COVID-19 and international education
China is the third country globally in terms of the number of international students, behind the United States and the United Kingdom (UNESCO, 2019). Like most countries in Africa, available data suggest that about 5,516 Ghanaian students are currently studying in China, with 1,006 having received Chinese government scholarships. Ghana has been ranked the top African country for the number of students it sends to China for three consecutive years.
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on these students, especially those from Africa and other developing countries, cannot be underestimated. The issues of travel ban, prohibition of social gathering and quarantines significantly impact education at all levels both within countries and internationally.
Those who are currently in the affected countries will have a distorted academic calendar and in some instances might have to abandon their education until the host country is able to control the spread of the outbreak.
Developing countries with less robust education systems may experience a breakdown of their education at all levels, while the desire of most young Africans to further their education abroad will be crushed.
Coronavirus in Ghana
As of March 19, Ghana has recorded 9 cases of the coronavirus. The President addressed the nation on March 15 and instructed the closure of all schools until further notice. This has been followed by mixed reactions from various stakeholders.
The shutdown of the education system is worrying for all children, but also for higher education students, considering that Ghana has its share of international students.
Between 2007 and 2015, Ghana was able to increase the number of international students in the country by 838%, from 1,899 to 17, 821 students (World Education Services, 2019).
International students on various university campuses that have been closed down are admonished to stay in their respective halls of residence until further notice.
The way forward is through technology
The most immediate remedy to salvage the situation will be the adoption of educational technology (ed-tech). Educational institutions should employ e-learning systems and more sophisticated measures to deliver education.
Online learning, webinars and flipped classrooms can be a potent mode of education delivery now and in the future when such outbreaks occur. Educational institutions could resort to modern technology and innovations to deliver quality education to their citizens and their international students.
Various ed-tech platforms are available already for this purpose. Examples include Formative, Flipgrid, InsertLearning and Google Docs among others. These platforms should be optimized and made an alternative to residential education.
Again, the practice where institutions of higher learning in developed countries enter into a formal collaborative agreement with similar institutions in developing countries should be encouraged. This provides a platform for international students to access quality education from these advanced institutions from their country. Even though not new, it is important for universities in developing countries to pursue this policy of affiliation vigorously.
It is time for education to assume a different structure, format and dimension in this era of technological advancement, especially for developing countries.
Educational institutions should metamorphose to offer quality education through a non-residential format, alongside their residential set-up. This will help ensure that students and children can continue their learning even in the face of difficult times like we experience today.