Groups kick against initiative to replace textbooks with laptops in high schools


By Nana Achiaa Aboagye

Africa Education Watch (EDUWATCH), Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on education-focused Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have called on government to discontinue its initiative of replacing textbooks with laptops in Senior High Schools.

The groups proposed that government should rather ensure that the schools have a full complement of textbooks and invest in ICT libraries and reliable internet services for the schools to pursue digital learning. The groups were addressing the media in Accra.

On 17th January 2023, His Excellency the Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, announced at the opening of the 2023 Annual New Year School and Conference at the University of Ghana that the government intended to distribute free tablets to all SHS students to facilitate access to e-textbooks, past questions, and other relevant learning content.

On 27th May 2023, the Vice President again announced at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Hohoe Evangelical Presbyterian SHS that the government, through the Ministry of Education, was preparing to replace textbooks with laptops in SHS across the country. However, civil society groups believe that laptops are useful learning resources that expose learners to the ICT culture and enable access to other relevant digital learning content, and though they play a complementary role with textbooks and form part of international best practices in education, they cannot replace printed textbooks.

Years after going digital in high schools, the governments of many advanced countries continue to provide printed textbooks to facilitate learning. This is simply because laptops cannot replace printed textbooks due to the level of reliability of printed textbooks over laptops. Countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa are useful case studies.

The civil society groups are asking government “Where is the feasibility study? When was this conducted (if any) and which stakeholder engagement was undertaken on this report before taking such a billion-cedi decision? Were teachers consulted? Was academia consulted? What about Parliament and CSOs working in the education space?”

They say they are worried about government’s interest in spending over a billion cedis on complimentary laptops for SHS students when about two million basic school pupils lack desks and some 5,000 schools still operating under trees, sheds, and dilapidated structures.

Ghana has just entered an IMF programme, launching the economy into austerity. The Ministry of Finance has responded to the austerity era with expenditure cuts to basic education and related budgets and limitations imposed on the hiring of teachers and education workers. Plans to spend over a billion cedis to procure 1.3 million laptops for SHS students to replace printed textbooks during a period of adequate supply of printed textbooks in SHS does not reflect austerity spending.

The Executive Director for Africa Education Watch, Mr. Kofi Asare, reiterated that e-textbooks can never replace printed textbooks but rather complement them. He said plans to procure 1.3 million laptops for SHS students are ill-informed, not backed by any feasibility study, and not informed by education objectives. plans to procure 1.3 million laptops for SHS students contradict international best practice in the use of laptops in schools, and plans to procure 1.3 million laptops for SHS students do not represent efficient and prioritised use of public funds in the face of staggering evidence of textbook and desk deficits in basic schools.

He added that plans to spend over a billion cedis on laptops for e-textbooks for SHS students at a time when there are adequate printed textbooks in SHS are inconsistent with the austerity period Ghana finds itself in, more so when brutal cuts have been inflicted on the basic education budget. He said the Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Service, and SHS cannot manage 1.3 million laptops based on past and present evidence of poor management of ICT facilities and items.

He called on Parliament to reject any portion of this arrangement that may appear before the House, especially any request for Tax Exemption.

The National Coordinator of the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC), Mrs Bernice Mpere-Gyekye, said government should rather focus on the several challenges already confronting the education sector. She emphasised that most educational policies introduced by government should be well implemented. She called on our policymakers to take our long and short educational term plan, whether it was captured even within the 5 years they want to purchase laptops for the SHSs.

She mentioned that our basic schools are in dire need of resources, which include textbooks, desk infrastructure, teaching materials, among others, and she is therefore pleading with the government, the Ministry, and the Ghana Education Service to pay attention to our basic schools by providing adequate resources for effective teaching and learning.

The Convener for the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Platform on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Madam Joyce Larnyo, said the CSOs are in total support of government’s education transformation agenda within the public education system, but government can’t procure laptops in this period of austerity where the education budget has been significantly cut down to below the minimum international benchmark of 15 per cent.

The National Coordinator of Ghana CSOs Platform on SDGs, Levlyn Konadu Asiedu, intimated that lack of prior consultation on major decisions of the Ministry of Education is a major challenge the government must address in the education sector.

The Civil Society groups are urging the Ministry of Education to consult stakeholders, including CSOs, before coming up with such initiatives.

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