FEATURE: GHANA’S VIRTUAL LEARNING DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC EXCLUDES THE UNDER-PRIVILEGED

By: John Zadagli, Ghana.

“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated”. – Nelson Mandela

Formal Education is a very important means of growth and development of any country; for it provides the needed human capital for the country’s growth and progress. In other words, it equips the citizens with the necessary skills to function effectively by improving the economic development and productivity as well as helping the citizenry to actively participate in the decision making processes of the country.

Indeed “he who controls the education of the young, controls the future of the nation”. Governments the world over, recognize the significance of formal education therefore they play the biggest roles in it. They are big stake holders in the educational sector of their various countries. They ensure that formal education becomes one of their major priorities so much so that their schools and centres of learning become the breeding grounds for the best brains for future generations. The rise of online learning during this era of Covid-19 pandemic has even enhanced their educational system for a long time to come.

The World Economic Forum reports that schools the world over have been shut and over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, teaching and learning are “undertaken remotely on digital platforms. Research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information, and take less time, meaning the changes coronavirus have caused might be here to stay.”

How wonderful!! The new educational system and the standards that come with it with regards to online learning at these times appear to have perfected teaching and learning in some parts of the world – the developed world. Unfortunately, the same testimony cannot be given about this new trend in the third world countries in Africa, like Ghana. Well, let me be fair to say, to a some extent,  it is working quite smoothly in the capital cities of Africa where there is internet connectivity.

For instance, in Ghana, Accra and the other 15 Regional Capitals which are the homes of telecommunication giants MTN, Vodafone, Airtel-Tigo and Glo, this new educational phenomenon is the new reality for residents. But the schools and the students who are located outside the 16 Regional Capitals do not enjoy these new educational benefits to the fullest and or even not at all.

The government of Ghana, like other global governments, has shut down all schools in the country and has gone ahead to implement online learning. But it is laughable.

I am not against the online learning, it is a very good initiative the government has put in place to equip students with skills and to keep them learning at all times. Nevertheless, this new policy is so rushed that the needs of students living outside the cities and big towns are not put into consideration. How could a student living in Lolobi or Santrokofi in the Oti Region (where access to the internet connectivity or satellite TV is so difficult) share in the knowledge provided via the internet or TV? How could students and pupils (living in Kute or Leklebi) who do not have smart phones or Personal Computers  enjoy the benefits online learning?

The Educational Ministry argues that, online Learning is available on National Television, thus the Ghana Learning  TV (GL TV) platform. Perfect, but GL TV can only be accessed on Digital Channels StarTimes, GOtv and DStv platforms. It is not on the free to air channels. That means that the learning programmes on GL TV is not available to students living in the remote areas.

Another argument put forward is that, the educational videos could be streamed on the internet via platforms like YouTube, Zoom, Google Classroom and on WhatsApp. But how many parents (illiterate, farmers and very poor) of pupils and students in the primary, Junior and Senior High Schools living outside the cities can afford internet services for their children to stream or download the educational videos? Ghanaian non-tertiary students are even banned from using mobile phones!!!

Ghana is made up of three classes of people: The High Class (Politicians, Lawyers, Merchants etc), The Middle Class (Mostly Civil Servants, who are employed by the Government – thus those of them working in the Ministries and Departments as well as those who work in the Government Services; Ghana Education Service, Ghana Police Service, Ghana Judicial Service, The Immigration Service etc) and The Low Class (Artisans, Farmers and Petty Traders). Children of the High Class receive education in Europe or from the International Schools in the cities of the country. In fact, a chunk of the pupils and students at all the levels of education in the country come from The Middle and Low Classes.  Parents of these students who belong to the Low Class either earn very meagre salaries or they are petty traders or artisans or plainly jobless. They live in the suburbs of the cities and in rural Ghana where they do not enjoy constant electricity and suitable internet connectivity. The provisions made for the online learning failed to consider the needs of these classes of people. That is how unfair it has become. The questions to ask are; Are they not Ghanaians too? Do they not vote during elections whatsoever? Do they not have rights to education etcetera?

In the tertiary institutions, there are students, like me, who look after themselves in school. This means that, these students pay their own school fees, buy their own textbooks, pay for their accommodation, feed themselves and so on. What’s more, majority of such students, do not live in the cities. When the schools were shut down, they returned to the village and “wait until further notice.” Meanwhile, their colleagues, who are living in the cities and the bigger towns where there is access to internet connectivity, are enjoying lectures online and are writing quizzes etc. This has become a big source of worry because these students in the suburbs and the rural areas (me inclusive) are lagging behind and when school resumes, they are either going to have a hard time catching up with their colleagues or simply defer their courses – which is costly.

The telecommunication companies in the country are making a lot of money out of this pandemic through the sale of data and mobile money services. The government should consider tasking them to make special provisions for students living in the rural areas. They could distribute tablets or smart phones designed for educational purposes to the students living in these areas, or extend their good services to those areas.

A Ghanaian axiom (translated into English) of the Ewe people says that “We must dance according to the rhythm of the drum in modernization.” In other words, we must adapt to changes that occur unexpectedly and make the best out of them.

Ghana’s students are in a crisis. The Educational Authorities must take a second look at the provisions they have made for students with regards to online learning. It is true the government cannot solve all the educational problems at a go but the objective of the online learning and education must be to designed to meet the needs of all students living everywhere in the country. If the national resources for online learning are not adequate and would be of disadvantage to people living outside the Capital cities, then it should be reconsidered.

African-American Civil Rights activist and Baptist Minister, Dr. Martin Luther Jr., deftly managed to drive home his argument in a similar circumstance in America way back in  the late 60s and said “It may well be that Black Power and riots are the consequences of white backlash rather than cause them…in the final analysis a riot is the language of the unheard.” 

Let’s have a second look at the online learning.

John zadagli, the author

is a student of

St. Francis College of Education, Hohoe.                                

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