April 30, 2020
DreamOval Foundation investigates access to formal education amidst COVID-19-enforced closure of schools
As the world continues to count the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, running stories of stretched health systems and empty streets are commonplace. The scaling back of non-essential services across the world is a drag on business productivity and is projected to set the global economy back several years. In Ghana, all “physical” schools have closed down as part of the national response. With most families forced to home-school, there is a lingering question: Does this imply a levelling of access to education? A DreamOval Foundation snap study provides some answers.
Ghana currently operates the 2-6-3-3-4-year education system, comprising kindergarten, primary, Junior High School, Senior High School and tertiary education. Children with special needs are catered for in special schools or are mainstreamed in appropriately equipped schools. Apprenticeships and TVAET (Technical, Vocational and Agricultural Education and Training) widely attracts persons who have fallen off the formal education track; whereas the government’s National Functional Literacy Programme provides literacy classes for reducing the English language illiteracy rate among others. All the above tracks lead to a comprehensive educational system – one designed to enable people to reach their full potential.
Under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ghana is seeking to ‘reach the furthest behind first’. It is a renewed effort to leave no one behind in the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG Stocktake in Ghana report (April 2018) points to a “quiet crisis in the quality of public pre-primary and primary education”, assessed to be the two most critical stages for improving equity. Among others, the report confirms a clear “public-private crossroads” whereby families with the means to do so send their children to private school for their pre- Senior High School education and then shift to the better-quality public Senior High school system. It indicates that “while Ghana continues to maintain impressive overall public education expenditure surpassing the international benchmark, the country is increasingly shifting this towards the secondary and tertiary sectors. The report notes that funding per pupil at primary and kindergarten levels – the fundamental basis for equity across the system has flatlined, while secondary school funding has risen rapidly.
In the past few weeks, school activities have been suspended, with some being earmarked as COVID-19 isolation centres. With the enforced restrictions, there are measures to ensure the prevailing health crisis doesn’t become an educational crisis.
DreamOval Foundation investigated the state of pre- Senior High School education in this period of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Foundation engaged kindergarten, primary and Junior High School students across multiple schools from 17-19 April 2020. It is an end-user study, as such the target respondents were primarily students, sometimes, with the guidance of parents and designated caregivers. The main findings are outlined below.
The study found that schools were largely unprepared for the abrupt break in the school calendar. As a result, tangible planning with students, parents/guardians were carried out post-closure. Although it was approaching the end of the pre- Senior High School term, the break represented a major setback in the educational cycle, with last-mile studies, end-of-term assessments and preparations for vacation and the ensuing term left hanging.
On the notion of safety over education, most students and parents found it to be a false choice. They identified non-traditional means of learning outside the physical walls of a classroom.
Sensing an indefinite break in school activities, some schools, particularly public ones, literally saddled students with a bag-load of assignments to keep them occupied at home. However, some are utilising online learning platforms like Google Classroom and Zoom to deliver fresh content. By far, the most dominant use of technology is the circulation of periodic assignments on parent-teacher/student instant messaging group platforms, such as WhatsApp.
The study found no school-initiated measures for persons with disability. Nevertheless, some students resort to educational programmes on TV. A visually-impaired final year Junior High School student noted that: “We thought they would let the final years stay in school so that our teachers can help us prepare for our [BECE] exams… [At home] I use JOY Learning [channel] but there are challenges for the visually impaired”.
Overall, equity is skewed in favour of private school students. The “quiet crisis” in the quality of public pre-primary and primary education” persist outside the physical classroom. There was no identified school-initiated plan for public school students surveyed. Curriculum-based educational programmes on TV and online exist, but there are observed constraints of adjusting to the new lifestyle and attendant self-discipline. In other words, enforcing a culture of regular studies outside the physical classroom is hardly cultivated overnight, especially when thrust upon young students without the supervision of accustomed instructors.
The study found that private school students face considerably lower barriers to curriculum-based learning. They present issues that easily pass as trivial to some public school students surveyed. There were reported difficulties in Ghanaian language studies and showing their work in Mathematical assignments on online learning platforms. For instance, a first-year private Junior High School student, whiles acknowledging his access to continuous online studies with school subject teachers via Google Classroom, expressed difficulty in accessing online Ga (Ghanaian language) keyboard for iOS users. Conversely, some of his colleagues in public schools have to make do with assignments delivered occasionally over WhatsApp by self-motivated school teachers, if any at all. In the matter of the public-private divide, the study infers that private schools are nimbler in planning and more competitive than the public-school bureaucracy,
The study concludes that formal education is an important vehicle for building Ghana’s human capital and is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal four seeks to: “Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Although Ghana has achieved gender parity at kindergarten and primary levels and progressively at Junior High School level (Ghana’s SDGs Indicator Baseline Report, June 2018), the study provides evidence of further setbacks in equity for public pre- Senior High School students.