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)
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 organizations 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.
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 programs 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 socialize, 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:
Governments could explore alternative learning as a short term response. The MOE could leverage both audio and visual mode 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 mobilize 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.
Prioritize 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.
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.
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 a Masters in Education
(Policy and International Development) from the University of Bristol.
Kenneth is a Chevening Scholar and a Global Youth Ambassador for Education.
Connect with him on Twitter: @kennethgyamera