Tuesday, 22 June

COVID-19: Private universities, too, deserve 'free' internet for e-learning – Perez-UC Chancellor Agyinasare to gov’t

Education
Chancellor of Perez University College (Perez-UC), Dr Bishop Agyinasare

The government’s provision of free internet connectivity to public universities must be extended to private tertiary institutions as well, to help their e-learning efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chancellor of Perez University College (Perez-UC), Dr Bishop Agyinasare has proposed.

The Presiding Bishop of Perez Chapel International and Affiliate Churches, made the call on Saturday 29 May 2021 in a speech titled ‘Education in Emergencies: The Role of Private Tertiary Institutions’ delivered on the occasion of the Private Universities Students’ Association of Ghana (PUSAG) Congress at the Perez University College, Winneba, Central Region.  

Bishop Agyinasare observed that the “agitation” by almost all sections of students regarding the cost of data and poor access to internet connectivity services in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, “was a major challenge to both public and private Universities”.

He noted, however, that some private Universities, such as Perez-UC, “were ahead of some public Universities in handling this challenge”.

For example, he noted, “Perez University College (Perez-UC) contracted AirtelTigo to supply data for lecturers and students to facilitate teaching and learning”.

The cost of data, Dr Agyinasare said, “was paid by Perez-UC”, adding: “And proficiency training was organised for both students and lecturers concerning how to use the software adopted for teaching and learning during the pandemic”.

He said “the government announced the provision of connectivity facilities to all public Universities and the pre-tertiary government institutions” but “the private Universities were left out”, wondering: “Mindful of the high cost of internet connectivity and ICT infrastructure, how were the struggling private Universities expected to meet this challenge?”

Apart from the appeal for free government-sponsored internet services for private universities, Dr Agyinasare also noted that “whereas the government paid the salaries of the staff of the public Universities, the private Universities were left to fend for themselves at the time it had issued instructions for classes to stop”.

About Perez University College

Perez University College, which is an educational initiative of the Perez Chapel International, was started as a Bible College in September 1992 in Tamale, Northern Ghana by Bishop Charles Agyinasare. It was then called World Miracle Ministerial College (WMMC) and later Miracle Ministerial College (MMC) when it was relocated to Accra when the founder moved in 1994.  In 2013, the institution’s name was changed to Perez College (when the Church’s name was changed to Perez Chapel) with authorisation from the National Accreditation Board.

On November 15, 2015, Perez Chapel International acquired the Pan African Christian University College, the first accredited private University College in Pomadze-Winneba. It is located off the Swedru-Winneba highway, about a kilometre from the Winneba roundabout. Despite its close proximity to Winneba in the Effutu Municipality, administratively, it falls under the Gomoa East District Assembly. Currently, Perez University College has two schools comprising the School of Business (SOB) and School of Theology (SOT).

Perez-UC aims to be a top-class Christian entrepreneurial University that has local, national and international influence and is devoted to training students to be morally sound, critical thinkers, entrepreneurial in outlook and be able to provide solutions to societal challenges.

Read Dr Agyinasare’s full speech below:

Education in Emergencies: The Role of Private Tertiary Institutions. A Speech Delivered on the Occasion of the Private Universities Students Association of Ghana (PUSAG) Congress at the Perez University College, Winneba on the 29th May 2021, by Dr Charles Agyinasare, Presiding Bishop of Perez Chapel International and Affiliate Churches, and Chancellor of Perez University College. 

Central Regional Minister, Mrs. Justina Marigold Assan, Deputy Minister of Education, Rev. Ntim Fordjour, Presidents and Rectors of University Colleges in Ghana herein present, Registrars and Administrators, Members of Convocation, Executives of PUSAG, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

I deem it a great honour to be invited today to deliver this keynote address on ‘Education In Emergencies: The Role of Private Institutions’. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been associated with private tertiary education in this country for some time now having been a Council Member for All Nations University when it was a University College and Central University College till it was chartered as a full-fledged university. I led Perez Chapel International where I am the Presiding Bishop to acquire Pan African Christian University College and transform it into Perez University College where we have all assembled today. I, therefore, come into today’s conversation not only as a Bishop but also as someone who has some understanding of the emerging trends in private tertiary education in Ghana.

Recent events across the globe, especially the Covid-19 pandemic with its devastating consequences has called to question the ways in which we have done things in the past. The deadly pandemic has affected all spheres of human life and education was not spared.

Indeed, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges and opportunities for institutions of higher learning globally and for private tertiary institutions in Ghana in particular. Both global and national response to the existential threats of the pandemic seen in lockdowns and social-distancing protocols have called for new and innovative ways of leadership, management, and teaching and learning in private tertiary institutions in Ghana.

According to the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC), there are more private Universities currently in Ghana and their numbers continue to increase more than the public Universities. For example, as of May 20, 2021, there were 114 accredited private Universities in Ghana, out of which 7 are chartered. The statistics indicate that private Universities are gradually becoming a formidable strand of tertiary education in Ghana. Some of them are doing extremely well while others are still budding and in their formative stages. Out of the 114 private Universities, 71 belong to the Private Universities Students Association of Ghana (PUSAG).

Ghana had its first confirmed COVID–19 cases on March 12, 2020. Consequently, His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced the suspension of all schools and social gatherings in Ghana on Sunday night of March 15, 2020. The decision to suspend lectures was to take effect on March 16, 2020. Following the announcement for the suspension of lectures and all public gatherings, many Universities in Ghana is-sued an official communiqué to affirm the directives of the President and guidelines for teaching, learning, and research during the pandemic period. The Universities emphasised strict observance of the presidential directives and adopted software for distance education to facilitate student-lecturer interactions.

