Introducing Mr. Riche-Mike Wellington
Currently serving as the Chief Program Specialist at the Ghana Commission for UNESCO, Riche-Mike Wellington has been a revered technocrat in Ghana and UNESCO affairs over the past 22 years. He began his diplomatic career at the Ghana Commission for UNESCO in 2001 and rose through the ranks to become the Secretary-General between 2013-2017. Mr. Riche-Mike Wellington is well recognized for having initiated major UNESCO projects of strategic importance in the education, the sciences and culture sectors in the Africa region, including but not limited to the upgrades into UNESCO Category 2 status of the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (lEPA) and the Africa Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana.
Mr. Wellington has participated in all UNESCO General Conferences since 2005, providing technical guidance to Ghana delegations, the Africa Group, and the Permanent Delegation of Ghana to UNESCO. He has been instrumental in Ghana’s continuous presence on the UNESCO Executive Board since 2013. As an ardent promoter of international best practices in the UNESCO fields of competence, Riche-Mike continues to advocate for Open Science and Open Educational Resources in multilateral space to accelerate Africa’s development, promote integration and a culture of peace on the Continent.
Chen Huang from UNESCO-ICHEI proposed and conducted the interview with Mr. Riche-Mike Wellington in June 2023. Chuyue (Joyce) Qinben and Anruo (Emma) Wang from UNESCO-ICHEI contributed to the literature review and the questions.
Q1. As the world charted its way to the post-pandemic era, university teachers are forced to directly face the challenge of ensuring a smooth reopening of universities. Could you please give an example to introduce what measures or activities have been implemented in Africa to improve the state of being or to build the capacity of university teachers?
Mr. Riche-Mike Wellington (Mr. Wellington): The COVID-19 pandemic brought about one of the world’s most defining moments for education. The unprecedented global health crisis affected every sector of societal life. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates that over 1.5 billion students and youth around the world were affected by school and university closures resulting in massive learning losses.
Prior to the pandemic, many African governments and higher education Institutions had deployed distance and digital learning programmes to mitigate the challenge of large class sizes that had characterized the ‘brick and mortar’ classroom mode of engaging learners in both public and private spaces. The emergence of the pandemic therefore heightened these learning methods as a response strategy to continuously engage students during the lockdown conditions. These digital transformations presented a good opportunity for African higher education institutions to invest in digital infrastructure to harness its dividends in education. Thus, universities across the Africa Continent prioritised the development of systems and structures for the continuous capacity building of university teachers and students towards efficiency and mastery in digital learning.
The University of Ghana, the Ahmadu Bello University of Nigeria, and the University of Lagos, Nigeria, embarked on a digitalisation drive to transform teaching and learning in the post-pandemic era. The digitalisation programme included among other schemes equipping classroom and lecture halls with digital infrastructure and modern information and communications technology (ICT) interactive equipment, including the construction of hotspot comfort zones on campus to facilitate digital teaching and learning.
Regarding faculty members, there was capacity development in the adoption and utilisation of digitalised methodologies. Periodic training was organised on the use of the universities’ learning management systems (LMS) and relevant platforms. Newly appointed faculty were trained on digital competencies including the use of digital equipment for teaching and learning. Meanwhile, training and coaching was conducted for intermediate and advanced level faculty members in these universities and lecturers were encouraged to participate in online webinars to familiarise themselves with online engagements. Another useful initiative was the appointment of e-learning ambassadors in various departments to serve as champions and focal points to lead the digital transformation agenda of these universities.
On distance education, tutors and staff were prepared through training on various themes to design and deliver online instructions using appropriate instructional methodologies in the digital space. Tutors were trained in courseware design and interactives, innovative online practices, as well as online assessment tools and practices. Attempts were equally made to support students in these universities to effectively engage in online learning.
Q2. It’s great to learn that actions are taking place at different levels and that there are already actions turning to be successful practices. In the context of Africa, there are multiple initiatives, including the Teacher Task Force at UNESCO which you’re involved in, aiming to facilitate university teachers in the transition and transformation process. As the Chief of Programmes at the Ghana Commission for UNESCO, what are your and your organisation’s roles in these initiatives?
