Prior to the Ebola outbreak, over 60% of children had limited or no access to Early Childhood Community Development and access to quality education had been hampered by the inadequacy of learning spaces, teaching materials and qualified teachers. Then the Ebola outbreak happened and this weak system was crippled further. In order to prevent the spread of the disease in schools, when the state of emergency was introduced in Liberia, the government ordered all schools closed for the three month period. The closure was extended further even after the state of emergency had expired.
The impact of school closures on the educational system
In Liberia, the school year traditionally begins in September. However, for students all around the country, the outbreak of the Ebola virus mean that this could not happen. For the five months, children have been at home, many without access to any kind of educational material to provide some learning during the period, further incapacitating them. With schools closure, it is safe to assume that academically, Liberia has fallen further behind the rest of the world. Long term, the effects on education level of children, the availability of qualified teachers, and government investment in sector will need to be assessed and adequately addressed.
On January 6, the government of Liberia announced that schools around the country would reopen at the start of February, only six months after the government ordered them closed because of the Ebola outbreak. When the news of first broke at the beginning of January, many of us were filled with a mixture of joy (at the sign of return to normalcy as case numbers dropped and due to the idea that kids could finally go back to learning in a structured academic environment); puzzlement (despite case numbers being on decline, we still have cases and we have not been declared Ebola free yet); and fear (children naturally touch each other during play - all it would take is one case going undetected and the risk of spread to other children could increase exponentially).
Given the economic impact of the Ebola crisis on livelihoods of people around the country (staff were temporarily rested and some have not been recalled to work; businesses were destroyed, negatively affecting owners and employees), many families are unable to afford school fees and other costs associated with the reopening of schools.
So far, we do know that the reopening will be applicable nationwide. We also know that measures that have been drafted and will be implemented in schools to protect students from infection. The “Protocols for Safe School Environments in the EVD Outbreak in Liberia” was developed by the WASH cluster of the UNMEER and was endorsed by the Ministry of Education. The protocols outline the minimum requirements that have to be in place in every school in order to reduce the risk of infection and further spread of the Ebola virus.
ActionAid Liberia is responding to educational needs
In response to the education crisis, we have partnered with the Kids Educational Engagement Project (an at-home educational initiative launched in September 2014 and geared towards supporting the educational needs of children currently out of school) to launch a pilot initiative in Grand Gedeh and Gbarpolu counties. Through this partnership the project will provide 5,106 children (who are being sponsored by ActionAid supporters) with essential educational supplies and support. The materials will be aligned to the national curriculum. We will target communities where we have sponsored children in these two counties. The children and parents will be provided with support from trained community tutors. We will regularly check on the children’s progress with the lessons in the packs and follow up packs will be distributed to those who successfully complete their lessons.
We have just completed training for the community coaches, who will be supporting the children with their studies at home. We have also been out in the communities engaging parents and children. Distribution of the first set of school packs is underway. So far, the children are excited about the chance to learn and parents are grateful and very welcoming.
In addition to providing the at-home educational packs, we will be also support schools with essential sanitary materials and awareness training and tools for staff and students once schools are reopened.
You can support the educational support for children affected by Ebola by donating at www.actionaid.org.uk/ebola
Every little helps.