The situation became very serious due to the fact that many private Universities, prior to the pandemic, had no distance-learning strategies to effectively engage students and lecturers to continue teaching, learning, and research. Although a few private Universities engage online services for distance education, these institutions were taken completely off guard during the pandemic/emergency. For example, the Accra Institute of Technology (AIT) suspended physical contact lectures and assured lecturers and students that the institution was working to adapt and activate online plat-forms for teaching and learning.  Although AIT is well known for the use of technology to interact between lecturers and students, it was not a straight-forward phenomenon for them to migrate all student-lecturer interactions to online immediately. All Nations University (ANU) also suspended lectures to adopt distance education. There was official communication to all ANU lecturers and students to the effect that “despite the suspension of classes, the University was not closed and that they were “working to develop online and distance learning platforms for students to access lectures and other learning materials”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the pressure to swiftly develop online and distance education modes became very critical so that private Universities would not lose students to foreign Universities that already have the capacity for online and distance education. Even private Universities that have established pandemic/emergency policies would have to go through challenging times before they get adjusted to the situation. It is commendable that private Universities in Ghana affirmed and immediately suspended teaching and learning according to the presidential directive; however, since many of the private Universities were not actively using ICT for distance teaching, learning, and re-search critical challenges were inevitable.

Distance education is not new in the educational history of Ghana. It was first used in 1982 when the then government gave approval for the Ministry of Education to organise the Modular Teacher Training Programme (MTTP) for untrained teachers to earn Teacher Certificate “A”. This distance education was delivered by mail (postal box) correspondences. The main objective of online and distance education is to meet the needs of workers and other mature students who have very limited time for physical participation in lecture theatre/halls and are willing to study from the comfort of their homes. However, the objective of online and distance education during pandemic periods is to control the spread of the disease. Hence, full-time/regular students are being compelled to study from various locations other than lecture theatre/halls. It implies that the majority; if not all students in the private Universities, become distance students during emergencies. Studies by Ankomah-Asare, and Nsowah-Nuamah have suggested that less than 2% of the population of distance students in Ghana are in private Universities.

In the midst of the pandemic/emergency, the obvious option is online and distance education. This comes with the challenge of which mode of online/distance education should be adopted, taking into account facilities, cost, and personnel. Three (3) modes of distance education have been identified: (i) online e-learning; (ii) online m-learning; (iii) blended learning model. Online e-learning is a concept that has been embraced by Universities that have separate accreditation for traditional/conventional modes of teaching and learning, and a separate accreditation for online e-learning. The Universities that run both streams of programmes are referred to as dual purposeful Universities. Computer laboratories are located at vantage venues where students go to either download or sometimes have real-time (online) interaction with lecturers. An example is Central University that has accreditation to run three (3) undergraduate programmes through distance learning (online e-learning).

When schools and Universities were shut down by the government because of the pandemic, most of the private universities and almost all the public universities did not have the capacity to quickly move to offer classes online so most of them suspended classes entirely. However, some few private Universities continued classes even after the announcement by the government because they already had the online teaching capacity. It was for this reason that most of them were able to pay salaries.

The National Accreditation Board and the National Council for Tertiary Education were issuing conflicting instructions as to what was required to be done. The first instruction came from NCTE, then later the NAB came in with its own directive to all tertiary institutions in the country to submit information on the tools, capacity, and personnel being deployed by the Universities for the online teaching. The directive was that all teaching must be suspended until further notice.

The directive, at the time, did not resonate well with many because the private Universities needed to raise money to pay staff. So, some of them ignored the directive and continued the online teaching.

The agitation made by almost all sections of the students regarding cost of data and poor access to internet connectivity services was a major challenge to both public and private Universities but some private Universities were ahead of some public Universities in handling this challenge. For example, Perez University College (Perez-UC) contracted AirtelTigo to sup-ply data for lecturers and students to facilitate teaching and learning. The cost of data was paid by Perez-UC. And proficiency training was organised for both students and lecturers concerning how to use the software adopted for teaching and learning during the pandemic.

Whereas the government paid the salaries of the staff of the public Universities, the private Universities were left to fend for themselves at the time it had issued instructions for classes to stop.

The government announced the provision of connectivity facilities to all public Universities and pre-tertiary government institutions. The private Universities were left out. Mindful of the high cost of internet connectivity and ICT infrastructure, how were the struggling private Universities expected to meet this challenge?

The need to train faculty to be able to handle the online mode of teaching is a global challenge. Some teaching staff in the advanced countries as well as developing ones such as Ghana, all had to ad-just. This was a challenge faced not only in Ghana or institutions in Africa, but a global challenge.

THE WAY FORWARD

1.     The need for adequate investment in both infrastructure and personnel

2.     Adequate training because the new-normal which the pandemic has brought into the delivery of education will not go away even after the pandemic

3.     The government’s provision of free internet connectivity facilities must be extended to the private Universities as well.

4.     The leadership of private Universities need to adopt the Joseph Leadership theory that prepares for emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency and business continuity plan(s) would have to be promulgated and resources mobilized to make it effective and activated during emergencies/pandemics.

5.     Government should as a matter of urgency aim at ensuring reliable supply of energy and internet service to parts of the country that are in short supply.

Thank you for your attention.

God bless PUSAG,

God bless our Motherland Ghana and make us Great and Strong!

 

 

Source: ClassFMonline.com