Mr. Wellington: My role as Chief of Programmes at the Ghana Commission for UNESCO in these interventions was situated in that of the Commission as a liaison office for the government of Ghana on UNESCO matters. The Commission facilitates contacts and creates the needed interfaces among the many actors in education service delivery. National Commissions for UNESCO have had critical role in contributing to the Global Priority Africa Programme, including the prospects to engineer partnerships and funding to address the challenges of the Continent, particularly, issues relating to the Education 2030 targets.
Ghana Commission for UNESCO
The Ghana Commission for UNESCO started as a Committee for UNESCO Affairs in 1953 when Ghana became an Associate Member of UNESCO. On 11 April 1958, when Ghana attained full membership of UNESCO, the Ghana Cabinet approved the reconstitution of the National Committee under the new title ‘Ghana Commission for UNESCO. National Commissions are unique institutions found in all Member States of UNESCO serving as the official link between their Governments and UNESCO. The Ghana Commission for UNESCO is an Agency under the Ministry of Education. (cr. Ghana Commission for UNESCO)
Convinced of this role, the Commission, and key stakeholders on the Continent, including UNESCO, organised the Africa Regional Conference on Global Priority Africa in September 2022 to strengthen the relevance, effectiveness, and the overall strategic positioning of the Global Priority Africa Programme to address Africa’s contemporary challenges. The conference adopted the present Accra Declaration which converges the common strategic priorities and outlines a clear agenda for Africa National Commissions for UNESCO to contribute to reimagine Global Priority Africa Programme for the benefit of the Continent. Among the key issues at the conference was Priority Africa Flagship Programme 1 – ‘Campus Africa’, where African key stakeholders urged UNESCO and partners to support its effective implementation, including the creation of a common digital platform as well as capacity strengthening in digital competencies in Africa. The strengthening of African higher education digital transformation is rooted in the Africa Union’s Vision 2063 towards “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”
The Commission also facilitated Ghana’s participation in the UNESCO Imagine Learning programme – an e-learning initiative for Anglophone West Africa supported by UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. It seeks to establish a sub-regional platform for Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone and develop tools and resources for strengthening capacities of teachers and school leaders in open-source distance learning. The programme helped to build the capacities of over 5000 teachers in the five participating countries in the West Africa sub-region.
Q3. As you’ve introduced, in its Agenda 2063, the African Union has updated the vision of ‘The Africa We Want’, quoted “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena,” indicating the significance of bottom-up, collaborative efforts in regional development. Established in 2012, AIMS Ghana is an Africa-based network for postgraduate training, research, and outreach in mathematical sciences. Take AIMS Ghana for example. How does African higher education establish a network and collaborate closely?
Mr. Wellington: The establishment of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Ghana was influenced by Ghana’s strategy to promote economic development by creating a knowledge-based economy driven by technological advances. AIMS recognises that science and technology are powerful forces for progress in the global economy, while mathematics underpins a large part of modern life. Without sufficient mathematical training, Africans will be unable to access the full power of new technologies to solve contemporary problems. Besides, Africa’s greatest resource are its people.
Africa Institute for Mathematical Sciences ( AIMS)
Founded in 2003, the AIMS Global Network has already expanded to South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, and Rwanda with hopes to catalyse the socio-economic transformation on the Africa Continent. AIMS has been recruiting and providing top African talents with the skills, knowledge, networks, and inspiration to take up careers in teaching, industry, business, and governance. The activities of AIMS Ghana as a UNESCO Centre of Excellence Category II, focus on six distinct but inter-related institutional strategies: postgraduate training; cutting-edge research for innovation and solution in Africa; industry leading academic partners; impactful public engagement; communication that drives results internally and externally, and organizational excellence for sustainability. The unique training programme teaches analytical thinking and problem-solving skills which exposes students to many applied fields relevant to Africa ‘s socio-economic transformation. The mission is to enable Africa’s brightest students to flourish as independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators capable of propelling Africa’s future scientific, industrial, educational, and economic self-sufficiency.
