One of the ravaging effects of the global pandemic christened COVID-19 is the shutdown of schools affecting over 60 per cent of total enrolled learners worldwide.
There are also 143 countrywide school closures including; Ghana according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics data.
The closure of schools
On 12th March, 2020, Ghana recorded its first two cases of COVID-19 and as part of precautionary measures to contain the spread of the deadly virus in Ghana, government, on 16th March, 2020 announced a countrywide closure of schools of all levels.
This affected a total of 9,696,756 learners comprising 4,738,403 females and 4,958,353 males across all levels of education in the country according to the data.
Ghana’s current case count
As of Saturday, July 25, 2020, the country recorded 691 new cases bringing total number of confirmed cases to 31,057, recoveries 27,801, active cases 3,095 and 161 deaths according to the Ghana Health Service official website.
The introduction of e-learning
Based on this, learning has seen a dramatic change paving way for the significant surge in e-learning; a remote way of teaching using digital platforms.
Following this, plans for the creation of a 24-hour educational Channel called Ghana learning TV was announced in April this year by the government.
The content is tailored for students at the kindergarten, primary, Junior High and Senior High levels. It can be accessed on DSTV 312, GoTV 150 and Startimes 312.
Ghana Learning TV commenced official broadcasting on 6 May after a timetable was released by the Ghana Education Service (GES). Taught in 45-minute slots from Monday to Friday, lessons include; Mathematics, Science, English and Social Studies.
This has, however, exposed the numerous learning inequalities across the country as access to internet, TV and other digital tools remained a challenge, thereby, rendering the initiative ineffective especially in many rural parts of the country.
This, Mr Justine Kpan, the Upper West Regional Public Relations Officer for the GES has agreed, but was quick to add that it had resulted in a shift of focus from TV to Radio, which he believed was more accessible to many rural folks.
The effectiveness of this move is, however, yet to be felt.
Initiatives of e-learning in urban schools.
However, in urban centers such as Wa, many schools had initiated their own ways of reaching out to their students online.
WhatsApp is the widely used tool. Teachers, pre-record lessons, add lesson materials and transmit to parents usually mothers through this tool.
Parents are then required to download and guide their children to listen to the lessons, read the course materials and do the assignments.
They are also required to submit completed assignments back to the teachers and wait for a response.
This has placed additional responsibility on working mothers as they shoulder the burden of guiding their children to keep pace with the new form of learning.
The burden on working mothers
Madam Juliana Issaka, a working mother with the Regional Office of the Department of Gender, described the process as a stressful one for her.
“I will be at work and they will be sending my kids lessons and assignments through my WhatsApp. I leave the office at 05hrs for home and I first of all have to cook get the children to bath and eat”, she said.
“Before I finish doing all these, I’m tired and the children are also even tired. When we start going through their lessons small time we all will be dozing; so we suspend the work till the following morning”.
“Early morning you have to prepare breakfast and help the children to complete the work for you to submit to their teachers. Before you finish all these you’re already late for office. I’m telling you it’s having a negative impact on our office work too”, Madam Issaka lamented.
She said because of the stress, she had stopped her children from the online learning and rather arranged a teacher for them to teach them face-to-face at home, stressing that it was less stressful that way.
Madam Irene Sando, a working mother of four at the Regional Environmental Health Office complained about the cost of data, saying she spends GHS30.00 on data every week.
“Apart from the stress, it is also costly. You know already that the children staying at home has increased our expenditure and adding the cost of data to it is just too much for us”, she lamented.
“The online learning is not impacting on the children as expected, but it is better than they not being engaged at all. So, if government can take up the cost of data, it will help us a lot”, she said.
Madam Jemila Awal, a working mother with the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) said she had no computer in the house and could not also bear with the pressure of the children accessing their online materials on her phone as she was mostly at work.
“So, for me I have organized a private teacher to teach my kids at home, it’s better for me and my children”, she said.
“Because when I have to guide my kids to finish their work and I report to work late and my boss questions me, I always feel embarrassed”, she said.
Madam Amamata Shaibu, a mother of three and a University student who is also undergoing the online classes also narrated her stressful experiences.
“I have an average of two online classes in a day and I always use my phone. It is the same phone my children also depends on to access their online learning materials”, she said.
“I spend not less than GH?100.00 in a month on data alone just to ensure me and my children stay put to the online learning, this has put a lot of financial stress on the family also”, she said.
“I have a power bank to support my phone battery, but the pressure on my phone places the battery on constant low”, Madam Shaibu said.
The future of e-learning
However, with this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market.
According to the World Economic Forum COVID-19 Action Platform, even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach US$350 billion by 2025.
“Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been significant surge in usage since COVID-19” according to the platform.
Efforts of the World Bank
Meanwhile, the World Bank is actively working with Ministries of Education in dozens of countries in support of their efforts to utilize educational technologies of all sorts to provide remote learning opportunities for students, while schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How feasible is e-learning among underdeveloped nations
But, is this feasible in developing countries like Ghana, where illiteracy rate, poverty, access to electricity, access to internet, access to appropriate education learning technologies and platforms by students among others still remain a bigger constrain?
Government need to ensure the extension of electricity to every single community in the country for it is necessary to guarantee not only the future of e-learning, but also the right of every child to education in whatever form or means.
Likewise, government need to work with the telecommunication service providers to ensure countrywide network coverage and strong internet services to ensure that access to internet does not become a hindrance to the right of every child to participate in any future e-learning process.
These network providers can equally be impressed upon by government to develop less data consuming or free e-learning apps and platforms for the education sector as a corporate social responsibility.
Government should also invest in technology that will ensure that every student has access to a computer that can support any form of e-learning. This will address the problem of lack of access to digital tools to participate in the online learning and also lesson the burden on their parents’ phones and computers as well as burden in terms of cost.
Until these challenges are comprehensively dealt with, working mothers will not only continue to live with these stressful conditions, but also will continue to endure the financial stress caused by the high cost of data as they guide their children in this COVID-19 induced e-learning era.