‘rebuilding Bristol’, especially if we want to challenge concerns around social, economic and environmental justice, will not be easy. We will need to continually ask ‘who is not involved?’ We will need to ensure that we work with others who are ‘not like us’ or with whom we disagree. We will need to design new processes and methods for this and we will have to be open to building new relational capacities in the process, with each other but also with the environment surrounding us.

I want to finish by saying this is a moment that we need to grasp head on drawing on the many assets that we have in the city, many of which have been made more visible through this crisis. We have achieved so much in the city during this pandemic which will support us to work differently to challenge questions of social, economic and environmental justice in the city.

 

The UK needs a new impact agenda

Blog post courtesy of Transforming Society
By Kat Smith Justyna Bandola Nasar Meer Ellen Stewart and Richard Watermeyer
Our new book, The Impact Agenda: Controversies, Consequences and Challenges, examines UK efforts to incentivise and measure research impact via REF2021 and research funding. It’s a strange time for a book to come out and we did think twice about promoting it. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a startling reminder of both how important (how ‘impactful’) research can be, and also how vexed the relationship between research and policy decisions often is.

The UK’s current approach to measuring and rewarding research impact is flawed in multiple ways, and we make the case in the book for an alternative approach that focuses on engagement rather than impact. This blog situates the findings in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic.The book begins by tracking the origins and aims of the UK’s approach to monitoring and incentivising research impact, noting the growing international interest in these developments. It summarises the raft of concerns that have been put forward by others and then draws on interview and focus group data to examine how impact-related changes that have been introduced in the UK are shaping academics’ lives and work, before turning to the views of those assessing research impact for REF. We end by outlining our recommendations for a new kind of impact agenda.

One of the most consistent critiques that social scientists have made of the UK’s impact agenda (see, for example, here and here) is that external events, over which academics have no control, massively increase/decrease the relevance (and therefore potential impact) of research. Virologists who have studied coronaviruses, epidemiological and mathematical modellers and historical analysts of previous pandemics have all recently been in the media spotlight. At the same time, there are plenty of researchers examining issues not currently in the spotlight but which may one day seem crucial, as new challenges and crises emerge.

Simply put, we have expertise in universities to help us deal with new viruses partly because these researchers were able to do some of that work in pre-COVID-19 times. So, paradoxically, the current situation shows us just how crucial it is for universities to protect spaces for research without apparent immediate benefit.

This does not mean there cannot, or should not, be any effort to encourage academics to engage beyond their ‘ivory towers’. Indeed, many of our research participants noted positive consequences of the UK’s recent concern with research impact. We heard, for example, widespread enthusiasm for research being well communicated to a range of audiences, stories of researchers across a wide range of disciplines engaging with potential users and publics, and reflections that the impact agenda did seem to have encouraged universities to better support researchers in quickly responding to current events and crises.

Yet, our participants also raised multiple concerns with the UK’s approach to research impact and it was clear that some participants were concerned about impact becoming an end in itself. Some of these concerns corroborated those in the existing literature, others were new. One fairly consistent message was that, especially as we can’t know in advance what future challenges will be, or which new discoveries will help, we need to ensure we protect exploratory research and research that is out of kilter with current policy trajectories. It was notable that our interviewees differentiated their own experiences of ‘real impact’ (research developed organically, often over long periods, which they felt had achieved meaningful impact – sometimes unexpected, often collaborative) and the artificial stories of ‘REF impact’ constructed to meet evaluation criteria.

Building on these debates, we end the book with the following eight recommendations:

  1. Reward impactful environments (not individual achievements);
  2. Value a wider range of activities (including public engagement);
  3. Protect spaces and funding for critical and discovery work (without obvious impacts);
  4. Reject simplistic notions of ‘excellence’ which denigrate the local;
  5. Weaken the link between original research and impact to encourage knowledge synthesis and collaboration;
  6. Consider the ethics of impact;
  7. Defend and promote academic rigour and autonomy;
  8. Create spaces in which valiant failures are celebrated and learned from.

This will be of interest not only to higher education policy makers and academics working in the UK, but also to those working further afield who are considering importing or adapting the UK’s approach. Higher education is beginning to chart a route through and beyond this exceptional moment. Learning from the past, and reimagining the future relationship between research and policy, is more important than ever.

Academic lives are in transition

A group of university academics set out to capture and profile academic lives-in-transition as a result of the pandemic. Here’s the results.

The physical closure of university campuses by the Covid-19 pandemic has almost overnight changed “how we do what we do” as academics, and the nature of our daily routines.

In an attempt to capture and profile academic lives-in-transition, we designed a large-scale international attitudinal survey coinciding with universities’ mass online-migration and for which we received an overwhelming response.

