Ghana’s Teacher Education System and Responding to COVID-19
By Professor Mohammed Salifu, Executive Secretary of the National Council for Tertiary Education & Robin Todd, T-TEL Team Leader
Overview of reforms
The past few years have seen momentous and positive changes within Ghana’s teacher education system as we have embarked upon the most ambitious and comprehensive set of reforms to initial teacher education in our nation’s history.
These reforms are driven by a desire to ensure that we produce teachers who can inspire learners and encourage critical thinking, problem solving and creativity rather than simply focusing on factual recall to pass written examinations.
Stakeholder consensus was developed through dialogue and consultation with key actors and agencies across the education system which led to the production of the National Teacher’s Standards (NTS). These Standards set out a common expectation of Ghanaian teachers’ knowledge, behaviour and practice which then formed the basis of a review and revision of the teacher education curriculum.
Since 2018 Ghana’s 46 public Colleges of Education have been delivering a new Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) in Initial Teacher Education which has been carefully designed to ensure that it produces a cadre of skilled, knowledgeable and motivated Ghanaian teachers who meet the requirements of the NTS. A team of international assessors has already described the content of this B.Ed. as being ‘truly world class’ and the task ahead of us now is to ensure that implementation of the B.Ed. is also world class.
Progress so far has been positive. Each of the Colleges of Education is affiliated to one of five mentoring universities who provide guidance and support as well as operating weekly professional development and learning sessions for tutors. The new B.Ed. curriculum blends content and pedagogy so all tutors now model the behaviour and practices expected of teachers in basic school classrooms whilst teaching student teachers. Assessment has also changed so that there is a much greater focus on Supported Teaching in School (teaching practice in partner schools), continuous assessment and portfolio building rather than on final written examinations. These reforms are overseen by the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) with support from Transforming Teacher Education and Learning (T-TEL), a Government of Ghana programme funded by UKaid and implemented by Cambridge Education which has been working with the sector since 2014 and is now in its final year.
COVID-19 situation and response
16th March 2020 was supposed to be the day that Semester 2 of the 2019/20 academic year commenced across all 46 public Colleges of Education, providing further opportunities to continue and deepen the teacher education reforms. Instead 16th March was the day when the President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, decreed the start of a nationwide ban on public meetings, workshops and conferences and the indefinite closure of all schools, universities and Colleges of Education in an effort to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic within Ghana.
Professor Mohammed Salifu, Executive Secretary of the National Council for Tertiary Education
In response NCTE, with the support of T-TEL, established a Virtual Learning Taskforce for Teacher Education. This Taskforce included all five mentoring universities and engaged key stakeholders such as the Principals of Colleges of Education (through PRINCOF), College of Education tutors, non-teaching staff and student teachers (through their respective unions and representative bodies- CETAG, CENTSAG and TTAG). The Taskforce meets regularly to ensure that teacher education continues through virtual and online learning until such a point as institutions can re-open. A weekly report is produced every Friday and shared with senior leaders within NCTE and the Ministry of Education. As of 17th April the following actions were underway:
- Creating an online B.Ed curriculum (http://resourceshub.ncte.edu.gh/) containing all B.Ed. course materials for Year 1 and Year 2 courses with a separate area for student teachers and tutors. The taskforce is working with the 5 universities to ensure that as many materials as possible are available on this site which also links through to each university’s virtual learning system.
- Working with each of the universities to extend their virtual learning environment so that student teachers in their affiliated Colleges of Education can participate fully in online classes. Enrolment is being carried out across all 46 Colleges of Education and the universities have collectively agreed with NCTE that 27th April will be the new official opening date for Semester 2. Universities currently estimate that around 85%-90% of registered student teachers are able to register on their virtual learning platforms.
- Working with the universities to provide individual support to each of the 46 Colleges of Education to enable them to continue to deliver lessons using Google Classroom, Telegram and WhatsApp on a pilot basis during the period prior to 27th April when universities are extending and preparing these virtual learning systems. In the week ending 17th April a total of 19,302 student teachers from 42 Colleges of Education participated in online lessons. This represents 60% of all registered B.Ed. student teachers in Ghana. T-TEL’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) team is also working closely with universities and Colleges of Education to ensure that the needs of all learners are considered. This has included developing ‘Guidelines for GESI Responsive eLearning’ which are to be followed by all institutions as well as ensuring that materials posted on the B.Ed. curriculum resources hub are accessible to visually-impaired and hearing-impaired learners.
