The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Ghana, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ghana Education Service (GES) and the Centre for National Distance Learning and Open Schooling (CENDLOS), is working to get more than 35,000 schools in the country connected to the internet.
In this regard, it is currently mapping the geo-locations of the schools, and assessing the extent to which they could be connected.
“This is a critical step to assessing the landscape that will ultimately allow bringing internet connectivity to all students and communities to reach more with digital and distance learning opportunities,” the UNICEF Representative in Ghana, Anne-Claire Dufay, announced this on Monday at the maiden National Digital and Distance Learning Conference 2022 for stakeholders in the education sector, held in Accra.
The three-day conference, which was organised by CENDLOS, with support from UNICEF Ghana and UNESCO, was on the theme: “Reimagining Ghana’s education by harnessing the power of digital distance learning.”
Ms Dufay said connecting schools to the internet allowed children to develop digital skills and access online learning content, adding that schools could also become anchor points for surrounding communities.
“If you can connect the school, you can also connect local businesses and services,” she emphasised.
She pointed out that closing the digital divide required cooperation, leadership and innovation in finance and technology and it was to address this need that UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union had joined forces to create a global initiative called GIGA to connect every school to the Internet by 2030.
Ms Dufay also announced that UNICEF and CENDLOS were currently in the process of deploying the Learning Passport in the country for basic school students, explaining that the Learning Passport was a UNICEF-led digital education platform developed globally in collaboration with Cambridge University and Microsoft with full online and offline functionalities and capabilities that provided quality education content and technology to all children and youth wherever they were and whoever they were.
She said the MoE/GES Basic Education Rapid Risk Assessment undertaken at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that 66 per cent of schoolchildren in the country had difficulties accessing distance and digital learning programmes as they did not have access to radio, television, mobile networks and other facilities.
She explained that the lack of connectivity meant that many children had fewer opportunities to learn and fulfil their potential.
“As technology-based learning solutions are expanded in Ghana, those most vulnerable or marginalised should also enjoy access to them and those who are less-advantaged should not become further marginalised by our collective, well-intended efforts to revolutionalise the learning experience of children and youth in Ghana.”
She pointed out that one of the key lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic was that access to technology and obtaining digital literacy skills were essential to the future-focused development of children and young people in today’s interconnected work.
Speaking on behalf of the ministry, the Deputy Minister of Education, Reverend John Ntim Fordjour, said if education must be extended to children in rural communities, the digital divide must be bridged.
“We must be able to extend quality education to every child who is ready to learn, and technology and connectivity must not be constraints. We need to embrace the concept of digital learning as one that has come to stay, as one that will probably be a part of us and to appropriately combine it with the traditional mode of practice,” he stressed.
In his welcome address, the Executive Director of CENDLOS, Nana Gyamfi Adwabour, said the outbreak of COVID-19 disrupted education delivery and widened the pre-existing learning divide in many countries around the world, and Ghana was not an exception.
Nana Adwabour said distance education or technology-mediated learning existed in most schools in the country and evidence gathered suggested that most students preferred the technology-mediated means to the traditional system.
However, the lack of coordination had hampered its effectiveness, hence, the need for the conference.
He mentioned the objectives of the conference to include starting discussions to develop a national distance learning framework to govern all the sectors and stakeholders, as well as to develop a strategic communication plan for the distance learning space in order to reduce project duplication.