Quality and Inclusive Education in India, an Update on the fourth SDGThe fourth Sustainable Development Goal laid out by the U.N. is “Quality Education.” This SDG aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” India has made remarkable progress in increasing the enrolment of students for primary education over the last decade. Various schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have played a major role in universalizing education in India. The Right to Education Act which makes free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India has made education in India a fundamental right. In India, Kerala is the best-performing state, whereas Bihar is the worst performing state with respect to the index score of the fourth sustainable development goal.

Efforts to Build Quality and Inclusive Education in India

  1. A mid-day meal scheme was launched in India for students in government and government-aided primary schools to increase enrolment, retention and attendance along with improving children’s nutritional status. It is a centrally sponsored scheme which was launched on August 15, 1995, to improve education in India. In 2008, the benefits of the scheme were extended to all areas across the country.
  2. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (save the daughter, educate the daughter) is a 2015 initiative that was undertaken to primarily spread awareness about the current state of girls’ education in India. In the mass communication campaign, education was highlighted as a tool for women empowerment and how it would ensure a bright future for girls. The objectives of the scheme also include ensuring the survival and protection of girls and eliminating gender-biased sex selection.
  3. Over the past two decades, the Government of India has launched various schemes to ameliorate the predicament of gender and social gaps in education. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All Movement) was a flagship program launched in 2000-2001 to make education universally accessible and to bridge the gap in education between gender and social categories. The intervention included investment in school infrastructure, such as opening new schools, construction of additional classrooms, toilets and drinking water, among other factors that would result in improvement of education outcomes.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced education to be shifted online in India. The shift to the online medium of learning has been challenging for students all across the country. But the effect of this crisis has had the worst implications on poverty-stricken people in remote villages who do not have internet connectivity, electricity or resources to access quality education.

The implementation of such schemes launched by the central government has led to significant progress in achieving universal primary education enrolment for both girls and boys in India. Despite an increase in inclusive education in India, it is imperative to study whether quality education is provided universally. With an increase in the enrolment for primary education, there is a need to ensure that issues, such as low absenteeism of teachers, lack of proper infrastructure, unsafe drinking water and improper sanitation facilities, are overcome.

The COVID-19 pandemic throws light at how disproportionally it affects the marginalized communities and economically weaker sections of the society by making education inaccessible. The need of the hour is to invest in education by making it inclusive and accessible, bridge the gap in education outcomes that arises due to inequality of income, and ensure quality education is provided to everybody.

-Anandita Bardia
Photo: Flickr

Distance Learning in Ghana
Education is a key tool that people can use to effectively fight intergenerational poverty. Education boosts workers’ resumes and skillsets, diversifies career opportunities for young people, helps women gain skills to bring in income and provides essential information to improve returns in existing economies like agriculture. In Ghana, the government has prioritized widespread education through various programs, public funding legislation and goal setting since the 1980s. However, primary, secondary and higher education can still be hard to come by in Ghana, where growing demand for education outpaces the available supply of teachers and infrastructure. Luckily, distance learning in Ghana is becoming a priority.

The Situation

Primary school students can sometimes be in classrooms with 80 to 100 other students, while secondary students must alternate when they can attend school. Additionally, students who live in rural areas often lack access to educational hubs, especially since these areas typically suffer a shortage of qualified teachers. As a result, Ghana has led the way in developing extensive distance learning programs at all levels of schooling, such as university. Distance learning uses technology to enable fewer teachers to publish educational information for a much wider, and widespread, audience. Distance learning cuts down on travel time and cost, diminishes the need for large schooling infrastructure otherwise needed to accommodate every student taking a given class, provides flexibility for employed individuals seeking to improve their resumes and makes education available to a broader array of families. Here are four facts about distance learning in Ghana.

4 Facts About Distance Learning in Ghana

  1. Constantly improving technology paints a bright future for widespread distance learning in Ghana. As of 2015, 50% of students in Ghana had internet access, while almost every university provided 24-hour access to the web. Additionally, 70% of the population owned a mobile device by the end of the same year. However, internet access can still be spotty and unreliable. In response, in May 2020, tech companies like Facebook, China Mobile International and others launched 2Africa, a project to bring high-speed internet access to Africa via a 37,000 km submarine optical cable. The project will improve essential reliable internet access and speed to 16 African countries including Ghana by 2023. Surveyed students in Ghana expressed that they hope the project will reduce the national illiteracy rate, which currently measures at 21%.
  2. Distance learning in Ghana includes broadcast television, radio and internet programs. The Government of Ghana launched a program in 2002 called The President’s Special Initiative on Distance Learning (PSI-DL) which pre-recorded and broadcasted math, English and science lessons on national television for junior high and high school students. It also broadcasted additional elective programs related to specific vocational skills, like “Block Laying and Concreting,” and started training workshops in 2007. The final phase of the PSI-DL program targets teacher training to improve the skills and teaching abilities of existing in-person teachers. In higher education, many Ghana universities like the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Cape Coast University have pioneered extensive online course offerings in sub-Saharan Africa. Most recently, the Ghana Minister of Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to create a national reading program over the radio for students in response to over 25,000 primary school closures from COVID-19.
  3. Distance learning in Ghana’s universities is widespread. Between 2014 and 2016, distance learning enrollment increased by 39.4%. Before that, 45,000 students were enrolled in distance learning university courses in 2013 alone. By 2016, however, about half of university enrollment was through distance learning. Distance learning enrollment increases by about 8,000 students per year.
  4. A wide variety of distance learning programs exist for accreditation, job training, primary and secondary education and college-level education. Beyond widespread Ghana university programs for accreditation and online classes, many organizations have adopted distance learning programs to reach students at all levels. A study that broadcast satellite lessons for rural primary students from Accra, Ghana found “significant gains . . . in rural students’ numeracy and foundational literacy skills.” The Varkey Foundation, partnering with UNHCR, uses satellite lessons to teach math, English, and “gender empowerment” to Cote d’Ivoire children living in Ghana refugee camps. Online training programs like Moodle help Ghana nursing students have access to a wider variety of educational resources like training videos and online textbooks. The United Nations’ iLearn Umoja program teaches online courses and provides certification for business and systems skills training. Similarly, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council recently launched an open-enrollment accreditation program in June 2020 with 36 subjects, including business finance and project management.