In total, an excess of 1400 responses were generated from academics working in higher education institutions across 40 country contexts. These are voices of experience representing all the major disciplinary areas and career stages from which transpire the enormous challenges that this pandemic presents to academic lives and careers.

What follows is their collective account; an account that will be familiar and, at least in parts, will resonate with each one of us as members of a global Academy under siege.

Within this account we find a recent history of turbulence and trauma – not unknown to academics – and evidence of the tightening grip of occupational precarity. So too, we encounter an evolving history of perseverance, survival and of critical solidarity. We find also an appeal for balance in avoiding the pitfall of hysteria and the unchecked anxieties of a future increasingly difficult to predict.

This then is a moving history of who we are and who we might be; of what has, what is and what may happen to our professional and personal worlds as a consequence of Covid-19.

Saying goodbye

We have been forced to abandon our places of work and formally reconstitute ourselves as home workers. We have – many of us – also simultaneously become home-schoolers and/or home-carers.

We have been forcibly decoupled from our institutional environs, both the material binds – and affordances – of our offices, classrooms, common rooms, kitchens, laboratories, libraries and the like. We no longer travel to work. We are no longer late for meetings or else are able to better disguise our tardiness. We are no longer required to practice presenteeism – at least of an in-person variety.

We no longer hold “normal” office hours – these have been radically extended. We no longer receive students knocking on our office doors outside of these office hours. We no longer have pigeon-holes to check. We no longer serendipitously bump into colleagues in corridors or at water-coolers or are invigorated by these chance encounters for inspiring new ideas. We no longer meet for coffee. We no longer dodge the gaze of colleagues whose requests we haven’t (yet) met.

Coping with loss

We are counting the cost of being shut away and cut off from our colleagues, cut off from our students and cut off from our scholarly homes. We are suffering from nostalgia. We are missing weekly seminars. We are missing (cancelled) conferences and the rigours of academic travel on a budget. We are missing fieldwork.

We are feeling anxious and conspicuous about what we think we are not doing and/or what we could be doing. Our administrative load has become gargantuan. Our research has ground to a halt – yet so too some of its technologies of governance. We are worried that we’ll be left behind. We are worried that our universities and their leaders may not care given the potential financial impact on the sector.

What about students?

We are concerned about our students. We are especially concerned for our international students and those locked-in to halls-of-residence and single-room dwellings. We are worried that they are severely lonely, thousands of miles away from their friends and families. We are worried that they are with each passing day increasingly vulnerable. We are worried about their mental health. We are concerned about how well we can attend to their pastoral needs. We are feeling the strain of their demands. We are suffering from being always on call. We are struggling with digital fatigue. We are worried about our own mental health. Our work-life balance has collapsed.

We are concerned about our colleagues. We are concerned about our children, families, neighbours and friends. We are contending with daily reports of death, presented as the showpiece headline news. People we know are ill and have died. We are dealing with grief. We are dealing with uncertainty. We don’t know what new horror tomorrow will bring.

We are scared about our jobs and that we will lose good colleagues. We are scared the job-market will bottom-out and any prospect of new starters has vanished indefinitely. We worry for the future of our doctoral students and those at the start of their academic careers. We are nervous that our students won’t return and with them new faces – especially from international climes – though we hope that recession will stimulate new demand. We wonder whether the education we are able to offer will still be wanted and whether students or funders will still pay. We fear our programmes will be pruned or closed, our departments shut down, and that some institutions may not survive. We are even more alert to market competition. We are deeply uneasy about the challenge presented by private – and potentially more technologically adept – higher education providers.

We are increasingly frustrated about what we can’t do. We are struggling in our efforts to compensate for physical distance with digital connectivity. We are overwhelmed by a sense of ill-preparation. We are far from confident in our knowledge of and ability to effectively operate as pedagogues in a digital space. We are worried that this will impact how our students think of us. We are concerned that student evaluations will turn sour. We are worried that our ratings will nose-dive. We are worried that our performance will be challenged.

Teaching

We feel like we’re no longer really teaching. We are anxious that our students are becoming disengaged with “emergency remote teaching”. We’re concerned that many of our non-traditional students will drop out. We are especially frustrated about the limitations of bandwidth and of the failings or inadequacies of our technological infrastructure that hinder our efforts to carry on as normal, which may be no bad thing. This is not normal. We are beginning to accept this is not normal. We recognise that things may not go back to being ‘normal’ for some time, if ever.

But beyond this we no longer feel quite so much policed. The intensity of a surveillance spotlight seems to have dimmed – if only just a little and regrettably not for all. We have at least somewhat slipped the radar. There are growing displays of kindness among colleagues.