The AIMS Ghana Centre is thus addressing developmental challenges in Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) capacity building through education. Capacity in these fields is pivotal for Africa’s transformation and for ‘The Africa We Want.’ Africa’s continued low investment in science and technology are manifest in the declining quality of science and engineering education at all levels of the educational system.
The AIMS Ghana programme is designed for young talented African youths who reside in Africa. Students are admitted from diverse backgrounds in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (STEM). To be admitted at AIMS Ghana, the applicant must be a national from an African country, 30 years of age or below, and have a university degree in mathematics, physics, computer science, engineering, business, or other scientific fields, but with a substantial mathematics component. Within the selection process, AIMS Ghana strives to ensure regional and gender balance by recruiting 30% of the applicants from the host country (including females) and at least 30% females from diverse regional, national, and cultural backgrounds. It is only when higher education institutions or relevant entities are internally diverse at the first place can they genuinely learn and benefit from meaningful multilateral collaborations.
AIMS develops scientific, technical, and entrepreneurial competence by creating a critical mass of well-rounded scientists with excellent problem-solving skills, capable of creative thinking and genuine innovation. The AIMS model emphasises partnerships and collaboration, so AIMS Ghana collaborates with both national and international universities as well as industry. The academic partners are involved in curriculum development, research, student recruitment, lecturing, assessment, evaluation, grading, and award of degrees. The industry partners are involved in joint research, workshops, seminars, and internships of mutual interest.
The AIMS network connects with tertiary education institutions across Africa for graduate recruitment, research collaboration, and academic exchanges. To harness the objective of using home-grown solutions for Africa’s development, it is imperative for African leaders to avail resources to AIMS and sister institutions to build the capacity of young Africans, especially in mathematical sciences, for sustainable growth.
Q4. Following the thread, AIMS Ghana has also achieved significant results as an important player of this regional partnership while functioning as UNESCO Category II Centre. What can UNESCO Category II Centres do in the participation of pan-Africa or even global networks?
Mr. Wellington: As a UNESCO Category II Centre of Excellence, AIMS Ghana focuses on creating an ecosystem of transformation – one that directly enables the transformation of Ghana and Africa by building human capital and skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Through this partnership, AIMS Ghana has extended its programmes to meet the needs of educators in Ghana through the Master of Mathematical Sciences for Teachers programme. The objective of the programme is to equip mathematics teachers at the secondary level with 21st-century mathematical skills toward improved content and methodology in teaching mathematics, as well as facilitate an in-depth understanding of mathematical foundations relating to core secondary school curricula and applications of modern mathematics.
As of December 2022, AIMS Ghana had graduated 497 young men and women from 27 African countries, 33% being female. In a recent longitudinal study of AIMS Alumni, 68% remained in Africa contributing to the Continent’s growth and sustainability. The top five areas where AIMS alumni are contributing to the African economy are higher education, ICT (mainly Data Science), academic research, finance, and health.
UNESCO Operational Strategy of Priority Africa 2022-2029
Africa is one of UNESCO’s two global priorities, along with gender equality. The Operational Strategy for Priority Africa 2022-2029 published in 2022 has been developed based on consultations with Member States, including the UNESCO Africa Group, programme sectors at Headquarters, field offices in Africa and the Bureau of Strategic Planning. It also took the evaluation of the previous Strategy 2014-2021 conducted by the Internal Oversight Service into account. This Operational Strategy contains introduction of the general background, implementation plan, relevant stakeholders, as well as flagship programmes. To achieve ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena’, Africa will need to address innovatively the major challenges it faces, while seizing the opportunities they present. (UNESCO, 2022)
The work of AIMS Ghana as a UNESCO Category II institute reinforces the Campus Africa programme under the Operational Strategy of Priority Africa, which is briefly mentioned in the first question. It is time for AIMS to also review its face-to-face learning approaches and integrate technology in blended approaches to increase access and participation to its well-sought-after programmes across the Continent. This is where UNESCO and its global partners could explore strategic collaborations in the context of Campus Africa to push forward the Global Priority Africa agenda.
