SchoolNet: A Catalyst for Transforming Education in Ghana
William Anim Dankwa
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Ghana
Electronic communication and computer systems have been testified
worldwide as having significant impact on learning and teaching.
They have the potential to provide teachers and students with
useful up-to-date information and communication resources, motivate
students to learn by fostering sharing of ideas between teachers
and students. These are the reasons behind the establishment of
a SchoolNet in Ghana.
This paper critically looks at SchoolNet--a project that will
begin in March this year. Its goals, the infrastructure that is
to be put in place, implementation, the nature of schools to be
connected in the preliminary stages of the project and benefits
to be derived from it are all considered.
The paper also presents details of technical and administrative
problems to anticipate, political opinion, user support, training
programs available and the overall expectations of the project.
Ghana is one of the countries of West Africa that has seen some
improvement in its developmental efforts in the last few years.
Many sectors of the country's economy have had these improvements
due to the inflow of technology and ready access to information.
This has been made possible by the introduction of computers either
for storage of information or for processing data and lately for
accessing data from the outside world. Most of the computer users
in Ghana have made progress in their work and are asking for more,
while some institutions and ministries of Government have been
relegated to the background using old typewriters for data processing
and storage. One of the sectors that seems to be oblivious of
these improvements is the Ministry of Education. In all schools,
especially secondary schools, processing of administrative records
is done by manual typewriters.
Gradually, things are beginning to change since the duty on computers
that are meant for educational purposes has been waived. With
this waiver, there has been an influx of computers into the country
that is gradually helping to foster computer-mediated communication.
Internet in Ghana
Internet as a word become part of the Ghanaian diction only at
the end of 1994 when Network Computer Services (NCS) finalized
arrangements with a provider to begin test of full IP services
in Ghana. E-mail however has been known since 1989 but usage as
a means of communication gained prominence only during the latter
part of 1995. With these developments and the experience obtained,
it is becoming increasingly clearer that all sectors of the economy
could benefit from this idea of networking. In fact Ghana can
make gains through advertising and creation of a home page on
tourism, industry, agriculture, health and education.
Following the examples of other countries, especially the industrialized
countries, it is clear that the educational sector can have a
big boost when schools are networked. It is a result of the gains
in other places that the SchoolNet project has been initiated
to help transform secondary education in Ghana.
SchoolNet is a nonprofit project initiated by Dr. Gideon Chonia,
a lecturer of computer science at Zurich University, to help Ghanaian
secondary school students take advantage of computer networking
to enhance their learning, socializing and communications skills.
Structure of operation
The project will be initially managed by Chonia Informatica, which
owns GhanaNet, a Local e-mail service provider. In Ghana, the
project will be coordinated by the SchoolNet Committee, which
is a 12-member committee made up representative teachers drawn
from the 10 regions of Ghana and others who have shown considerable
interest in the project.
The committee has the following responsibilities:
- General administration of the project
- Representation of local needs
- Management of finances
- Coordination of fundraising activities when the need arises
to sustain the project
- Nomination of persons for the position of Network engineer
and any other initiative that is likely to enhance and sustain
Apart from this committee, SchoolNet will also be staffed by an
informatic supporter and a Ghana network engineer who will provide
the needed technical and software advice and expertise as well
as train students and teachers who will be playing key roles in
their respective schools.
Since the conception of the idea, the project organizers have
done the following:
- Registered a world-wide domain
- Registered a world-wide unique sub-net
- Entered into a contract with an international provider for
- Installed hardware and software to connect GhanaNet
to the United Kingdom
- Acquired premises to host the e-mail center
- Acquired computers to be used for the project
Already meetings have been held to select the SchoolNet Committee,
which is made up of teachers of secondary schools and personnel
of the Ghana Education Service (GES). It is gratifying to note
that the Chairman of the Committee is the Ministry's Director
of Education in charge of secondary education. A proposal of work
has been submitted to the Minister for Education for ratification,
and project activity will begin immediately.
Present state of secondary school education in Ghana
There are 452 secondary schools in Ghana.
Standard of education
Secondary school education in Ghana has for some time been the
subject of discussion regarding a downward trend in standards.