We are (re)discovering collegiality and virtual coffee meetings. We are accepting of chaos, including the unanticipated interruption of family members – human and other – to our digital discussions. We are rethinking our priorities. We are embracing humility. We are focusing on what really counts. We are allowing ourselves to be more than just academics. So too are at least some of our institutions.

We are thankful for technology. We recognise its affordances and opportunities. We acknowledge its role in our society, culture and economy, and especially in our futures, even if we remain acutely wary and sceptical of plans for its overhaul of our teaching and assessment.

Yet, ultimately, we, a global academic community, remain relevant and must defend ourselves as such. We should resist immobilisation by doubt and doom-mongering despite the inclemency of current forecasts. Our students nevermore so need us – our communities too. The world in untold ways is reliant on academics to step up – and not only in the acquisition of an antidote. For all the existential panic, we are far from at an end.

A career change and new perspectives: spotlight on studying for a PGCE at the School of Education

Today’s blog features Georgia Adsett, current PGCE student at the School of Education. Georgia offers some insight on what made her want to change careers and train to be a teacher, and why she chose the School of Education to continue her postgraduate study.

Hi, I’m Georgia, I’ve lived in Bristol for a few years, previously working in Advertising and Marketing strategy roles before commencing the PGCE. I completed my joint honours degree in BA English and French at the Uni of Southampton which allowed me to live in France for a year and make the most of all the good grub! I spend most of my free time doing art, yoga, cooking and catching up on good books and films. My favourite word is kerfuffle. My worst nightmare would be potholing. I like people with memorable laughs and a cool sense of style. I asked my housemates to describe me in three words, they said: creative, personable and sparky… apparently.

It was a bit of a leap of faith deciding to train to be a teacher, coming from a different career. I was ultimately looking for a role that allowed me to blend my creative skills and subject interests with pastoral and leadership responsibilities. I’ve always been strong at presenting and wanted a more dynamic role than an office job sat in front of a screen all day. It was a values-based decision too, something that I felt was really worth investing time and energy into.

The course at the School of Education has a fantastic reputation and I spoke to people who had previously undertaken the PGCE at Bristol – they said the quality of training was really robust and that University tutor support was excellent, particularly in English.

I got a good vibe from the interview day and it just felt like the right fit for me. It’s worth mentioning that I researched both the course structure and school placements to suss out the areas I would potentially be placed in. I have lived in Bristol for a while and am planning to stay here for my NQT year, so getting experience in local schools was important for me, as was making sure travel to placements was realistic. The location of the campus was a bonus – there’s so much on the doorstep which our cohort made the most of!

During my course, I was placed in two contrasting schools in Bristol, one state and one private. I can’t speak highly enough of both of my associate tutors and the wider departmental teams I worked with. I felt supported and encouraged the whole way through, building confidence and professional aptitude as a teacher. The PGCE is full on and very demanding, but both the Uni and school placements took wellbeing very seriously and gave me practical, supportive advice. Having the opportunity to experience very different school environments was really interesting and there were benefits and drawbacks to each. I liked both of my placements for different reasons and it’s given me lots to think about while applying for NQT roles.

Looking towards when I complete my PGCE; well, immediately after finishing I’ll probably celebrate with a prosecco or two, as it’ll be a huge milestone and massive achievement! I have started applying to NQT jobs in the Bristol area so watch this space… I was hoping to go travelling around France for a bit this summer, but Covid19 happened so it’s not looking likely. Maybe next year…

If I had to give any advice or tips for people who are thinking about undertaking a PGCE, I would say there’s a lot of hysteria surrounding teaching and work/life balance which was an initial worry for me. I went into the year being determined to ensure I had some time for myself, time for exercise and to see mates – (you need it to stay sane and energised!) Being practical and putting things into perspective was hugely important. I worked hard but also looked after myself.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a big change from my previous career and I was open-minded and willing to see where it would take me. You achieve so much throughout the year and will grow personally off the back of the experience, with skills that will set you up for life.

Day to day, it’s lovely feeling like you’re making a difference for the students and honestly work can be hilarious – you’ll get some cracking anecdotes! I think, weirdly enough, the PGCE has made me chill out and get a really good sense of perspective about what’s important in life, so if that resonates then I’d say go for it! Do your research, talk to people, go into it with an open mind, be willing to work hard and be flexible to face what’s thrown your way.  You’ll come out the other side wondering how on earth you did it, but you’ll be a bloody good teacher for it! Good luck future candidates!


Don’t forget to sign up for our Virtual Event on Tues 5th May 2020 from 1pm-2pm, where our online live Q&A sessions are your chance to find out more about taught postgraduate study at Bristol. Each event will be hosted by academics, support services experts, and current postgraduate students working in your subject area.

If you would like to find out more about any of our Initial Teacher Education (Teacher Training) opportunities, please visit our website where you will find loads of information on courses, requirements, placements, and more.

