Ashesi University in Ghana opened in 2002 with an audacious mission: to educate ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa and teach its students the courage, skills, and concern they would need to transform their continent. With generous support from faculty at several world-class universities, Ashesi crafted a new approach designed to foster integrity and outstanding skills within an African context. Today, nearly 1,200 students from across Africa call Ashesi home, and the University is now recognized as one of the continent’s finest.
Navigating a Temporary Closure of Campus and Online Transition
Thoughtfulness in supporting the diverse needs of students was at the forefront of Ashesi’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the announcement was made by the Government of Ghana for schools to close, the University provided cross-country travel support for all local students, and international students received support to book quickly-diminishing flights home. Ashesi families and alumni also stepped up and opened their homes to international students who couldn’t travel back for varying reasons. Students on full scholarships, covering meals and personal care, were given stipends to support their upkeep off-campus.
The University also introduced several support measures to enable online learning. Working with telecom companies in Ghana, Ashesi ensured that all students, faculty, and staff had data bundles for internet access. The University’s learning management system was also whitelisted across all major internet service providers, meaning it could be accessed at no cost.
With computer labs now inaccessible, Ashesi worked with courier companies to deploy laptops to students who had reached out to indicate that they could not take online classes otherwise. And with families being affected by the pandemic, students with tuition arrears were allowed to defer payments.
In planning for the pandemic, Ashesi also reached out to third-party service providers—from landscaping teams to canteen operators—to understand how their teams would be impacted. And in addition to maintaining critical support like health insurance and paid medical leave for all University teams, Ashesi also kept existing contracts with all service vendors to ensure their employees had income security through the pandemic.
Adjusting to Online Learning
Over the last two years, Ashesi had been building an ecosystem of software tools and resources meant to aid operations, teaching, and learning. Teams across campus had been actively experimenting with virtual collaboration tools, new student information and learning management systems were deployed for supporting teaching and learning, and nearly all university offices—from Career Services to Finance—had implemented virtual tools meant to amplify their operation.
The prior experience with virtual tools greatly aided the sudden shift to online learning, and many students and faculty are identifying new strategies for effective teaching and learning.
Faculty member Dr. Elena Rosca, who teaches Synthetic Biology, had her first online teaching experience with the formal restart of classes. Creating virtual replicas of experimentation spaces for the lab-based class allowed her to see an unexpected silver lining.
“My students and I realized that it would not be productive to use our live online sessions for walking through presentations and lectures,” she explained. “Sharing pre-recorded presentations with students ahead of classes enabled us to better use our live sessions for discussion, knowledge application, and problem-solving. We also found software that allows us to conduct lab simulations online, making it easier for my students to also practice on their own. The experience is helping me identify new strategies for productive teaching when campus reopens.”
The Provost’s Office at Ashesi also continues to meet individually with all at-risk students and is working with faculty to track class attendance and participation across the entire student body. The University’s counseling team has also remained actively engaged online, helping students, staff, and faculty maintain their mental health as they navigate the period.
Students & Alumni Take on COVID-19 Response Projects
Ashesi’s commitment to equity in its response to COVID-19 has extended beyond considerations for its immediate community. Admissions fees for the Class of 2024 were halved to minimize the financial burden on applicant families, and the University’s Financial Aid Office has committed to providing additional scholarship support for the Class.
Ashesi’s students and graduates also continue to take meaningful steps to lessen the impact of COVID-19, all the while inspiring positive change throughout their communities. Examples include:
Producing face-masks at scale: Enoch Aworo ’14 has refocused his clothing company to produce non-surgical face-masks, able to manufacture over 300 per day. Enoch’s company has also donated hundreds of masks to various frontline organizations and is now working with companies to produce face masks.
Rallying support for healthcare facilities: Steven Odarteifio ’12 raised funds to donate personal protective equipment and other essential items to Achimota Hospital in Accra. “We didn’t want to wait to hear about positive cases at this facility before we thought of ways to help,” shares Steven. “We hope this gesture encourages other individuals, who can, to lend assistance to health workers.”
Providing a low-cost handwashing solution: With handwashing established as critical to fighting COVID-19, Derick Omari ’18 designed an easy-to-install electronic hands-free faucet for homes and public spaces in underserved areas. The devices can be installed in minutes on various water storage containers with minimal training.
Simplifying COVID-19 data for the public: Benedict Quartey ’18 built a data aggregation platform to provide simplified COVID-19 data for the public. “There was a lot of different data being published, and it was difficult to make sense of it,” shares Benedict. “I thought that if I struggled to understand it, perhaps others would too. And this was a way to help reduce that.”
Producing Low-Cost Ventilators: In Zimbabwe, Eugene Jamu ’19 has been working with a team of engineers to manufacture low-cost ventilators for hospitals in the country using the MIT Emergency Ventilator model.
Providing a Platform for Educators and Institutions in Africa
Looking ahead, Ashesi is weighing different options for a safe reopening of campus in the future. Teams across the University have been designing new campus safety protocols, and faculty continue to remodel their teaching strategies to ensure that blended learning can be sustained permanently at Ashesi.
In June, the University will host an online convening of educators and stakeholders to discuss the future of learning in Africa. The Education Collaborative at Ashesi, in its third year, will allow institutions to gain an insight into how peers are navigating the pandemic and help policymakers identify changes to make for the future.
Until campus reopens, Ashesi continues to pay attention to the changing information around the pandemic, and will adjust its responses to ensure continued safety and minimized disruption to teaching and learning.
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