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Free Senior High School Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution   
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Jesse Ashley, Human Research Scientist/ Registered Psychometrist at the University of Johannesburg. South Africa
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With technology rapidly changing our economic, cultural and social realities, the question of how to prepare the younger, and even the current, generation for the fourth industrial revolution has been a pressing issue for contemporary higher education. 

However, the country’s ability to attempt restructuring our curriculum is being updated to focus more on critical thinking and comprehension. The major barrier of funding by parents as the government provides financial support to all Ghanaian students is highly commendable. Kudus to the present government for the policy and all other political party’s willingness to embrace and sustain this policy.

Ghana has achieved significantly is using technology to solve local problems in governance. Over the past two years, the government has rolled out a number of digitization initiatives to facilitate access to and enhance the delivery of government services.

A conscious effort has therefore been made by the government to formalize the economy by leveraging technology innovation and digitization. Examples of some of these initiatives are the mobile money payments interoperability, online National Health Insurance Registration, e-registration of businesses, automation of the application for business operating permit, automation of the construction permit system, implementation of an electronic justice system to track court documents, the paperless port system and the Zipline medical drone system.

In this regard, making education accessible to the younger population is of great importance to make life easy as rapid development is seen. These technologies are predicted to have a significant effect on our daily lives, including the way we learn, especially if we are to prepare the younger generation and re-educate the current generation for changing work, social and cultural environments.

If history is to be our guide, the Third Industrial Revolution, which is generally attributed to computerization and web-based interconnectivity developed in the 1980s and 1990s, has had its rippling effects upon society, politics, economics and education in some advanced societies. Within the Third Industrial Revolution, the expansion of access to higher education rose to even greater prominence with greatly increased diversity on campuses and globalization of academic research accelerated by online technologies.

An intensified commitment to large-scale higher education across the world resulted in increasing rates of participation in higher education in India, China as well as the United States. For example, in the United States, the fraction of the population with some access to higher education rose from 4% in 1900 to nearly 70% in 2000. This massive educational enrolment contributed significantly to the formalization of the European economy.

In Ghana, from September 2019 which is the commencement of the next academic year, all students from SHS 1 to SHS 3 will benefit from the policy. It is further estimated that 1.2 million children will be enrolled in various High Schools across the country under the policy, making it the largest number of students so enrolled in our history. It is however inevitable that, from 2020, when the first batch of free SHS students graduate, universities and other tertiary institutions will be confronted with the challenge of higher numbers of students seeking admission. 

The increasing diversity within student populations is also remarkable, with a 30% rise in enrolments in underrepresented groups, resulting in 70 % of Ghana’s high school enrolments. It is important to note that the revolution of higher education brought about by distance education and full-time courses in various universities are still ongoing but is more likely to result in an integration of high quality, synchronous, in-person learning environments with online technologies to enable students to more rapidly build skills and knowledge asynchronously.

In fact, the Boston Consulting Group recommended from an economic and industrial perspective that companies are beginning to adopt new work and organizational models, retrain employees and recruit for the fourth industrial revolution. In terms of education, the group also recommended that education systems provide broader skillsets, close the IT skills gap and utilize new formats for continuing education. Their recommendation for education echoes the conversation on 21st-century skills with its focus on closing the digital divide, ICT competencies, the use of open educational resources, e-learning and mobile learning to increase access to and the quality and relevance of the education system. 

However, these are only stop-gap solutions to ongoing challenges that have faced society since the advent of the second industrial revolution and which have been magnified during the third industrial revolution.  With the restructuring of education occurring worldwide over the past three decades, the design of both the traditional and contemporary education systems in Ghana is closing the gap to ensure access to quality, relevant education for the world’s population. However, more needs to be done.

With our financial burden being catered for, educating the next generation for the fourth and future industrial revolutions, there is a need to support the free SHS policy.  Education systems, programs, and curricula need to be flexible, allowing for students’ interests and needs. They need to be relevant to unforeseen work and social issues and qualifications need to be assessed and awarded for learning across formal, non-formal and informal avenues.
Source: Jesse Ashley, Human Research Scientist/ Registered Psychometrist at the University of Johannesburg. South Africa

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