Alone together? Digital inequalities and the 2020 student experience of higher education

Dr Sue Timmis: Co-Director –  Centre for Knowledge, Culture and Society, School of Education, University of Bristol

Alone Together was written by Sherry Turkle (2011), a digital ethnographer, and explores how technology is helping to shape what it means to be human. It makes a rather one-sided claim that technology is replacing social interaction and human contact.  Writing in the midst of an unprecedented world pandemic, nothing seems further from the truth.  The need for social interaction is increasing and many of us are seeking ways to exploit technology to achieve this.

Here in the UK, online pub quizzes, choir renditions and online exercise classes replace familiar social routines with necessary, albeit clunky, digital alternatives. Meanwhile in universities and colleges in higher education, regular classes have been replaced with online teaching and resources, hastily assembled by tired and stressed academics and academic developers, trying to juggle family life and online development.  No longer is this a choice to be debated, or resisted, the digital university is here, and staff and students must make it work as best they can.

A great deal has been said and written in the last few weeks about moving to online teaching and how universities and their teaching, development and support staff need to adapt to these changes. There have also been many media contributions speculating on whether the move to online teaching will finally bring about the over-hyped ‘digital revolution’ in higher education and whether technology will, indeed, save us- see for example in the Times Higher Education, 12th March 2020 – Will the coronavirus make online education go viral? (Lau et al., 2020).

These recent articles, tweets, blogs and news items that I have been reading highlight the need for supportive and meaningful pedagogies, staff training and support. In some cases they highlight existing inequalities that are being reinforced through the current crisis. Students are referred to but are rarely at the centre of the concerns being raised. In this article, I want to reflect on students and their experiences undergoing the changes. In particular, I will focus on digital inequalities and the possible consequences for students.

Writing from the UK, I am reflecting on the feeling that we are all in this together whilst recognising that huge differences in experience persist both within and between different country contexts, largely driven by existing inequalities.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that Covid-19 is exacerbating inequalities as well as creating new ones and that the poorest in society will be most affected.  Working, as I have been lucky enough to do in the last few years, with students and academic colleagues in South Africa on the SARiHE project (www.sarihe.org.za) has taught me a great deal about the challenges faced by students applying for and entering higher education from rural contexts in South Africa, where digital divides are stark and access to both infrastructure and connectivity are often severely limited (Chothia, 2017).

In his recent article in University World News on the challenges of Covid-19 for Higher Education across the African continent, Goolam Mohamedbhai highlights how digital divides mirror other inequalities and urban-rural divides: ‘between those countries that have better ICT infrastructure than others; between higher education institutions within the same country, with some being far better equipped and experienced than others; and between students within the same institution – the rich who live in urban areas and the poor in rural areas who can barely afford to access the internet, when and if it is available’.  Clearly, there are digital divides in many countries and communities and amongst student populations, so universities must take a lead on identifying where these exist and how they can be addressed.

However, digital inequalities are not just a matter of ICT access and technological infrastructure, important as these are. Students from rural communities in our study, reported on the difficulties of decoding the university systems they encountered when they arrived since their prior access to technology in schools and at home had been very limited (Timmis & Muhuro, 2019). In the current pandemic crisis, where students, including those in their first year, will be expected to work remotely from home, there are real risks of some being denied opportunities to study. Not only are there a great many access issues, especially for those who live in remote areas, but equally if the systems and processes adopted by universities are too opaque or technocratic, these reinforce the gap between institutional requirements and university students’ own digital literacy practices using mobile phones (Czerniewicz & Brown, 2014; Kajee & Balfour, 2011). Whilst this may be more critical for those in remote areas, to an extent, this is potentially the case for any student.

Digital inequalities are also spatial, social and cultural. Working online (as many of us are finding out) is an immensely social experience, be it positively or negatively so. If you cannot participate alongside your fellow students in an online zoom class because you don’t have access to the Internet, for example, how does that limit both your educational and your social opportunities?

If students experiencing digital inequalities are denied social experiences as well, how could these limitations be mitigated? Student co-researchers, in our study, emphasised that being at university is as much a social as an educational experience and that supporting each other was often critical to success (Timmis et al., 2019). This is perhaps even more the case, when you are remote from your peers. Furthermore working online multimodally brings our own homes and social worlds visibly into the academic world (and vice versa). We can see into each other’s homes and family contexts and that may make it difficult or uncomfortable for those who do not have dedicated or quiet space set aside and for families who must accommodate academic interventions in their lives. Mgengi-Gweva (2020) and Rowe (2020) both writing their own recent articles for Heltasa reflect on some of these spatial and cultural challenges and the need for universities to take account of home contexts in their online learning course designs.

