…. A Call For Proper Digitization
By: Gyabaa Adutwumwaa (Student Of Ghana Institute Of Journalism)
Though there have been talks on utilizing the various online platforms for education, since the ban on social gathering was entrenched, but it seems the arguments have become longer than necessary, giving rise to opposing ideas, while all critiques and arguments face one direction; feasibility of online studies in Ghana.
Some years back an agenda was set called the Digital Ghana Agenda which ambitioned to build digital infrastructures and total connectivity for the unserved and undeserved. According to Ursula Owusu, the minister of communications, no one would be left behind.
In the procession of this article, it would be of help if we get to know what it takes for a country to be digitally inclusive;
Digital inclusion, it first of all means everyone must be able to participate, implying that: the aged, the deprived, people living with disability, children and anyone else you can think of should be part. If a school decide to go digital by asking students to participate in online studies, then it means every student should have a smartphone. And not only should they have it, they should be able to use it simply and easily, this speaks of accessibility which is a crucial factor in digital inclusion which include, using materials that can be easily accessed, especially documents and links for studying, but these are not the only requirements, having access to internet either by purchasing data bundle or logging unto a Wi-Fi connection is the first phase here, but the question is, how prepared is the education system of Ghana to face this new turn of events: these are the hedges, without crossing them, joining the digital world in terms of education will be like chasing after rainbows.
Now, this may seem like a wonder to many, but in our part of the world: Not every student has access to computers or high speed internet. The vast majority of students in the tertiary institutions are expected to have smart phones, laptops and even both at best, but this is not the reality on the ground. Some students from low income families after paying their fees and hostel bills have almost nothing left to afford sophisticated learning software that requires the usage of computers. In a post on Twitter by the Minister of Education; Dr. Martin Opoku Prempeh, the government had started rolling out solutions to help the situation, by creating a Ghana Learning Channel on GoTv and DSTV for Senior High Schools this a nice intervention, but unfortunately, it will not serve all. Some may have it, but there is also the deprivation when it comes to having access to the internet on these gadgets; the cost of buying data is high in this country, especially for students who are mostly not working. A simple analogy here, for a student to have access to the internet on the two most used telecommunication networks in this country, thus; MTN and VODAFONE,the student will have to use close to GHC25, a week. The math here is, even for Vodafone which seem cheaper with its special offer product, where one buys GHC3.15 equivalent to 1500gigabytes worth of bundle daily, he or she uses exactly GHC22.5 every week for internet bundle. The issue is, the cost of internet in Ghana is high, especially for nonworking class citizens. Even if one is able to afford the data purchases, the truth is,network connection is unreliable, and it takes us to the next obstacle.
Many communities in Ghana has no or little internet connection. According to research,the population of Ghana currently is over 31million, and within this population are 17,168,639 adults. Looking at internet accessibility, only 7.9million of the adult population has access to the internet from mobile devices. It will not be surprising to know that, most of these people without the internet access are based in the rural areas, there is lack of internet infrastructure in these areas, it is either there is nothing like internet there or, the speed is extremely snail like. While the country with the fastest internet speed across the globe has up to 85.02 MBPS, Ghana lurks around 1.46MBPS, this is alarming, as students are expected to join virtual studies with such slow internet accessibility. Many rural areas in Ghana struggle to get 2G networks, not to even speak of 3G or 4G, this is problematic for students currently living in rural areas especially since the wake of this pandemic.
On the other hand, some lecturers lack expertise in creating online lessons, while there are lots of exceptional teachers, not all of them are ready to move their instructions online. Online lessons need to have more clearly written-out themes and directions for students. We have talked about internet inaccessibility, but what happens when the student is online but there is improper management of these platforms. Schools managements upon the closures of schools have left this in the hands of lecturers, and, some of them do not know how to handle the change. Different lecturers come with platforms and different techniques that do not go on well in the end, there is less participation and lack of proper coordination, this could have been managed properly if school managements had taken lecturers through how to teach digitally, accurately, all on a single platform, like google classroom, it would be easy for students to track lectures.
In as much as this may seem too difficult to overcome, there are certain interventions that can be taken to bridge to digital divide in education, especially at this time that digitization has become the only option.
There could be a possibility of making the internet more affordable, if not general, for only students, some schools may have Wi-Fi services on campus, one may argue, but what happens now that students are not on campuses, the only way out is cutting the cost of internet. Also, in this crucial time, telecommunications can hasten the development of infrastructures with the support of the government to quicken internet access in rural areas.
More so, management systems in tertiary institutions can quickly adopt to proper cloud-based productivity tools like Google Aps and other designed to be used while online. All this boil down to proper internet accessibility across the country, since students are not currently situated at a particular place as usual. It would have a tremendous impact on Ghana’s education if the government would grab this opportunity and utilize it to make its way into the digital world, starting with education system.