- Supporting tutors to adapt their lessons and teaching so that they take account of the specific demands of online learning. This includes enrolling tutors on university-led courses and regular virtual lesson observation. Over 1,600 tutors have enrolled in a specially offered online Certificate in Design, Teaching and Learning delivered by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. This course will build tutor capacity on the essential elements of online teaching.
The activities listed above represent a good start but there is much more still to do if Ghana’s teacher education system is to make an effective shift to virtual learning and minimize the disruption caused by COVID-19. Our main priority is ensuring that all student teachers are able to access the universities’ virtual learning systems or we risk exacerbating inequities and inequalities as those student teachers with access to devices and network connection will have an advantage over their peers who live in areas without mobile phone coverage, lack the money to purchase devices or live in households where they are expected to carry out chores at the expense of attending online classes. There are no easy answers to these questions but we are working with stakeholders to develop a package of targeted support and an accompanying communications campaign to help increase equitable access.
In addition to access, there are also important questions which need to be addressed on assessment and how universities can work to ensure that assessments are conducted fairly and accurately whilst remaining aligned with the National Teachers’ Standards (NTS).
Further issues include measures to continue Supported Teaching in School (STS) for B.Ed. student teachers, perhaps through the analysis of videoed lessons to be shared by their tutors, as well as considering the needs of the final batch of Diploma in Basic Education student teachers who were mid-way through their final year teaching placements when all schools were closed.
Robin Todd, T-TEL Team Leader
There are several things that we have learnt over the past month which we think could benefit others who find themselves in a similar situation. Five key learning points are set out below.
- Set a vision and then act quickly whilst consulting widely. Time is of the essence so act rapidly and provide clear direction as to the goal and inject a sense of urgency for those tasked with achieving this goal. Involve relevant stakeholders in meetings and decision-making processes so that they understand the rationale for action. An imperfect plan implemented quickly is preferable to one which takes time to develop but the involvement of different stakeholders can be a big help in refining plans and pointing out possible flaws that had not been considered. Engagement in developing and implementing plans also provides people with a sense of purpose at a time when they may be feeling vulnerable and insecure.
- Build on what already exists rather than looking to create something new and accept that this cannot be a perfect substitute for face-to-face learning. Each of the five universities already had virtual learning systems in various stages of development which are being extended to student teachers in Colleges of Education. It is often quicker and more sustainable to build on what exists rather than starting from scratch. This is one reason why it is important to consult widely so that you are aware of what already exists and can be built upon whilst recognizing that we are in a unique, emergency situation and that whatever we do is trying to make the best of the current situation rather than acting as a like-for-like replacement for face-to-face learning.
- Inclusivity is key to the legitimacy and success of virtual learning. The resumption of official, assessable learning will only be legitimate if a critical mass of student teachers are able to participate. Early indications ahead of the re-opening of Semester on 27th April are that between 85% and 90% of student teachers have registered with and are able to access virtual learning platforms. The ultimate success of our efforts is dependent on the extent to which we can put in measures over the coming weeks to increase this percentage so that all registered student teachers, including those living with disabilities, can participate.
- Regular data is essential to track performance and take action to address identified issues. A system of weekly reporting has been put in place so that NCTE and the universities can quickly identify those Colleges of Education where attendance may be lower or where online classes or Professional Learning sessions have not taken place as scheduled. Within Colleges of Education tutors are working to track individual student teachers who have not attended lessons and understand the reasons for this. These regular data returns at institutional and tutorial level enable rapid targeted action to be taken to address specific issues and raise these to Ministerial or senior official level if required for resolution.
- The switch to virtual and blended learning does have some advantages we should consider how to incorporate within teacher education once the COVID-19 situation has normalized. Virtual lesson observation is easier and quicker than having to make physical trips across the country to sit in on tutor’s lessons; the need to ensure that all materials on the B.Ed. resource hub are inclusive and accessible has helped raise awareness of a free braille and text-to-speech translation tool which we will ensure is widely used where necessary; and the realization that large-scale online learning is possible in the Ghanaian context has also opened up possible ways of rapidly expanding higher education access to help addressed the inevitable increase in demand brought about through the Free Senior High School policy which was introduced in 2017. Thought should be given to how these advantages can continue to be leveraged in the coming years so that the teacher education system in 2021 is more effective than it is in 2020.