A recent University World News report highlights the on-going negotiations with telecommunications companies in South Africa to enable zero rated Internet access for higher education institutions and therefore give students cost free access to university websites and resources remotely (Dell, 2020). This seems a welcome development but won’t address the social, cultural and spatial inequalities highlighted above. Working alongside student co-researchers on the SARiHE project we also learned that students can and want to participate in making changes that will benefit everyone so I wonder if we are consulting students enough in the development of the new spaces, challenges and opportunities of higher education?

Are there ways that they could be enabled and encouraged to support each other more actively using their own social networks alongside university online classes and activities? SARiHE co-researchers also highlighted the importance of church and community leaders in rural communities. In what ways could local partners such as these help in, for example, developing remote study centres to support both distributed social and digital infrastructures?

I recognise that in Southern Africa, many of the issues raised here (and others no doubt) are likely to be well rehearsed and acknowledged. My own reading of the situation in the UK is that we are grappling with similar issues and whilst the inequalities are different, they still exist. It is important at this time to share ideas and raise concerns as much as we can, whilst recognising that local and national contexts need to be considered. Returning to Turkle’s notion of  ‘Alone Together’, perhaps the alternative ‘Together Apart’ could become a guiding principle within and across institutions. Developing a dialogue where we can learn from each other at this pivotal moment might also contribute to the long overdue reform of global north-south relations and the dominance of Western knowledge in favour of the co-creation of new knowledges and actions.

Acknowledgements
Sue would like to thank her fellow researchers from the SARiHE project – Sheila Trahar, Patricia Muhuro, Lisa Lucas, Gina Wisker and Emmanuel Mgqwashu for very helpful comments on an earlier draft.

The original article can be found on HELTASA  

Transitioning to online teaching: a few reflections to consider

Blog by Carolina Valladares Celis School of Education

In one way or another, most lecturers and teaching assistants at the School of Education are already familiarised with the use of technologies to support our teaching. For instance, Blackboard is regularly used to upload resources for students – either to prep before class or to communicate and reflect afterwards. Using technology to deliver our teaching, though, is a different matter. Although the transition to online teaching delivery may sound intimidating at first glance, we should be able to see this process as manageable and feasible. Here, I share some reflections and suggestions that might be useful in this process:

  • Changes take time. With so many changes happening around us, having to deliver our teaching through new means may be overwhelming. To simplify this process, it would be important to understand that having to learn a brand-new set of skills to deliver our teaching is not necessarily expected now and that it is ok to use software and platforms we already know. Changes take time. Therefore, subtle, rather than a disruptive alteration of our teaching is likely and expected to occur. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, we need training and time that was not previously considered in our agendas and that we cannot just simply take from nowhere. Secondly, students, as much as staff members, might be unfamiliar to new platforms or tools that are likely to be introduced to them in different units. Hence, maintaining consistency with our previous channels of communication with students might be a sensible solution for effective teaching.

 

  • Adjust your expectations. Expectations for students should also be sensible. We need to understand that the new conditions emerging from the health contingency may interfere with their engagement with their studies. New time differences, caring responsibilities, mental health issues or lack of adequate facilities to study from home could negatively affect their motivation, availability and engagement. Under these new circumstances, we should adjust our expectations and do our best to provide them with equal opportunities to engage with the class. Synchronous or asynchronous communications might be preferable depending on the circumstances faced by our students and on the purpose of the activities.

 

  • Exploring possibilities. Whenever we feel prepared to further explore platforms we already use (or even new ones), asking for advice from colleagues is always a good idea. If you think you may need advice, do not be afraid of asking; feel proud of your endurance. If you are asked for suggestions, be kind and supportive; show your empathy and responsiveness. Self-exploring new platforms and software on the web is another excellent way to pursue independent training, here are some suggestions of digital resources to support your teaching:

 

Tools for synchronous communications

    • Videoconferencing: Depending on the size and purpose of your online meetings, webinar or video-calls could be useful for you to offer live communication with your students. Blackboard Collaborate, Blue Jeans, Skype for Business and Webex are paid platforms by the University of Bristol that can assist you for these kinds of meetings. Other options such as Zoom or Google Hangouts are not part of the University paid subscriptions, but might be worth having a look at them.

 

Asynchronous communication

    • Narrated slideshows: can help to deliver your teaching although they don’t allow bidirectional communication with your students
    • Blackboard discussion boards and wikis: can support communication with your student as well as collaboration among them
    • Padlet: can foster collaboration through different templates for discussion.
    • OneDrive: can help with the delivery of products for formative assessment or for collaboration among students.

