We all know the value of education and the importance of succeeding in school. A UNESCO-BREDA Report on the status of education in Sub-Sahara Africa stated three key aims of secondary education:
- Basic knowledge to raise their general education level;
- Prepare students for their harmonious integration into working, professional and social life;
- Prepare students for higher education or technical and vocational institutions.
Thus, secondary education is designed to fulfill a vital mission in society; it is terminal and preparatory and recognized as the cornerstone of educational systems in the 21st century. In some countries, secondary education is generally the final stage of compulsory education. The next stage is college. There, you pay for everything.
The question then is, how can we use Information technology to enhance secondary education in Ghana and other parts of the world.
In Ghana, a new senior high school education policy was launched on Tuesday 12th September, 2017 by the President of the Republic, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo with the broad themes of Access, Equity and Quality. The policy abolished tuition, admission fee, library fee, science centre fee, computer lab fee, examination fee, and utility fee. In addition, it made provision for free text books, free boarding and free meals, and free meal at school for day students. The policy also covers agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the high school level.
Almost two years after its implementation, it has become necessary to widen the scope of the policy to address some emerging issues such as increase in enrolment; enlarged class size, and others.
A new double track (semester/sandwich) system has been introduced to enable schools admit more students within the same given facility. This is similar to the academic calendar used by the universities except that with this system, each track will be in school for specific days for each semester and go on vacation and come back for the second semester. That is, while the first track is in school, the second track will be on vacation and vice-versa.
This model has generated new public debate about the direction of senior high school education in the country. Frankly, this calls for a rethinking of the current model of providing secondary education to the ever increasing number of students looking for options to further their education at this level.
The ultimate answer to the educational debate is to realistically enlarge and improve our educational system to enable the country admit a sizable percentage of those who qualify and better prepare them for tertiary education and workforce development.
The answer begins, I think, with our ability to imagine the possibility of high schools without walls. It is the walled educational system—schooling that needs buildings in every community of the nation—that generates all the expenses that we can no longer afford—that no nation, including the rich nation of the so-call “developed” world can no longer afford.
What we need to consider is the possibility of moving in the direction of creating Virtual High Schools (VHS) that would use ICT to bring learning easily and rapidly throughout the country. This will be a fully online, private, asynchronous senior high school offering high-quality Secondary School education to all students in the country and beyond.
The Virtual High School (VHS) eliminates the traditional rigid division of the school year into terms as students may enroll at any point in time, move through their courses at their own pace and graduate from their course at any point in time. All courses run using a Learning Management System.
While the Virtual High School is NOT intended to replace the existing senior high school system, it could augment the existing school system and presents several advantages over the current traditional classroom delivery. For example:
- all courses or subjects will be available online, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
- there is no cost for textbooks, learning aids, or other supplements since they will all be within the virtual environment; within a virtual library system.
- It provides opportunities for students to work at their own pace and through their own course path
- Virtual collaboration tools will facilitate communication among students and between students and teachers.
- access to unlimited, online, on-demand tutoring.
- interactive exercises and assessments provide the student with an opportunity to evaluate their progress and aptitude;
- students have access to individual storage space online to store their files; and
- it will connect students and teachers in physically unconnected places to global educational resources.
This model has been successfully pioneered in countries such as the United States and Canada. Among the notable ones are The Virtual High School (https://vhslearning.org); Chignecto-Cental-Virtual-School (http://ccrce.ca/virtual-high-school); Connections Academy founded by Barbara Dreyer (https://www.connectionsacademy.com); Florida Virtual Schools founded by Julie Young (https://www.flvs.net); Insight School founded by Keith Oelrich (https://ca.insightschools.net); and others.
At the present time fewer than 10% of Ghana’s secondary school graduates find places in Ghana’s tertiary institutions–and even serving that small fraction has the existing institutions overtaxed, breaking down, unable to house, feed, and instruct that small contingent. In the US, by way of comparison, the figure is close to 50%. If the VHS system can help bring that percentage to 15% or higher, we would have done something of great value for those affected and for increasing the pool of students who will now have access to quality education.
Throughout the developed world, the concept of the SHS where students have access to online courses is becoming the norm. The VHS idea will significantly provide access and expand educational opportunities to the thousands of senior high school students looking for opportunities to further their education. Let’s pool our skills and resources together to create the VHS system for Ghana.
Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President
African Virtual Campus