Q5. With tremendous advancement in technology, there is an increasing number of organisations and programmes worldwide starting to provide free and accessible learning resources for socio-economically marginalised groups. In addition to AIMS Ghana’s equitable admission policy that we’ve just discussed, what are some existing gaps and corresponding strategies in Ghana to ensure inclusivity and accessibility, especially in remote or disadvantaged areas, to reach and train teachers and education managers?
Mr. Wellington: In 2018, Ghana set out to reimagine teaching and learning to meet the demands of the 21st-Century education in a 12-year strategic plan – ‘Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-2030’. The aim of the ESP among others is to improve equitable access to and participation in inclusive education at all levels.
Ghana Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-2030
The Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018–2030 for Ghana is the third in a series of strategic plans that have been produced since 2000 and follows from the ESP 2010–2020. The latest version of the ESP integrates the changing social, economic, and educational landscape domestically and internationally, and incorporates the most updated timeframe for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With a series of four-year implementation plans, the ESP represents the consensus among internal and external stakeholders regarding the need to raise learning outcomes and standards in all educational institutions, and at all levels of education, and to ensure that no child is left behind. There are three defining themes running through ESP 2018-2030, namely focusing on improved learning outcomes, prioritising policies and resources given limited capacity, and raising awareness for efficient education systems with relevant reforms. (Ministry of Education, Ghana, 2019)
There are existential gaps in the teacher-to-pupil ratio in Ghana as projected by UNESCO. Also, UNESCO data on trained teachers in Ghana projects below the world average. The face-to-face delivery approach to training, coupled with the limited infrastructure and spaces in the training schools’ places limitations on access to education by all persons interested in teacher education. The Covid-19 pandemic has only served to exacerbate this need.
Teacher education in Ghana has undergone many reforms involving curricular changes, restructuring of teacher education institutions, and upgrading the three years diploma qualification into a four-year Bachelor of Education degree to raise the status among those considering a career in teaching. Currently, there are 48 colleges of education and two universities using one common educational curriculum for basic and secondary school education. All colleges in Ghana adhere to the principles of inclusiveness in education. Access to colleges of education in Ghana is open to all people who meet the requirements for admission – holders of the West Africa Secondary School Certificate Examination need credit passes (A1-C6) in Six (6) subjects comprising Three (3) Core subjects, including English Language and Core Mathematics, and Three (3) Elective subjects relevant to the course of study. The government provides monthly stipends to students at the colleges of education to support their upkeep and practicum sessions.
Q6.In the same vein, education managers are experienced teachers who have opted to go into management or individuals who have attained higher education qualifications with specialised skills in school leadership, accounting, and management. The Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA) – a UNESCO Category II Institute – for instance, is mandated to train education managers and administrators in Ghana. Access to higher education is open to all Ghanaians who meet the requirements for education and can pay the requisite fees for the period of study.
Q6. Besides quality and equitable education, lifelong learning has now become another buzzword. We are exciting to learn that Accra, the capital city of Ghana, has been nominated as the World Book Capital of 2023 by UNESCO, which is a renowned initiative encouraging the comprehensive development of city residents through the continuous creation, sharing and dissemination of knowledge through lifelong learning. What role do you think higher education, or the digital transformation of higher education, can play in boosting lifelong learning and sustainable community?
Mr. Wellington: The concept of World Book Capital by UNESCO acknowledges the power of books and reading as cornerstones to a more inclusive, equitable, peaceful, and sustainable society. The World Book Capital Network (WBCN) cities are thus committed to promoting freedom of expression, copyright, education, and knowledge sharing through books and reading as cornerstones to achieve a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable society. The Book Capital concept, while contributing to the culture and wealth of Ghana also presents an opportunity to develop the book and creative arts industries as well as skill-up the youth through the transformative power of reading for societal development. Furthermore, due to its diverse linkages, the Government of Ghana and development partners have seized the opportunity to deepen actions to advance on the SDGs.