Of course, there are many other resources and tools out there for you to use and explore. Asking colleagues or searching on your own might be the best way for you to explore possibilities. Just remember that transiting to online will require time and that your expectations should be adapted according to the new circumstances. Finally, remember that none of the new means you will use for delivering your teaching online is capable of substituting or offering the same kinds or degree of interactions. Online and face to face teaching are qualitatively different.

Carolina is a PhD candidate at the School of Education. Her research interests are related to the pedagogical use of technologies in education. She has teaching experience in Mexico and the UK in various educational levels including primary, upper secondary and higher education. Follow on Twitter:  @C__Valladares

Reacting to Covid-19 by slashing fixed-term staff would be a disaster

This article was originally published by THE. Read the original article here: Reacting to Covid-19 by slashing fixed-term staff would be a disaster

The government must guarantee the sustainability of universities, say Richard WatermeyerAline Courtois and Hugh Lauder

For many, the challenge is to manage the dual responsibility of caring for dependants while also accommodating their students’ academic and emotional needs – in a work culture already creaking under the weight of hyper-intensification. At the same time, many are contending with the ill-preparedness of their institutions’ – and, indeed, their nations’ – structures for professional life via broadband. This is as true for professional service staff as it is for academics (although other security, catering and accommodation staff remain diligently on campus despite the patent risk to their health).

Many will reflect that universities are far from the worst-off sector of society. Despite obvious frustrations and limitations, university staff are at least able to continue to work despite the physical closure of university premises. They have not lost their employment. They still enjoy an income – at least for now.

Concerns, however, are beginning to circulate about the long-term sustainability of universities. If the lockdowns endure, how will they be able to recruit students whose tuition may not easily, if at all, be accommodated online – let alone the international students who bankroll many institutions. The ability of universities to then absorb what may be a large income gap is less than assured. The support of governments certainly isn’t guaranteed either given that they are already committed to vast spending in response to the economic assault of Covid-19.

In the UK, chatter now abounds, especially on social media, that the sector is facing its greatest crisis yet, and that many smaller, less well-established or already financially struggling institutions will collapse. Whispers are also emerging from some universities of plans for significant staff cuts. If true, the precarity already faced by so many members of the UK university community may be about to expand greatly.

Indeed, there is already emerging evidence that universities are not renewing the contracts of fixed-term workers, as one substantial cost-saving initiative. On Thursday, for instance, it emerged that three UK universities are laying off people on fixed-term contracts.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there are roughly 70,000 members of academic staff on fixed-term contracts, accounting for 34 per cent of all academic staff. The University and College Union puts that figure at more like 50 per cent. The numbers are smaller for professional service staff, but, at 34,000, they still amount to 32 per cent of the total. As many might expect, there is also a gender angle, with women being most concentrated in precarious roles.

A further concern is that these figures fail to account for all those working in universities. Individuals with casual or atypical employment status, such as those on zero-hour contracts or agency workers, are typically not represented.

The impact of job cuts on such a vast scale would be enormous. Not only would about 100,000 highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals be out of a job, those “lucky” enough to remain would be placed under intolerable pressure to compensate for their absent colleagues. This would surely precipitate mass industrial action, effectively causing the total cessation of all activity. The consequences for teaching and research would be catastrophic. The wider economic and social implications would be untold.

But this bleak prognosis need not come to pass. Universities need not be so mercenary in their approach to future-proofing. They certainly don’t need to use Covid-19 as a convenient excuse for cost-cutting strategies they had in mind anyway. They could – and some will – seek more humane ways to maintain their economic viability: ways that might also reverse the dissipation of trust in university leadership.

The ball is also in governments’ and regulators’ court. If they are truly committed to ensuring that sustainable industries and universities emerge from the upheaval caused by the pandemic, there are several economic strategies they might employ.

In the UK’s case, the reimposition of a cap on student numbers may well be one way to stabilise the higher education marketplace and avoid seeing some institutions go to the wall. But such a relatively mild measure will do little to reassure those whose livelihoods now hang in the balance. More, surely, will be needed if the worst-case scenario is to be avoided.

Richard Watermeyer is professor of higher education at the University of Bristol. Aline Courtois is lecturer in education, and Hugh Lauder is professor of education and political economy, both at the University of Bath.

The impacts of Covid-19 on basic education: How can Ghana respond, cope, and plan for recovery?

Author and teacher Kenneth GyamerahBlog post by Kenneth Gyamerah, Professional Teacher and Development Consultant. MSc in Education (Policy and International Development) from the School of Education,  University of Bristol. Kenneth is a Chevening Scholar and a Global Youth Ambassador for Education.

 

With the global attention on the health implications, it is worth highlighting that the Coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented immediate global education emergency (Srivastava 2020). Taking some key learning experiences from disease outbreaks such as Ebola and SARS, it is apparent that the impact of COVID-19 on education will be critical for countries that have low economic resilience, inadequate technological infrastructure, limited budget for education , and high rates of dropouts.