While this could be attributed to the general state of the economy,
it has also been attributed to the poor infrastructure, inadequate
equipment and the disparate locations of some schools. This has
been the case because many a teacher would prefer the metropolis
to the rural areas because their goals are best achieved there.
This bias has governed the results of the schools because all
the good teachers prefer the urban areas. As a result, there are
grade A schools with the others falling into other categories.
These schools tend to have the best teachers and the best resources,
hence their good results at all levels.
Conditions under which secondary education is organized
The following have continued to be the conditions under which
secondary school education has been organized:
- Use of textbooks, which in most cases are not available, and
the measure of success is largely dependent on the ability to
memorize and reproduce, that is, learning by rote.
- Chalk and dictation have been the tools for informing students
and with the exception of laboratory work, students do not participate
in the learning process. Students are dependent on the teacher
for everything such that without the teacher most students are
not able to do independent work.
- Libraries are not well stocked and even if they are they tend
to contain outdated material. Acquisition of books for the libraries
is erratic. If the need arises for budget cuts to be made, funds
for the library are the most likely to go.
- School teachers of the same subject do not interact enough.
Transportation costs and the paychecks do not permit teachers
to visit their colleagues to share ideas.
- Some teachers use the same material for years without updating
it. This tends to affect the output of students who study under
- Computers are unknown in most schools, and even if they exist
the cost of maintaining them does not permit students to explore.
- Some schools lack the basic necessities, like an administration
block, science laboratories and classroom basics like tables and
The government's current infrastructure improvement program has
led to the extension of electricity and telephone lines to other
parts of the country that will enable schools in these areas to
take maximum advantage of the SchoolNet program.
Goals of the project
The goals of the project are both immediate and long term. The
immediate goal of SchoolNet is to connect 50 secondary schools
and help them achieve the following:
- Help secondary students in Ghana to benefit from networking
and computer networking.
- Encourage interaction among teachers and students of secondary
- Engineer discussion of topics and subjects among students
who are otherwise not on the same campus.
- Help Ghanaian students tap and use information generated from
elsewhere that is available on the Internet.
The long-term goals of the project are:
- To encourage students in Ghana to make use of the information
explosion accessible through computer networking and attain a
status in which the Ghanaian student will be able to interact
effectively with other students for the purposes of raising the
level of education in Ghana
- To connect as many schools as possible based on the patronage
and results of the first phase
The project will begin with the provision of 50 used computers
and modems that will be distributed to the first 50 secondary
schools that have electricity and telephone. These would be backed
up by a 10 gigabyte terminal server in a wide area network. This
will also be connected to what has been termed an Academic Computer
The ACC as an adjunct to the program will play an important role
in training both teachers and students in management and servicing
of computers and act as a backup server for SchoolNet.
The implementation of the SchoolNet project is in three phases.
This involves the background work of securing the computers, registration
of the domain and organization and setting up of the infrastructure.
These have already been achieved as mentioned above.
The project is at present in this phase. Activities earmarked
- Formation of the SchoolNet Committee
- Installation of infrastructure at ACC
- Connection of ACC to the Internet by IP connection (end of
- Training of technicians (August 1996)
- Complete connection to 50 schools (December 1996)
Activities earmarked for this phase include but are not limited
- Operation of the ACC on a routine basis
- Connection of more schools to SchoolNet by UUCP
- Starting with IP connections to/from ACC in selected schools
- Increasing bandwidth to the Internet
- Full IP connectivity to all schools involved in the project
Benefits of the SchoolNet project
- Open up new opportunities for students to share ideas with
others. In the past, students met their colleagues in other institutions
only during sporting times or wrote letters, but technology through
SchoolNet would enable students to hear from their colleagues
- Access to information. Through the creation of bulletin boards,
conferencing and later World Wide Web, students could have unlimited
access to information. This will enable them to participate in
the learning process with their peers. Even more, there is a greater
likelihood of the programs increasing student-teacher interaction.
- Contact with students and teachers of other institutions,
both local and international. The project will give students
the opportunity to interact with their peers and teachers worldwide.
In Ghana, this sharing is likely to yield good results, since
students from the much more endowed schools will share ideas and
notes with those from the less endowed.