Distance learning is changing the game for widespread education in Ghana and setting an example for the rest of the world. Distance learning in Ghana allows primary and secondary students in rural areas to access adequate educational material despite limited local resources, provides accreditation opportunities for working adults and equalizes individuals’ opportunities to enroll in higher education. As enrollment in distance learning programs continues to increase and technology continues to improve, it is safe to say that the best is yet to come.

– Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

Distance Learning
The appearance of COVID-19 late last year left education systems in disarray. The following months saw school closures across nations and the emergence of a completely new structure to education. In order to slow the spread of the infectious disease, governments closed schools and enforced quarantine guidelines. Students and teachers turned to education technology (EdTech) to continue schooling. School looked completely different— students and teachers interacted virtually, isolated within their homes. Some say the shift to distance learning is an opportunity to explore more personalized approaches, and may eventually improve education methods. However, that result can only be expected when countries and people have sufficient programs to support Edtech.

5 Countries Using EdTech to Improve Distance Learning

  1. Afghanistan: In order to combat the educational challenges of COVID-19, Afghanistan shifted to distance learning. In-person classes became broadcasted lessons. This solution is viable for the country because it utilizes existing technology throughout the nation. Broadcasting also offers advantages because it is compatible with so many different technologies, granting access to more people. Lessons could be broadcasted through television, websites, social media, or radio. Rumie.org, an international organization working to reduce barriers to education, has a program in Afghanistan that works to increase access to technology in struggling communities. They distribute digital learning resources and format their education plans to make them relevant across the nation. This organization aspires to make education more accessible, especially when distance learning is the only option available. Broadcasted school, in combination with organizations spreading interactive learning materials, is the future of Afghan education during the pandemic.
  2. Argentina: Argentina also has broadcasting capabilities and expands education options by offering both public channels run by the Ministry of Education and private channels contributing to university or community content. They also provide notebooks for children without access to broadcasting. Notebooks contain educational information and require the child to fill out the lesson plans. Seguimos Educando is another initiative supported by the Argentinian Ministry of Education. It is an online program that offers education by subject and includes everything from “self-learning resources, suggestions for families and teachers, films, interviews, educational and communication proposals through social networks and videoconferencing tools, agendas for online events as well as proposals for free time for students.” The government is committed to equal opportunity for students. The Argentinian government is asking companies to keep digital education free of charge. Additionally, they have been distributing tablets and netbooks to communities who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
  3. Bulgaria: Bulgaria began their adjustment to online learning by creating online textbooks and corresponding broadcasting channels. Using this method, students were expected to learn for about six hours a day. The Ministry of Education and Sciences has since introduced new programs to support their textbooks and broadcasting. For example, they organized an online library, the National Electronic Library of Teachers, where teachers can share resources, lesson plans, and ideas about how to make online learning the most effective for their students. All schools also received free Microsoft team accounts so teachers and students can communicate on a digital platform.
  4. Columbia: Colombia approached the COVID-19 school closures by developing two separate education plans based on internet access and resources. Students with internet access can use “Aprender Digital”, a website with learning tools for students, teachers and the general community. It features games and video games to keep students excited and engaged in the material. It also encourages language acquisition through its National Bilingualism Program. For students unable to use online resources, Columbia developed at-home kits to continue learning. The kits are also very interactive learning devices, equipped with games, art projects and even family activities.
  5. Kenya: Kenya established four major platforms for distance learning. The first two options are radio and television broadcasting. Their third option incorporates a new digital learning platform: Youtube. They created a Youtube channel called EduTv Kenya which live streams lessons. The last platform is the Kenya Education Cloud which stores electronic copies of textbooks so students can access them for free. However, Internet access is not guaranteed throughout the country. To make sure that students everywhere could use the internet, Kenya partnered with Google to allow Loon Balloons to fly over rural areas. Loon Balloons create internet connectivity with 4G-LTE capabilities. One balloon provides internet access to a population within a 40 km radius. Using a balloon-provided network, students can continue distance learning despite the pandemic.

COVID-19 pushed education into an unprecedented space. These countries, all with significant portions of their populations below the poverty line, utilize the resources available to them to continue to progress the education of their youth. Edtech is here to stay so that populations can stay safe from COVID-19. By prioritizing distance learning, these countries are displaying their attention to both education and safety.

– Abigail Gray
Photo: Flickr