At the beginning of 2020, Esther was a student at a school in Ghana where she enjoyed learning and spending time with her friends. “I am excited to learn how to read. So when I go home and my siblings bring an assignment and ask for an explanation, I can explain it well to them”. However, when schools closed in response to the threat of COVID-19 in March 2020, Esther said, “It affected my academics as I didn’t have someone to help me with the reading at home. I was worried I was going to fall behind”.
With schools out of session, governments across the world grappled with ensuring continuity of learning for Esther and millions of other children who could no longer access formal education and learning support. For many countries, this involved turning to a combination of digital solutions and in-person or offline approaches. A survey of 149 countries conducted in October 2020 by UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank shows that almost all countries included remote learning initiatives in their education response, involving online platforms, TV and radio programming, and paper-based home learning packages.
In Ghana, after the closure of all schools in March 2020, the Making Ghanaian Girls Great! project (MGCubed) was approached by the Ministry of Education (MoE) to support the swift rollout of a national distance learning approach. MGCubed is a four-year Girls’ Education Challenge project which uses solar-powered and satellite-enabled distance learning infrastructure to broadcast interactive learning sessions to students in 72 schools across seven districts in Ghana. Leveraging MGCubed’s existing capacity, the MoE and MGCubed designed and delivered educational content for a newly created television channel, Ghana Learning TV (GLTV), which targeted millions of children in primary and junior secondary during the COVID-19 school closures.
Building on existing technology and skills
To support the national rollout of GLTV, MGCubed provided its studio and technical expertise to produce, post-produce and broadcast the TV episodes in partnership with the Ghana Education Service (GES). MGCubed’s Master Teacher Trainers, who delivered the project’s learning and training sessions from the studios prior to the pandemic, played a key role in the initiative. They used their experience of producing and presenting live educational sessions to design and quality assure the lesson content for the GLTV episodes in collaboration with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA). They trained and mentored the GES teachers on best practices in delivering lessons remotely, which included inclusive teaching approaches, such as promoting accessibility for children with disabilities through sign language, as well as on gender equality, social inclusion and safeguarding concepts, and practices to support the most marginalised learners.
The Director of the Girls’ Education Unit at the Ghana Education Service commented on the benefits of this collaboration, saying: “When COVID-19 came and we had to do virtual learning, instantly we were using the studios of the MGCubed project because they already had theirs established. They have also trained teachers. Occasionally, they bring teachers together and do capacity building for them on how their lessons could become more practical and interactive for the children to understand. It is due to the MGCubed studios that we were able to run the Ghana Learning Programme by recording it and allowing it to be played on our TV stations. That has also fed into the Ghana TV programme because MGCubed assisted us in doing the majority of the episodes.”
In total, during school closures, MGCubed supported the MoE to record, review and produce 420 learning episodes for primary and junior secondary students to be broadcast on GLTV in English, Maths, Social Studies and Science. The TV broadcasts have continued even after schools in Ghana reopened to all students in January 2021.
In early 2021, Plan International was asked to provide technical assistance to the GES on creating audio-visual content for Senior High Schools (SHS), which has been used to supplement in-school learning. The project has supported the production and post-production of 144 episodes for students in SHS.
During the pandemic, the engagement with GLTV increased considerably over time. In 2020, only 32% of MGCubed participants had watched GLTV, but this increased to 72% in 2021. The increasing uptake and engagement with GLTV over the course of school closures was supported by the work of MGCubed project staff, who encouraged children and caregivers to participate in home learning through phone calls and face-to-face visits.
It is important to note that digital solutions are not a silver bullet in ensuring access and to keep children learning. This is especially the case for the most marginalised learners who are least likely to have access to technology. MGCubed’s monitoring data showed that television ownership amongst MGCubed households was slightly higher than radio ownership, but nonetheless, a significant portion of MGCubed participants were not able to access a TV or the GLTV channel. To reach learners without access to GLTV, MGCubed provided learning support via phone and distributed learning packs to participants. A cash transfer scheme was also extended to mitigate some of the economic impact of COVID-19.
The impact of GLTV
Supporting learners to revisit and consolidate topics they had learned at school was one of the key advantages of GLTV, according to both children and caregivers. In monitoring data collected by the project in 2020, children who had watched GLTV were much more likely to say they felt they were progressing with their learning – 75% compared to 33% of those who had not watched it.
Learners appreciated the fun and engaging style of teaching of GLTV lessons, which they said was useful in helping them grasp concepts more easily. In project monitoring data, 97% of the children who had watched GLTV said they found it helpful in supporting them with their learning.
“I am able to deepen my understanding of topics studied in school with the TV lessons” said one student based in Nkwanta South.
Many caregivers also welcomed the role GLTV played in keeping their children occupied during the long school closures, in addition to supporting their academic progress.
“The TV lessons are supporting my children to stay in the house every day to learn and through that they are progressing in their learning.” – male caregiver, Ada East
“Through the TV lessons my child stayed at home every day to learn and also her academic performance has improved.” – female caregiver, Ningo Prampram
The MGCubed project’s Endline Evaluation also found learning levels of children were largely maintained in literacy and numeracy as a result of GLTV engagement. Many girls mentioned that GLTV and learning packs helped them stay up to date with their studies. In addition, watching GLTV during school closures was associated with having a higher level of attendance after schools re-opened, as learning through GLTV during school closures supported girls to remain interested in school. Lastly, the evaluation highlighted that caregivers of girls who watched GLTV were more likely to have positive attitudes towards girls’ education.
Understanding the future potential of GLTV
The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the importance of resilient, adaptable and inclusive education systems. Tech-based, remote learning has its limitations in terms of access and inclusion, which is why it is critical for governments preparing for future crises to ensure they adopt a multi-modal and hybrid model of education delivery to ensure equality and accessibility to all students.
In Ghana, GLTV supported continuity of learning through the provision of high-quality, child-centred and gender-sensitive content which is scalable and has the potential to mitigate the impact of future interruptions to schooling. The collaboration between Plan International and the Ghana Education Service has also generated a library of audio-visual educational content. This collaboration has built the capacity of the MoE and other national-level agencies to roll out distance learning approaches which can be leveraged in the future. GLTV lessons created during school closures are now permanently available through the Ghana Library App. The project has also compiled short videos showcasing interactive and participatory pedagogical methods which will be shared through the Ghana Education Service and used to support teacher training efforts across Ghana beyond the end of the MGCubed project.
MGCubed’s involvement in GLTV and the use of the project studios showcases the potential of technology-based approaches to rapidly scale up and reach learners with inclusive approaches at a national level, reducing the potential learning loss resulting from widescale disruption to schooling. GLTV has also demonstrated the role distance learning content can play in complementing and enhancing school-based teaching, by creating new learning spaces at the household level and involving caregivers in pupils' learning.