- Critical discussion and participation in group discussions.
- Help realize objectives of the Science Resource Centers Project
of the Ministry of Education. The Science Resource Project was
initiated by the Government of Ghana through the Ministry of Education
as a way of addressing the following problems of secondary education
- Insufficient number of qualified teachers in secondary schools
- Nonavailability of good science laboratories in some senior
secondary schools offering science programs
- Generally insufficient quantities and types of equipment,
chemicals, and materials in science laboratories in schools
The project goal is to establish 110 science resource centers
that would (1) provide tuition and opportunity for science practical
work for secondary schools offering the science laboratory facilities,
and (2) provide science students with the opportunity to observe
and use modern science equipment including computers that are
meant for demonstration purposes alone and are not normally made
available in individual schools.
SchoolNet will help to whip up enthusiasm among student to study
science subjects in secondary schools. In this project, two computers
and accessories would be presented to some selected schools. Teachers
of science who would be handling them were given some training
in the programs that were to be used. These centers so created
can benefit immensely from the SchoolNet in the sense that problems
arising at one school could be solved at little cost and within
a limited time frame.
- Questions and answers. The SchoolNet project would greatly
enhance access to students and people from different sociopolitical
and economic backgrounds and would enable them to communicate
freely through answering questions and also asking questions.
- Pen pals. One major benefit of the project is the variety
of ways in which students can use the pen-pals system to bring
experiences into the classroom. Students from different parts
of the world can communicate via e-mail to learn about one another's
cultural practices. This is a tremendous way to improve and enrich
the curriculum. Other related gains include improvement through
writing and language skills as well as widening the horizon of
- Online help for teachers. In a variety of ways, with the implementation
of the IP protocol, teachers will have the prospect of a ready-made
online service at their disposal. This will readily help teachers
to upgrade their notes as well as synchronize their teaching experiences
with their peers outside the country.
- Remotely there is the possibility of incorporating long- distance
learning into the educational system when the computer- awareness
program succeeds. This will enable the government to realize its
long-cherished dream of making distance learning possible through
- It is also expected that in the future the Ministry of Education
will benefit directly from the project because it can be used
as a means of getting feedback from the schools. With the installation
of a modem in the PC of the Secondary Education Secretariat (Office),
the Officer in Charge will be able to send memos to all headmasters
and get replies immediately. This will save headmasters the cost
of running to the Ministry just to hand in reports.
Technical and administrative problems to anticipate
There are some problems that should be anticipated in view of
the nature of the project:
- The first problem is that of bureaucracy. Processes for implementing
projects are too bureaucratic in Ghana, especially when they involve
the Civil Service. Many a project has been impeded by this tendency,
which unduly affects the implementation schedule as outlined in
the project proposals. Also there is the attendant cost implication.
In Ghana, the inflation rate is high, and delays arising out of
bureaucracy tend only to increase the cost and probably make it
impossible to implement. This problem has a tendency to impede
progress as well as generate apathy in the long run.
- The next anticipated problem is the lack of teachers who are
computer literate. About 95 percent of teachers in Ghana are not
computer literate because it is expensive to learn through the
private computer companies in the country. Even if they were literate
in computers, the issue of nonavailability of computers within
the educational system could still pose a problem. Only about
5 percent of the 452 schools have computers. Where they exist,
they are mostly part of administration. Only a few schools have
computer rooms. As a result, teachers will initially find it difficult
to lead the students through some of the programs since they might
not want to show their ignorance.
- A much more important problem is the lack of financial resources
for payment of telephone and repair of modems. This is a syndrome
in Ghana where a request for practically everything is turned
down for lack of funds. The issue of funds will therefore need
to be treated carefully. For this reason, the SchoolNet Committee
will have to pursue their fundraising activities with diligence.
- Who pays the bill for students staying online when connected
to the Internet? This question arises because the budgets for
the schools are not adequate. Besides, the tariffs of the Post
and Telecommunications are very high. This will put the burden
of payment for searching information on the already over- burdened
parents and teacher associations.
