Lockdown, a confinement of people that restricts their free movement to mitigate the risk of danger that they might pose to themselves or others, once an unfamiliar word, associated with war and attacks on cities and nations, for the past few months and even presently has become the daily-lived experience of billions of people across the world. This barricade to movement as a result of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-COV 2, meant a halt to the world as we knew it. Schools, restaurants, churches, and essentially all public places, were ceased in what was perhaps the longest period that the world has endured a global standstill of social and economic activity in a period of “peace.” One would contend however that these times are no times of peace. With hospitals overwhelmed, more than 11million people infected, and a global death toll that has already surpassed the half a million mark, the threatening apocalypse of the deadly virus looms on.
The chaos of Covid-19 has redefined furnished physical conference rooms into virtual Zoom calls featuring casually visiting scampering kids in underwear and a lot of “I’m sorry” for the unpredicted deniability of distractions to come. A lot of this change to has occurred in education. The closure of schools meant an opportunity to present education to students in the comfort of their homes. That concept of virtualized education or remote access to educational content is not new, but Covid-19 changed the dynamic of online education as a supplement to in-person tutoring to being the primary resort to any form of interaction with students. For Junior Achievement (JA) Ghana, this was a new challenge. As all our programs are targeted at students, there was a complete cessation of our work in schools across Ghana. A three-days Leadership Camp for Girls due two weeks from when Ghana recorded its first Covi-19 case was immediately cancelled. A successful pilot of a self-awareness and skills development program for teenagers in junior high schools came to an abrupt end with the closure of schools, a financial literacy program for primary school students was postponed and our flagship entrepreneurship program for high schools, the Company Program could not commence.
In countries like Ghana, where technological innovations in education have not caught up with the speed it has in other developed countries, especially for the majority of students who attend public schools with already delimited access to infrastructure, the shift from in-person school to having classes held online to similar efficiency of the former was going to take time. For the beneficiaries of our programs, and as staff of JA Ghana, time was not a resource we had. We had little time to transition our programs online and they as students had little time to waste, having already stayed home for months with no access to rigorous education. After several consultation and meetings, the team decided to revamp our flagship entrepreneurship program for high school students, and for the first time in Ghana, take the program online.
The challenges posed by Covid-19 has surged an array of responses from political, social, economic and environmental support and engagement including but not limited to support for small business, relief funds for persons who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic, free transportation for essential works, free access to previously paid educational content and sponsored youth hackathons to inspire youth innovations that could contribute to curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Our Covid-19 response in this regard was to repurpose our Company Program previously targeted at a few schools we could reach in person into an online program without the barriers of proximity, accessible for every high school student in Ghana. While the program was readily available for all students, a call for half the population of students to go back to school would mean some may not be able to participate in the program yet our reach had the potential it never had before, to bring the Company program to all 16 regions.
The process began with a feasibility study. The challenge was to create a model of execution where the program previously runs for 13 weeks could be offered in significantly less time while maintaining its key learnings. The platform for interaction would be the major hurdle to cross as JA, although has initiated a process of securing an online educational platform, was far from ready to deliver internally. After considering multiple platforms, a consensus decision was made to use Google Classroom, a free simulated classroom experience on the web has made file sharing easily accessible for both students and educators.
With a Gmail address, students and educators can sign up into the classroom using unique class codes. The platform enables educators to arrange students in groups of up to 35 to have discussions, turn in assignments and view lessons via streaming. Educators, in turn, can also upload videos of lessons for students to access at their own pace and time.
Together with experts on the individual content areas of the original Company Program, JA Ghana successfully created a 4-week crash course on starting a business and instilling entrepreneurial principles in students.
From navigating between students challenges with email (in response to which a private Facebook group was formed), challenging students to create TikTok videos out of their learning experiences, and helping financially disadvantaged students to access internet connectivity, JA Ghana’s effort at creating a Covid-19 response has been stacked with new learnings for the future. While it seemed impossible at first, exemplified by the recurring postponement of registration deadlines, the program saw close to 1,000 registrations, with a current participant of 413 students (213 Males and 200 Females), 63 teams, 30+ schools and 7 regions. The Online Company Program is in its third week, with students making the best out of the opportunity to learn, connect and network, without the boundaries of a classroom, one tap at a screen.