National Service, Troubles with exams and the Secret Danger of COVID-19 Apps...

Welcome to our weekly blog for Teacher Tapp Ghana!

Every Monday we summarise our most surprising and interesting survey findings from the week before. This weekly blog provides an easy way for you to learn about the experiences and opinions of teachers across Ghana.

Please encourage your colleagues to use the Teacher Tapp app to keep engaged with education even when they’re not teaching. Your responses are also a vital data source that GES will be using to help in their decision-making around best policies and approaches to managing the current crisis.

If you’d like to bring more teachers to Teacher Tapp, please share this blog with your colleagues and encourage them to use the download links at the bottom of the page. In the mean time, here are this week’s intriguing findings…

1. Has the time come for SHS National Service?

Students completing tertiary education in Ghana are charged with completing one year of national service. However, with the recent school closures, there has been some discussion at the top level of GES in favour of SHS students completing a similar year.

The motivation for this idea is quite simple – schools are closed, WASSCE exams are suspended indefinitely and SHS students consequently face losing out on a year of education. Furthermore, it is likely that the country will require a lot of voluntary labour to help get it back on its feet after the current COVID-19 crisis.

We asked you how much you’d support an idea like this and were struck by how polarised the responses were. While 40% of you were supportive of the idea, over 50% disagreed with it.

Reasons for disagreement may be that teachers feel that a compulsory SHS year of national service in addition to one after tertiary education is excessively demanding. Teachers may also have moral objections to the idea of enforced national service, believing it a violation of citizen freedom.

Nevertheless, despite this lack of support for SHS national service, 65% of you told us you believe that students learn skills and values from national service that they would not otherwise acquire until much later in life. So it is clear that the majority of you see some worth in completing national service.

With that in mind, we wondered what kinds of national service you thought would be most worthwhile. From the list we offered, the two most popular selections were working in a support role in a school and working with a different kind of vulnerable community.

We hope the preference for support in schools is more than you wanting help in your classroom! It could also be that you appreciate that schools face particular struggles with having enough support staff and that the experience of working with young people instills values and experiences that will set SHS students up for success in later life.

The two least popular options were participation in disaster relief in other countries and wildlife preservation. These suggest that our teachers’ concerns are mainly focused within Ghana and are oriented around humans rather than the rest of the natural world.

Is there any other kind of national service you’d like to see students engaging in? Let us know in an email to baz@teachertapp.co.uk.

2 . Back to school – but there might be a catch…

Countries outside of Ghana are now beginning the slow process of returning students to school. One set of tools that is supporting the safety of this return is a type of app that tracks COVID-19 symptoms and engages in digital contact-tracing.

This allows users to be alerted when someone they have recently been in contact with become ill from the virus. The informed can then get themselves tested or self-isolate to slow the spread of the infection.

Such apps are nearly in a position to be released in Ghana. The government has also announced that the widespread use of such apps would allow for a quicker easing of social distancing rules, allowing society to return to something closer to normal.

But there are lots of concerns about COVID-19 tracking apps, particularly around how they store and use the personal data of users. Because these apps are being rushed into production and distribution they are not going through the usual safety-assurance processes. This makes them especially concerning.

This is a concern that you seem to share. Nearly 60% of you told us you are concerned about the use of data from these apps.

What remains unclear is whether teachers in Ghana are generally concerned about how their data is being used by all technology applications. However, the widespread use of Facebook suggests that this may not be a major concern.

In any case, whatever your worries, 80% of you told us that you would be happy for such apps to be rolled out if they allowed schools to open soon. Clearly you value your ability to help your students and ensure they get a good education more than you value your data privacy. That’s quite likely a good thing!

3 . Exams vs. Teacher Assessment

With all national examinations suspended for the foreseeable future, there is natural concern that Ghanaian students will suffer damaging setbacks in their education.

One method of continuing to drive educational progression despite exam suspensions is to utilise alternative methods of producing an equivalent summative assessment. In particular, teachers may use their own professional judgment and assessment records on students to grade their students.

This is an idea being adopted by many countries around the world – including the UK – and there is support for it within some NGOs in Ghana.

How do teachers feel about it? Overall, the majority of teachers we surveyed told us they believe it is a practical solution for this academic year and support it.

What is more interesting is that large numbers of teachers believe that this method of teacher-based assessment is actually fairer in general.

71% of our users told us that teacher judgments are a fairer way of assessing students than examinations.

We can understand where teachers are coming from here. A class teacher can look at how students have performed across an entire academic year rather than in one test on one day. They can also factor in how much effort a student has made and how much relative progress they have made by using knowledge of a student’s background.

But, it is worth being aware that research also reveals numerous biases in teacher judgment. For one, teachers are predisposed to give students higher grades because they personally know them and want them to succeed.

Secondly, knowing a student’s background can bias a teacher in ways it should not. For example, if you find a particular student a bit irritating or difficult to deal with, then this can affect your judgment about what grade to assign them. Similarly, there is evidence that judgments about ethnicity, gender and even the height of a student can affect teacher judgment!

Exams may not be perfect, but they are free from some of these biases. This makes the decision to prefer one method of assessment over a much more complicated decision than we initially realise.

4. Finally, we know you’re finding our daily readings useful, so here are all of the ones from last week…

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