- Fear of misapplication of funds. Past experiences with funds
for projects makes it difficult for the public to contribute meaningfully
toward schemes like SchoolNet, though it is clear that the project
will be beneficial.
- The problem of monitoring what students do on the Net. Who
monitors whom? It is difficult to restrain people once they are
on the net. Is it possible for the schools to supervise activities
of the students? The remedy is probably to download every day
the materials that will be useful to the students so that they
will be restricted to only that. This can be tedious to achieve
and possibly contrasts sharply with the desire to make students
independent by allowing free access to information. The best suggestion
so far has been to guide students so that initially they will
be under the instruction of teachers, but later on, as they progress,
to let them make their own choices.
- Poor post and telecommunications infrastructure will have
a telling effect on the project. Although there are improvements
in certain areas, in some parts of the country and even in Accra,
there are low baud rates. Schools in these areas will incur fantastic
costs when they go searching on the Net.
- Insufficiency of phone lines will greatly affect the project
in most schools. Most of the schools have only one phone and will
have to share the line with voice communication. This will put
a strain on the line as well as affect the location of the facility.
There is no official policy on computer communication and networking
in Ghana today. The tendency now is to believe that since the
government cannot initiate the projects by itself, everything
is welcome provided it meets its aspirations and moves the country
forward in some way. Government is committed to improving the
basic infrastructure by providing telephones and electricity to
all district centers. However, because this has not been tested
in Ghana, it is difficult for the government to make policies
on it. Government's reaction to the project will be based on how
it fares in the first two years of operation.
User support and training programs available
To facilitate economy and efficiency in an environment in which
information technology is required, training and user support
are required for the schools involved. It must be acknowledged
that there are built-in mechanisms to ensure that there is support
for the project. As mentioned already, the first 50 secondary
schools will receive one computer and a modem. The schools so
selected will each send a team of three (made up of the coordinator
of the project, who must be a teacher, and two students, one of
them in a senior class and the other in a junior class to ensure
continuity in organizing the project) to the Academic Computing
Centre (ACC). The ACC will be the center to train core personnel
involved in the project. The center will also serve as a training
locale for students of the universities in Ghana who for obvious
reasons will need some practical training when school is not in
The content of the training courses includes:
- Disk operating systems, using information technology for
- The mechanics of electronic mail
- Sending and receiving mail for student representatives of
the selected schools involved in the project, as well as
surfing the net (how to access information on the Internet)
- Installation of modems
- Maintenance of servers
- IP Protocol
- Management of networks
- Computer hardware maintenance
- General computer application, including software and various
training programs on software usage
Besides these courses, the ACC will also introduce participants
to the following:
- Properties and functions of networks
- Properties and functions of the Internet
- History of the Internet
- Demonstration on use of application programs like Mosaic,
Netscape, Gopher, Veronica, and the World Wide Web on the Internet
The project will also tap the expertise available in Ghana. At
the moment there a few private companies engaged in providing
Internet services. These include Network Computer Services,
Datatel, and others like the University of Ghana, the Council for Scientific
and Industrial Research, and Friends of the Earth, which are basically
Fidonet connections. There are also a few organizations using
Unix-to-Unix copy (UUCP).
Expectations of the project
The SchoolNet project is generally expected to transform secondary
education from essentially classroom-based and teacher-oriented
instruction to a system that will involve students in the learning
process. It is anticipated that when the project takes root student
- To search for information on their own
- To share ideas with their peers from other schools and outside
- To bridge the gap between more-endowed and less-endowed
schools in terms of access to information
- To help shape the thinking of students so that they
can contribute meaningfully to national development
The SchoolNet project has the potential to transform secondary
school education in Ghana. What is needed now is commitment on
the part of government to ensure that the project goes through
smoothly. The commitment of heads of secondary schools is also
needed to ensure that the right climate is created for the students
to make the best of the project. It is the wish of the writer
that the international community will also assist the project
to achieve its objectives.
- Ministry of Education Science Resource Centre Project: Program
of Action, 1996.
- Eng Pheng Tan. Internet for Schools: The Singapore Experience,
INET '95 Proceedings, Volume 1, pp. 293-297.
- Anim Dankwa, W., Status of E-mail in Ghana, 1995.