Ghana is one of the countries in Africa affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19). COVID 19 is an infectious disease which causes respiratory illness and spread through contact with an infected person. Government has implemented policies and interventions such as the lockdown and social distancing to curtail the spread of the virus.
These measures have a huge impact on various sectors such as the economy, education and health. Economically the unemployment rate, especially in urban areas, are likely to increase and most business will collapse especially SMEs which account for 80% of employment in Africa. There will also be a reduction in remittances due to layoff being witnessed in the western part of the world which is equally affected by the pandemic. However, there is currently a high demand for food, medical assistance and other essential commodities in Ghana.
Education is a public policy that promote the acquiring of skills of citizens for the development of the country. Education is also about learning to be a citizen and developing social skills. The government of Ghana suspended schools, colleges and universities by instructing them to close down in the peak of the pandemic.
The closure of schools has an enormous effect on education. Teaching and learning are being conducted online, which is untested among students. Although advance countries are better prepared to initiate online learning strategies and admits challenges for teachers and parents. In middle-income and poorer countries, the situation is different and appropriate measures need to be considered before online learning can be implemented.
This as a result of vast inequality that exists in these parts of the world especially Ghana. Most children do not have internet connectivity (expensive data), a laptop at home or supportive parents and smartphones to be able to learn online.
Moreover, student assessments are also being done online, with a lot of trial and error and uncertainty for everyone and opportunity for hackers to change the scores since security features may not be installed.
The closure of schools, colleges and universities do not only interrupt the teaching for students in Ghana, it also coincides with a key assessment period and many exams have been postponed or cancelled.
Examples of such assessments are West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and Basic Examination Certificate Education (BECE). Importantly, these interruptions will not just be a short-term issue, but can also have long-term consequences for the affected cohorts.
Another challenge identified is the non-cognitive skills of the parents and availability of resources (accessibility of best online material for learning) to teach children. Also, it will be difficult for parents to help their children learn something due to the unavailability of resources.
Other effects of the pandemic will lead to losses in learning, increased dropout rates, Children missing meals at school. In some areas of the country Children rely on the school feeding programs as food for the day which is due to poverty. Food is essential for the cognitive development and well-being of the child.
The Ministry of Education reliance on online strategies will imply reaching most children from better-off families. The appropriate strategy is to use online tools with lesson plans, videos, tutorials, and other resources available for some students and probably teachers. It will also require the use of podcasts and other resources that require less data usage.
The Ministry can also collaborate with telecommunication companies to apply zero-rate policies which can also facilitate learning material to be downloaded on a smartphone, which may not be available to students in rural communities.
The careers of this year’s university graduates may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have experienced major teaching interruptions in the final part of their studies and interruptions in their assessments, and likely to graduate at the beginning of a major global recession. Evidence suggests that poor market conditions at labour market entry can cause workers to accept lower paid jobs, and that this has permanent effects for the careers of some.
The possible solutions are schools need to be given resources to rebuild the loss in learning when school resumes. These resources should be targeted at children who are hard hit to facilitate their learning process. Policies should be implemented to assist new graduates’ entry to the labour market to avoid longer unemployment periods.
The engagement of children, particularly young secondary school students is critical. Long period of disengagement can be disadvantaged to the students given the double-track system being currently implemented in schools.
This is the time to develop the socio-emotional skills of students to learn more about how to contribute to society as a citizen. The role of parents and family, which has always been extremely important, is critical in that task.
The Ministry of Education can provide guidance through mass media, to parents. Radio, TV, SMS messages can all be used to provide tips and advice to them on how to better support the learning of their children.