Programming In Basic Schools, A Ploy To Catch Up With The Information Age; Is Ghana Ready?
By Michael Osei-Owusu
Programming, at the most basic level, involves writing many lines of codes in order to create a software program as well as analyzing and implementing algorithms and data structures. Programming has been included in the current Computing curriculum, which is set to commence in September 2019. This new trend in the curriculum is meant to equip the learner with required skills to enable him or her fit well in this era of rapid technological advancement. Is Ghana ready to implement such a momentous task to the fullest?
Significance of this new trend
Understanding the basics of programming helps the learner to develop an appreciation of how software engineers use math and algorithms to solve problems in a logical and creative way. The ability to solve problems is a very useful trait in our daily lives. Teaching programming at the basic level will inculcate in the learner this useful trait.
Learning to code teaches children to think. Programming is not only about writing a long string of codes but also involves thinking uniquely, logically and creatively in order to solve problems. The learner needs to identify a larger problem and break it down into smaller pieces in order to solve it effectively. This is called decomposition and is a very key feature of computational thinking.
” A computer is a bicycle for your mind ” – Steve Jobs
In addition, computer programming is the future. There are an increasing number of businesses who rely on programming and therefore the learner will have an advantage in employment opportunities in the future.
Inadequate facilities – A major setback
In spite of the significance of this new technological advancements, Ghana as a nation has made little efforts to meet the standards of the information era over the past few years. Computers are an important part of the information age, yet most basic schools in Ghana lack adequate computers needed for success in today’s technology-driven environment.
To highlight the inadequacies found in Ghanaian schools, the BBC Africa wrote a story in 2018 about a Ghanaian teacher, Mr. Akoto, who teaches computer lessons on a blackboard because there were no actual computers to use. According to the article, Mr. Akoto’s school had not had any computers since 2011.
The Ghana Education Service admonishes teachers to improvise especially when teaching and learning resources are not available. In the real sense of the word, it is easier to teach parts of a personal computer even if the actual computer is not available. The teacher could simply use images and videos to teach the topic without any challenges.In light of this, a teacher in Assin was seen improvising mouse clicks with a stone in a video that went viral and attracted lots of attention in Ghana and beyond. Now, how do you teach Mysql, scratch, VB.net and other programming languages without the actual computer? The framework of the new curriculum requires that the learner writes simple algorithms in Mysql, which is an open-source relational database management system and VB.net, which is a multi-paradigm object- oriented programming language from Microsoft. How can the teacher improvise and successfully teach these concepts without the actual computer?
Ghana has done little effort to provide schools with quality computers to teach the subject. Of course the Government since 2008 through RLG started distributing laptops to pupils, dubbed one laptop per child project. However laudable the project was, it has became a bale shadow of itself. The laptops provided were loaded with Ubuntu OS out of the box, while the ICT curriculum emphasized on Windows OS. In addition, the laptops themselves failed to even run low – graphic intensive apps like Mavis Beacon let alone write strings of codes in VB.net and Mysql.
Then there is the issue of internet connectivity or the lack thereof. Most rural areas in Ghana still lack network reception and internet connectivity, making the teaching of most topics in ICT a pain in the neck. Scratch, which is among the new topics, involves online based activities and therefore requires quality internet facilities to teach
Inadequate trained personnel
The old ICT curriculum lacked the personnel to treat some technical topical areas. Some teachers skipped those topics. Others sought the help of resource persons to treat those topics. It is a known fact that the average Ghanaian teacher lacks technical computing skills and this made the teaching of the old ICT subject a herculean task. With the introduction of programming in the Computing curriculum, the problems of the average Ghanaian teacher are compounded even further, to say the least.
There is an on-going training on the new standard based curriculum and this training is more geared towards implementation of the curriculum in general. No training has been organized for teachers to equip them with the skills to teach these new computing topics including programming languages. Textbooks to teach the various subjects are not yet available, yet the curriculum was hastily implemented due to some reasons only the Government of Ghana including her agencies in the Education sector can fathom.
The way forward
Ghana has to mass supply her schools with quality ICT tools to enable teachers to effectively teach the subject. Alex Afenyo Markin, the Member of Parliament for the Effutu Constituency in the Central region recently launched a programme dubbed “one-private school teacher, one laptop project.” Under the programme, every private school teacher in the constituency will get get a brand new HP laptop. A little over 600 public school teachers within Effutu had already benefited from the initiative. The Government of Ghana should take-up this project and expand its scope to a broader nationwide perspective, perhaps not a “one-teacher one laptop project but rather a “one-school one state of the art computer laboratory project.” Government has to eschew the approach where a teacher has to use a stone to simulate a mouse causing the school to get a state of the art computer laboratory, but rather employ an approach of supplying every school with quality tools needed to successfully implement the curriculum.
Major stakeholders of education should organize training sessions and seminars to equip the Ghanaian teacher with the required skills. The teacher must also make conscious effort to upgrade their skills. The Ghana national Association of ICT Teachers (GNAIT), has collaborated with Kofi Annan Institute to subsidize specialized course certifications for its members. Teachers should take advantage of these courses for effective implementation of the curriculum.
So the bottom line, programming in the basic schools is like trying to download a 10 gigabyte of seasonal movie using 2G network connectivity. It is achievable but will take a frustrating period of time to accomplish. Of course, the best way to download the movie quickly is to upgrade to a faster network connectivity like 5G, yes! 5G. Clearly, Ghana isn’t quiet ready for that, but for those with the necessary facilities, internet connectivity and trained personnel, it gives this amazing little glimpse into the future that I wish was ready for right now.
The future of programming in Ghana is really bright assuming the government provides quality resources, facilities and teachers are equipped with requisite skills to teach these topics effectively. Imagine a Basic five pupil using programming languages to solve basic problems. That would be amazing. But as of right now, Ghana isn’t ready yet. But I am super ready for when it is.