Authors: Philip Augustine Tsagli, Ben Enyetornye, Stanley Opong, Kennedy Afetorgbor
COVID-19, a viral disease which originated from china has become a bone of contention for countries globally. It’s rapid rate of spread coupled with the fact that there is no available vaccine for prevention, leaders of most affected countries instituted measures to slow the spread of the disease. Some of these measures in Ghana include regular washing of hands with soap under running water, use of hand sanitizers, partial lockdown, ban on public gathering which exceeds 25 people, maintaining a distance of at least 1meter from people in public space and immediate closure of all educational facilities. Closure of these educational facilities come with a lot of challenges for students, teachers, parents and government alike. Some of these challenges include but not limited to:
Abrupt disruption of academic calendar at all levels and research work in various tertiary institutions
The indefinite closure of school implies that there will be the need to restructure the academic calendar to enable students prepare adequately for examination. Extension of the academic calendar will eventually mount pressure on parents to pay fees after an unusually short vacation. It is very likely some parents have lost their jobs and others have their businesses at the verge of collapsing or even collapsed due to this unprecedented circumstances.
Additionally, tertiary students engaging in research works had to suddenly halt their works so as to comply to the president’s directives. Some students especially those in the sciences are working with experimental animals from which they had to take some important samples at specific time points for analysis. Missing one sample in some cases may render the whole experiment void since they may not be able to interpret the results meaningfully in the absence of such a data. Starting a new experiment means extra cost for students and funding agents. Another group of students may have to discard their reagents and buy new ones since most of these reagents are supposed to be used few days after breaking the seal. Importing new batch of these reagents now may not be possible since there is global restriction on trade due to the pandemic.
Sudden introduction of E-learning platforms to replace the usual classroom learning
E-learning is broadly defined as the delivery of information for the purposes of education or knowledge management via any electronic media. Considering the current lockdown situation, most education experts are advocating for E-learning which indeed is the way to go. However, the sudden introduction of this virtual learning concept seems to be chaotic rather than addressing the purpose for which it was introduced. It is obvious our educational system, students and government are not prepared to embrace it. Virtual learning cannot replace the everyday experience of being in school, particularly for our least advantaged students, including our students with disabilities, and those whose parents cannot afford devices and data to support these programs. Some of these E-learning programs are television based and they do not target specifically the needs of a particular group of students and participants do not have the chance to ask questions to clarify things they do not understand since questioning and answering goes hand in hand with teaching and learning. At present, some rural folks do not have access to electricity and are therefore not privy to these E-learning platforms. An interview with a group of students participating in these E-learning programs revealed that some of them had to climb trees so as to be able to connect and partake in online lectures. What happens if these students fall from the tree?
Difficulty in managing pupils at home
Closure of schools which unequivocally is the way to go now has pose several challenges to parents with regards to meeting adequately the nutritional requirements of their kids and keeping them on track with academic work. The fact that there was partial restriction of movement within Accra and Kumasi informed the decision of most parents within the affected areas and beyond to implement measures to regulate daily household feed consumption. This is not surprising because, prices of food stuffs had skyrocketed and people could not confidently predict what is likely to happen next.
Contrary to the situation at hand, children in general need good nutrition so as to ensure proper growth and improved general health. The question however is, how can parents afford if most of them live from hand to mouth and have adapted to a system where children are fed lunch in school by government? In our opinion, the absence of proper nutrition equates to a compromised immune system which therefore puts these children at a higher risk of coming down with COVID-19 or any other disease.
Possible financial burden on government
In an attempt to curb the outbreak and protect the interest of the citizenry, government instituted cost intensive measures which were stated earlier. When the situation becomes better, government will consider reopening of schools and lift ban on social gathering. However, it will be expected that, measures such as compulsory use of mask, social distancing, regular washing of hand and use of hand sanitizer as at when it is needed must still be practiced. For this practices to be effectively put in place, government will have to consider bearing the cost of these products especially in the basic schools. In most of our classrooms, the class sizes are large and pupils will normally sit on dual desks. This implies that government would have to consider running a shift system or build more classrooms to make social distancing feasible. Building more classroom means engaging more teachers.
- Need for government to officially introduce and encourage various E-learning options into the educational curriculum so that it becomes easier to adapt in case of future unforeseen circumstances which may call for the need to close schools indefinitely
- Intensify ICT education at all stages of education for both students and teachers. This will make it easier for teachers to be able to organize/package their lessons and make them accessible to students who are also well equipped to make good use of them
- In crisis like this, the rural folks are more disadvantaged because some households do not have access to electricity. Government should therefore prioritize extension of stable electricity to this rural folk so as to keep them abreast and at par with those in the urban areas in the long run. A more reliable alternative for government will be the consideration of renewable sources of energy like solar power.
- Government can consider engaging telcos to subsidies the cost of data for the rural folks or possibly absorb data cost for students accessing educational platforms.
- Consider distribution of laptops (eg. Ubuntu Linux-powered laptop which runs on solar) or other gadgets that support E-learning for rural folks. These devices should be configured such that they can only be used to access educational platforms.
- Revise academic calendar such that teaching and learning extends into the vacation so as to shorten the vacation days and cushion the effects on parents by absorbing a percentage of the fees for the following semester or term.