Higher education as knowledge hubs plays a central role in societal transformation for sustainable development. Through education and lifelong learning opportunities, individual members of the society are equipped with the knowledge, skillsets, and mindsets necessary to navigate societal problems for development. For that reason, Ghana for example was intentional in choosing the theme of the Accra World Book Capital – ‘Reading to connect minds for Social Transformation’ – the theme which resonates with UNESCO’s mission to ‘build the defences of peace in the minds of men and women’ highlights the importance of the transformative power of books and the culture of reading to changing mindsets as well as creating bonds for peace and development. Higher education is better placed to champion this course, particularly in Africa.
UNESCO World Book Capital
UNESCO adopted the 31 C/Resolution 29, in 2001, establishing the World Book Capital (WBC) programme and naming Madrid as the first WBC city in 2001. Cities designated as UNESCO World Book Capital undertake to carry out activities with the aim of encouraging a culture of reading and diffusing the Network’s values in all ages and population groups, both within and beyond national borders. Through the WBC programme, UNESCO acknowledges a city’s commitment to promote books and foster reading during a 12-month period (between one World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April, and the next) as well as into the future. In September 2021, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, named Accra (Ghana) as UNESCO World Book Capital for 2023, following the evaluation of the World Book Capital Advisory Committee. To learn more, please kindly find the attached article by Sarah Osei and Riche-Mike Wellington, Reading is Given a Big Boost in Accra, Ghana.
Digitalisation has also proven to promote access, inclusivity, and equity in higher education in Ghana. For this reason, the government of Ghana strives to balance equity and inclusion in education, by creating the enabling environment for stakeholders to continuously engage in the higher education space towards achieving the goal of Ghana becoming a ‘learning nation’. To increase equitable access in tertiary education, State and non-States actors are harnessing the power of technology in distance learning. With EdTech solutions, the cost related to the construction of schools and classroom arrangements would be eliminated. Although some have argued about equity considerations relating to the cost of internet data, as well as how to prove evidence of learning in this digital learning approaches. To address these equity considerations, Governments partnerships with Telecommunication companies have resulted in some cases the zero-rating of cost of internet data for educational purposes. On the issue of evidence of learning, there is the need for capacity building in digital content development, particularly for Africa where traditional educational materials could be converted digitally to immediately applicable, evidence-informed, bite-sized modular contents, with robust assessment tools, for easy accessibility and appreciation by students and faculty – This is where I see UNESCO-ICHEI and partners leading the way to explore partnerships with African governments and Higher Education Institutions in this area.
Higher education digital transformation in distance learning methods has the potential to address complex challenges which otherwise could not be easily addressed using traditional methods. Micro-credentialing approaches as a tool to address continuous professional development of untrained teachers in the private sector space of African countries could be one of the innovative ways of addressing the continuous development of teachers in Ghana and Africa as a whole.
Q7. Could you please take one or two more examples to elaborate in detail how these programmes or strategies will help to address the needs for lifelong learning and open education resources in Africa, especially called by teachers and education managers?
Mr. Wellington: To keep pace with the rapid changes in education matters, it is important to institute measures for the continuous improvement of teachers and education managers to catch up with global trends and embrace digitalisation to mitigate the education gaps. Micro-credentialing approaches to teacher development must be explored to address gaps in teacher education. The UNESCO Recommendation on Open Education Resources framework allows government collaboration within Member States to support open-licensed teaching and learning materials adaptable to deprived communities. In this direction, it is important to embrace EdTech solutions to the delivery of education to address the gaps in access and inclusivity in the face-to-face approach.
UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER)
As defined by UNESCO, Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation, and redistribution by others. The Recommendation on OER, adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference at its 40th session on 25 November 2019, is the first international normative instrument to embrace the field of openly licensed educational materials and technologies in education.
To support its implementation among Member States, UNESCO established the OER Dynamic Coalition to support networking and sharing of information to create synergies around the 5 areas of action of the recommendation: (i) building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER; (ii) developing supportive policy; (iii) encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; (iv) nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER, and (v) facilitating international cooperation.