Currently, many children and young adults are out of school because of school closures in response to Coronavirus. According to UNESCO monitoring report, 165 countries have implemented nationwide closures, affecting more than two-thirds of the world’s student population. They estimate that nearly 1.5 billion children and youth are currently out of school due to the closures. Srivastava (2020) indicates that there are 1.91 billion children and youth aged between 5 and 19 in school, which implies that at minimum, the education of 85% of the global population of students in primary, secondary and university/colleges will be affected (UNESCO 2020).

mapshowing global monitoring of school closures caused by covid 19

Source: UNESCO

The Global Response

Since mid-March, many international organizations, non-state actors, philanthropists and CSOs have responded to the impacts of Coronavirus on education. For instance, World Bank recently established a special COVID-19 education task force to support countries to respond and cope with the educational disruptions caused by the pandemic. In furtherance to that, the Bank made available, $14billion to assist affected countries to prevent, detect and respond to the situation. However, we are not sure whether a proportion of the funds will go directly into financing education in emergencies.

UNESCO has launched Global COVID-19 Education Coalition that aims to mobilize multilateral organisations and development partners, including the private sector to assist in installing remote learning systems to affected countries, in order to lessen the educational disruptions and maintain social contact with students. Also, they are working with Ministries of Education in affected countries to ensure continued learning for all children and youth through alternative education delivery. Moreover, WHO, UNICEF and the International Red Cross Society have provided guidelines to help protect at risk and vulnerable children (Srivastava 2020). The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has also proposed $8.8 million to support partner countries affected by the pandemic.

 The Ghanaian Context

In response to COVID-19, there is country-wide school closures in Ghana. Data from UNESCO shows there are 9,696,756 children and youth currently out of school in Ghana due to coronavirus. Of this number, 1,852,028 are in Pre-primary, 4,549,875 are in Primary, 2,851,160 are in Junior High School (JHS) and Senior High School (SHS) and 443,693 are students in the tertiary institutions.

Some challenges

As a short-term measure, shutting down schools in this pandemic situation will encourage learners to stay at home, practice social distancing and protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus. However, if the closure is prolonged, it will intensify the existing inequities in education. Some of these inequities include the lack of digital resources needed for online/alternative education, inadequate support for minority and at risk learners, and the lack of resources for teachers to tackle the most challenging classrooms needs, etc.

In Ghana, many students may not take part in distance learning programmes because they don’t have access to internet, electricity and digital devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers.

This situation will leave many students behind their peers from privileged backgrounds who have access to digital resources and are able to receive learning support from their parents. Consequently, some disadvantaged students who will not benefit from any form of learning or support are also likely to lose the social interactions that naturally come from the close contact they have established with their classmates and teachers for a long time. For majority of learners, it is the school that provides a conducive space for them to socialise, develop socio-emotional competence and other vital interpersonal skills. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has argued that in managing this pandemic, the success of many disadvantaged groups of students will critically depend on their ability to maintain close relationships with their teachers and classmates.

The closures will impact girls’ education. Schools provide a safe and conducive environment for many children especially girls and young women who live in conflict affected contexts. Evidence from UNICEF and Save the Children revealed that in fragile and conflict affected areas, schools have been used as a protective space for millions of children. Alternative education interventions such as the Peace Building Education and Advocacy (PBEA) and the Safe Schools projects have provided a friendly space for many marginalized children who live conflict settings. However, due to the disruptions in education, some vulnerable groups, especially teen girls, may suffer from abuse and sexual exploitation.

Evidence from the Ebola epidemic showed that exploitation of girls increased during long period of school closures. For instance, the Children’s Ebola Assessment Recovery report, published in 2015 by Save the Children, revealed a high rate of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation and early marriages in Sierra Leone. In the Ghanaian context, teenage pregnancy, early/forced marriages and gender-based violence are likely to increase in some of the underserved communities.

Additionally, the closure will disrupt educational activities.

Without any form of alternative education interventions, the academic calendar will be severely affected which may put pressure on teachers as they try to cover the time lost due to coronavirus. This may require the Ministry of Education (MOE) to come up with concrete programmes of how they can support teachers to reach out to the over 9 million students who are not in school. Due to the nationwide school shutdown, the West African Examination Council (WAEC) postponed the Basic Education Examinations Certificate (BECE) and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). These are the only two national examinations that serve as entry requirement for admission into SHS and the tertiary institutions respectively. In this case, should the shutdown extend to 2-3 months, it will affect the future of education of over 800,000 final year students.

