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The Landscape and Emerging Trends in Virtual High School Education

The advent of new educational technologies have brought about a pedagogical shift in education. Today’s technologies have opened new opportunities and frontiers in education for countless number of people who otherwise would have no access. The convergence of information technologies present educators with resources that have the potential to reach out to countless number of students, regardless of time and space.

The traditional educational system begins with buildings, with classrooms, with lecture halls, with dormitories. This ancient way of providing education often requires huge sums of money to create the environment that will house the teachers and the students. And these buildings need roads and walkways to connect them, and men and women to keep them clean, and secure. In a very real sense education beyond the primary level has become a kind of internal brain drain that requires our talented youth to leave their home communities and crowd into urban educational structures that cannot grow fast enough to house and teach them. The time has come for us to reconsider our ancient way of providing education to our people.

We need to start with a new question, a new beginning point. How can we create an educational system that does more and better with less money; how can we create a new educational system that puts available money into teachers, teaching materials, technological resources and moves  instruction to all the places in the country where there are students needing instruction. Such a new emphasis in secondary education means that our teacher education needs be redesigned to prepare teachers with computer skills.

Over the past few years, the concept of virtual learning environments (VLC) have emerged as a supplement to the traditional educational system. These involve a set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student’s learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process. The principal components of a VLC package include electronic communication (using e-mail, internet relay chat, threaded discussions, etc.), online support, and links to web resources.

We know that the traditional classroom of the high school has been the primary means for achieving the ultimate goals of education in Ghana and other parts of the world.  Today, this traditional model cannot deal with the educational challenges of the 21st century. Even though traditional education will continue to be important for generations to come, new innovative models have emerged. One such model is the Virtual High School (VHS). These innovations deviates from the four-walled notion of a school and makes it possible for students all over the country to go to school from their homes or at least from the towns and villages they live in while receiving lectures and course materials outside the place of schooling. 

This educational model makes it possible for high school students to have access to global senior high school educational resources without necessarily setting foot in the classroom.

This new concept in higher education 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.

The VHS is NOT  intended to replace the existing public school systems. It augments rather than replace the existing school curriculum. However, it present several advantages over traditional classroom delivery. For example:

  • all classes are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • classes foster student initiative, self-motivation, event management and a host of other learning skills
  • no cost for textbooks, learning aids, or other supplements since all reading resources will be online
  • students work at their own pace and through their own course path
  • availability of online collaboration tools to facilitate communication – teacher to student and student to student
  • availability of wide variety of assessment aids for students who may have difficulty with certain test types – such as group work, journals, projects, reports, observations, and tests for knowledge reinforcement. Interactive exercises and assessments provide students with an opportunity to evaluate their progress and aptitude
  • use of online DropBox/Google Drive and other online storage platforms for assignment submission and storage, and more 

Change-inevitable as it is- continues to be perceived by most educators as a threat. The question for educators is whether to be a part of the change or a victim of the change. Too often, we behave like bystanders, reacting to change rather than being proactive planners or active participants and contributors.  The communication capabilities of the Internet provide us with the opportunity to help create this kind of educational environment for our students. There is the need to develop a new vision of education for the Internet age.

If we fail to explore and take advantage of the opportunities brought about by these innovations, it will signify the increasing marginalization of our educational system.

This new educational model comes with a number of new challenges; the challenge of experimenting with new educational paradigms; the challenge of incorporating online education in national educational curricula; the challenge of putting culturally sensitive demonstration projects in place to prepare educators and students for future technological challenges; and the challenge of putting in place the technology and skillset that will be needed to effectively implement this model on a wider scale in the country.

This requires vision, leadership, resources, a clear sense of purpose and above all, political will. 

The full value of this education can only be realized if it is brought forcefully into the mainstream of recognized academic activity by powerful advocates in the country. There is the need for the government and other stakeholders to help shape national policies in the area of the VHS. History will judge us harshly if the country fails to move in this direction.

If we are to embrace this educational direction as a country, we need to develop new skills and capacities: we need to learn how to harness the new communication technologies to the work of learning.

We need to be bold and make the hard decision to leapfrog over this stage of educational development, and create a new kind of high school education–the VHS–that uses the instrument of information and communication technology to connect Ghanaians who may be anywhere–in the village, in the town, in the city–to the teachers they need, to fellow students, and to the tools of learning they need to learn. With the virtual education concept, we have the best chance of achieving Education for All who are yearning for it.

Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President

African Virtual Campus

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