I can take the work of Instill Education in Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa as another example; Instill Education sets the pace of leveraging technology to improve access, quality, community, and continuous professional development of teachers and school leaders in hard-to-reach communities. Considering the diversity and sparse location of higher education facilities, coupled with issues of limited infrastructure and education finance in low-income countries in Africa, enabling open distance and digital learning approaches to teacher and education manager training will increase access, enhance digital skills of trainees, and complete coursework at their own pace and leisure, allowing them to prioritize careers, family, and other societal responsibilities. What is more urgent, is the need for African governments and the telecommunication community to collaborate toward making internet connectivity more affordable and accessible to enable institutions to benefit from cyberspace interactions effectively.
Reading is given a big boost in Accra, Ghana
By: Sarah Osei, Regional Lead, Instill Education (West Africa) & Riche-Mike Wellington, Chief Programme Specialist, Ghana Commission for UNESCO. This blog post is firstly published in Education in Africa Newsletter.
Accra, the capital city of Ghana, has been named as the UNESCO World Book Capital for 2023, the fourth city in Africa to receive this title. The title stemmed from a presentation of a strong program in the city targeting young people and their ability to contribute to the culture and wealth of Ghana through the transformative power of reading and creative writing. The winning of this title demonstrate the giant strides Ghana and Africa are making in developing the book and creative arts industries, as well as skill-up the youth for socio-economic development.
The program targets marginalized groups that have high levels of illiteracy, including women, youth, street children, and persons with disabilities. The year-long program seeks to provide institutional support for lifelong learning and stimulate the culture of reading and creativity to positively impact Ghanaian society towards achieving the national goal of becoming a learning nation. The program is expected to impact about 100,000 children, youth, and adults across the country.
The program is broken down into six broad thematic areas. The first is to transform minds and promote lifelong learning through a series of reading promotion activities targeting the youth nationwide. The second is to provide schools and communities with books and reading infrastructure, including the construction of a facility in Accra for reading and creative writing. The third is to promote the Florence Agreement and the publication and use of books in Ghanaian languages to revamp the Ghanaian book industry. The fourth is to promote creative skills to address rising unemployment, substance abuse, truancy in schools, and teenage pregnancy among the youth, as well as equip the youth and the disadvantaged with 21st-century skills toward socio-economic transformation. The fifth is to promote fundamental human rights to advance the right of access to information through books and encourage the art of publishing. The sixth is to safeguard and promote Ghanaian arts and culture towards inclusivity and diversity of cultural expressions within the context of acceptable cultural norms.
Being a World Book Capital means much more than a reading campaign to many Ghanaians and Africans. For many, it is an opportunity for the government, local and international partners to leverage its diverse linkages to education and culture to deepen collective actions towards meaningful progress in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Others have also argued that the project could serve as a catalyst for investment in the creative and cultural sectors to enable this growing sector to provide decent jobs for the teaming young men and women.
As documented in the national Spotlight Report on Ghana the government of Ghana is making great strides in education through several interventions such as: making secondary education free; establishing STEM Centres; developing adapted curricula at all levels; improving the quality of teachers and the teaching profession; and promoting the use of digital technologies to improve access, equity, and inclusiveness to guarantee a just and sustainable society. But there is still much more work to be done to improve the quality of education to make Ghanaian youth competitive and relevant in the changing world of work. It is time for Ghana and African governments to be intentional about developing the skill sets of young people to be creative and innovative citizens successful in this 21st Century society and workplaces.
Ghana has also made progress in literacy development through drama, poetry recitals, drum language, dance, and choral music – all of which are central to the goals of Accra World Book Capital and present moments for students to use diverse representations for communications. Notwithstanding these successes, the indigenous African culture and the rich Ghanaian heritage are gradually losing value among young people, leading to cultural assimilation with other cultures. In that context, there is the need to support the creative and arts industry to preserve and promote the rich Ghanaian traditional cultures amid the intense acculturation environment. This will help to safeguard the Ghanaian and the African identity.