Exercibating inequality through e-learning


Thu, 2 Apr 2020 Source: Sampson Hodor

A few years back, Africa was in the dark when it comes to Internet connectivity.

We were cut off as a continent. Glory be to the expansion of technology to this part of the world. We too can have access to what others have had many years ago - the Internet.

Today, the emergence of the novel coronavirus has awakened a lot of sleeping voices to the need for e-learning pedagogies. Our students have been home away from the classrooms for days.

The Ministry of Education has launched Internet-based platforms to facilitate e-learning while the kids are home. Indeed.

Are we lost on the fact that despite Ghana's accessibility of the Internet, it remains a luxury to many children in different parts of this country? Can we kindly avert our minds to the number of students to be denied access to education if we attempt to use online platforms to facilitate learning? Has anybody considered the cost involved in purchasing data from our Telcos and few other Internet providers in this country? Or we are doing it for the kids in Accra, Cape Coast, and Takoradi? Sad but true.

I see so much insensitivity in a lot of the decisions we take in this pandemic.

In my last discussion on this e-learning with a colleague, he lamented the cost of data in Ghana and gave an example of other countries where there is unfettered access to the Internet and at the end of the month, you are required to pay Internet user bill of an amount equivalent to, if not less than Ghc15. 00. Wow! That is the charge of browsing for an hour in an Internet café in Ho, or the charge of a 1gb data or less with our Telcos in Ghana. That is not all the problem. It is bigger. If its only about the cost, we may understand and say, its those who cannot afford it that will be denied access to the Ministry of Education's e-learning program.

The problem with Internet access is bigger than its cost. It is just unavailable in many parts of this country. The National Media Commission would come with fat data as to the progress it has made with regards Internet penetration in Ghana. The people there have very nice ways of putting it. "Internet penetration has soared to a percentage high of about 50%...." bla bla bla. Many of the rural dwellers and students in this context have no access to the Internet. I repeat; it is still a luxury. When I attempted to join my colleagues for an online lecture last Friday, it was a disaster; embarrassingly regrettable. The Internet was bad. Very bad. I lost a good part of the session. Even people living in Accra lament the unreliable nature of the Internet services provided talk less of we in Tsito.

E-learning is good, no doubt. But it is good for few. Not that the others are not interested, but they are not privileged. They can't access the Internet even if they can afford it. We will keep a lot of kids out of education through no fault of theirs. It will be discriminatory and an abuse of right to education if the e-learning remains the norm as long as COVID 19 remains with us. It will be an endorsement of inequality because it is clear from the onset that we do not ecpect the majority of our students to benefit.

If nothing at all, the pandemic has exposed, among many other things, our poor investment in data and Internet access. It has exposed our fragile educational system and the wrong direction we have driven the ship of our education system over the years. We do not need the COVID 19 to tell us that if we claim we are integrating technology into our education, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do it without parallel expansion in Internet access.

It is a good time to call on the NCA and the Ministry of Communication to restrategize and see the need for expansion in Internet access. This is the time the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service need a relook at the so-called e-learning portals.

We can use them even when students finally and hopefully returned to school. It should not be thought-about because the US is doing the same. It is being used in America long before the pandemic inflicted its wrath and it will continue to be in use post-coronavirus.

Let us not deepen the inequality gap with e-learning. It will be just unfair.

Columnist: Sampson Hodor