Some possible solutions

Keep learning in progress using audio and visual channels. Government could explore alternative learning as a short term response. The MOE could leverage both audio and visual modes of learning by taking advantage of television and community radio to mitigate educational disruption due coronavirus. In recent times, many parts of Ghana have received wide radio and TV transmissions. In Ghana, low tech solutions such as TV and community radio are viable, cost effective and have a wider reach. In the late 2000s, the President’s special initiative on distance education provided opportunities for many learners to learn via radio and TV broadcasts. The MOE and Ghana Health Service (GHS) could use these approaches to broadcast public health education on the coronavirus specifically targeting students. The recorded lessons could focus on the preventative and protective measures of the coronavirus.

This will intensify the government’s public health advocacy about COVID-19. Aside from the health education programme, the MOE could mobilise some experience teachers to record video and audio lessons that is structured and aligned with the teaching syllabus. These recorded lessons of the core and selected elective subjects could be delivered on Ghana Television (GTV) and all the community radio stations at the district level. In addition to the audio and visual lessons, learners could be given the chance to text and call their teachers, ask questions and receive immediate feedback. This form of intervention could be structured in a way that meets the diverse needs of communities. Translations of lessons in the different Ghanaian languages may also be an added advantage for pre-primary and primary school students who may not understand English language.

To ensure that learning never stops, I believe teachers and school leaders should be supported with key resources to help them reach their students with or without technology. Also, teachers will play a pivotal role during the recovery stage. Therefore for learning to continue, they should be part of the all steps that government is taking in planning and responding to COVID-19.

Prioritise cost effective online teaching. In emergencies, online/digital lessons are most preferred option in developed countries. While acknowledging the limitations of internet connectivity in Sub-Sahara Africa, it is worth revealing that Ghana has made tremendous progress with internet connectivity. Evidence from Statista shows there are 40.93 million mobile subscriptions in Ghana. Also, the 2018 annual report by Global Digital Services and Hootsuite revealed over 10 million Ghanaians use the internet. Of this number of mobile phone subscribers, they revealed 39% use WhatsApp. The data provides a possibility for policy actors to explore digital learning in schools. Although, technology based education have many benefits, school leaders need to be mindful that they could amplify the existing inequalities if the interventions/solutions do not centre on the teacher, the local community, the diverse needs of the learner and the available technology. Therefore, to successfully benefit from online education, government should not adopt technological programmes that may not address the diverse needs of students.

Moreover, policymakers should explore the opportunities and challenges at the district and school levels because every district and school have their unique needs. Therefore, a low-tech solution might offer many benefits to learners because they are cost effective, easily accessible and user friendly. For instance, offline versions of the online resources could be designed for learners in communities where there is limited internet connectivity. Also, in trying to find solutions, policymakers could draw lessons from others who are already implementing online education in Ghana. For instance, Ashesi University – a leading private institution in Ghana is using canvas to share recorded lectures, lecture notes and assignments to their students. In addition to that the university provides 10Gb monthly data package for all their students.

Strategic collaboration and partnerships. The state is the principal custodian to defend the rights to education (UNESCO 2015; Srivastava 2020). Education delivery is the responsibility of government, but it is obvious that MOE doesn’t have the capacity to deliver all these responsibilities. In managing crisis, public-private partnership is very essential. The Ministry of Communications, tech companies and telecom industries can support government to build digital resources in schools and communities. As a short term measure, the telecom companies in Ghana can waive the cost of data specially for students to have free access to all digital learning platforms. In addition some proportion of the COVID-19 fund that has been set up by the government could go into responding to and financing education in emergencies.

 Conclusion

Globally, COVID-19 has exposed some gaps in the educational system. As a result, policymakers should use this period to reflect and respond. I believe that schools leadership and the educational systems will be evaluated by how they respond, cope and recover from the current disruptions caused by the coronavirus. These recommendations are not conclusive, but they are suggestions based on my personal reflections as a practitioner.

Bibliography

Azzi-Huck.,Shmis, T. (2020) Managing the impact of COVID-19 on education systems around the world: How countries are preparing, coping, and planning for recovery. Accessed on 20/03/2020 https://bit.ly/2UdFvDe

Save the children (2015). Children’s Ebola assessment recovery. Accessed on March 24, 2020 https://bit.ly/39gOtEj

Srivastava, P. (2020) COVID-19 and the Global Education Emergency. Accessed on 18/03/2020 https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/covid-19-and-the-global-education-emergency/

UNESCO (2020) COVID-19 impact on education. Accessed on 23/03/2020 https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures

 About the author

Kenneth Gyamerah is a Professional Teacher and Development Consultant. He has an MSc in Education

(Policy and International Development) from the University of Bristol. Kenneth is a Chevening Scholar and a Global Youth Ambassador for Education.

Twitter: @kennethgyamera

 

 

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