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.
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.
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.
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.
LinkedIn: Kenneth Gyamerah