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Opinions of Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Columnist: Prof. Agyeman Badu Akosa

Bridging the equity gap in secondary education in Ghana II

Opinion Opinion

This is the concluding part of the article by Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa. The first part was published yesterday, October 16, 2015.

In the first part, the writer concluded on a suggestion he had made to the Otumfuor Education Fund for the award of bursaries instead of scholarships to students.
He said although the suggestion was not embraced, he had always thought of what was possible.

Read on:
A few years later, I was invited to meet with two dynamic young men who had developed an internet concept to bridge the rather yawning gap between our secondary schools, the Internet Study Mate (ISM).

Schools through their appointed coordinators had to register all their students and each student was given an email address and presented a passport picture for a photo-id on the platform. Students were given the opportunity to pick their study mates from other schools who had also registered. It started as a pilot project in Accra with about 20 schools and a few schools outside Accra. Each school had an ISM coordinator who registered the students and monitored the activity of the students.

Students were advised to desist from using the platform for any other activity other than for ISM. An infringement, and a student would be pulled out of the ISM. In addition to the coordinator, the managers of the platform could identify and report any wayward student. The students were very eager and shared anything from their notes to questions from internal assessment to end of term questions to West African Examinations Council (WAEC) past questions and many others.

Questions were set by the managers, projects were organised for the students and competitions were created on the platform. In the end an awards programme was organised and the best students, coordinators and schools were awarded prizes. The programme demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubts that it had the ability to engage the students who were more than willing to learn on the platform.

The pilot study won a Commonwealth award for countries in Europe and Africa in 2013 for which the Chief Executive Officer for EDUVID, Mr Gilbert Adda, was given a crystal and a citation and a chance to meet Queen Elizabeth II. The programme was adopted by the Ghana Education Service which now believed they had found a programme which hopefully would narrow the gap between secondary schools.

Challenges of the Internet Study Mate (ISM)
ISM was adopted as a national programme. The testimonies of the students have been phenomenal and some have appeared on http://m.modernghana.com/News/419632/I/Internet-study-mate-for-shs-students-launched.html initiated by the students themselves but there has been challenges. Initially not all schools had Internet facilities so EDUVID provided routers and data bundles for all public secondary schools in Ghana.However, some of the routers and data bundles purchased were never used. In the schools that used them, their students have had nothing but praise for the programme.

How could it otherwise have been possible for a student in Huni Valley SHS to have study mates in Presec, Legon, Accra Academy and a whole host of other schools adding on to the teaching he or she gets from the school, other than on ISM. One programme ISM has made the SHS landscape appear as one campus. It must be the collective responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Service and all stakeholders including Parent Teacher Associations to embrace the ISM platform to bridge the rather yawning gap. It can only be good for the students, parents, managers and governors of our senior high schools.

Every head in a public secondary school has primary responsibility for his or her students but collectively under Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) have obligations to all students in secondary schools in Ghana. CHASS itself, I am sure, for as many years since Dr TA Osae's time as CHASS President may have thought through how to help the less endowed schools but to not much avail.

The ISM programme has engaged the services of the major authors of secondary school textbooks who have accepted to give time on the platform. These encounters will provide questions and answers as well as lecture sessions on pertinent areas that students will demand. This is scheduled to begin in the new academic year. This will further boost the students engagement on the platform.

In addition, ISM recognises that there are teachers in secondary schools who could also benefit from support and have put together a teacher module where past WAEC chief examiners of the various subjects and seasoned lecturers from the universities will be engaged to provide additional help in skills of teaching and marking for the teachers. It shall offer this through the Internet but also sponsored conferences, particularly in the core subjects of Mathematics, English and Integrated Science, the areas of most need.

The ISM, as a programme seeks to cure school, student and teacher difficiencies which will in the long run make our educational system better by seriously reducing the inequities. It may prevent or minimise parent anxiety when it was time for placement of their children.

Supporting ISM to become a showpiece
It has been tried, and it won a 2013 Commonwealth award for the Europe and Africa region. Its challenges with some heads must be addressed by CHASS as a collective and the Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Education ensuring that every Head of a school executed its obligations to the ISM.

This will ultimately become a show piece programme that Ghana can export to many other African countries. Talent, brilliance and excellence in the ISM programme must be embraced by all, recognised and supported.

From where I sit, a shortcomng in secondary education in Ghana that is more than 50 years old has finally found its antidote. Do we apply it universally or as an optional format. Every student in every school shall benefit from the ISM programme.

There is nothing better than adding on to whatever your school dishes out to you. It is common knowledge that during the long vacation students from many of the Cape Coast schools go to Accra Academy and Presec, Legon, for vacation classes. It is to test themselves against others from similar schools just as the ISM offers during the term.

No school must be allowed to opt out of a programme like this that will improve all Ghanaian students, for it will defeat the very essence of the programme, which is bridging the equity gap in secondary education, a feat that has haunted the educational system in Ghana for so long. It must be a compulsory scheme for every school and student. It will benefit everybody, and the government can claim the credit.