The outbreak of the Ebola virus earlier this year caused Liberian schools to shut down — and they have yet to recover.
Public and private schools in the country were shut down in July by the government under a recommendation from the Ministry of Education (MOE), with no plans made concerning how children in the country would continue their education in the meantime.
Almost five months later, 4.413 schools in the country are still closed, and it is unknown when they will reopen to give the 1.4 million children in the country access to education.
Education in the country has become less of a concern as they wage war on Ebola, the deadly disease that has already killed more than 2,200 people. While individual communities have started initiatives to bring back education for their children, there has not been any official government-sponsored actions taken.
Meanwhile, authorities at MOE have begun to create content for these children, with help from UNICEF concerning future plans for education in the country, such as an educational radio program, allowing children to continue their education from their own homes until the schools can re-open, reports Ofeibea Quist-Arcton for NPR. The programs are set to begin airing next month.
“Discussions are beginning this week on the protocols and certifications needed for schools to reopen — as this will ensure that when schools do reopen, they remain safe environments for children,” UNICEF’s Rukshan Ratnam said.
Liberia has only recently begun to establish stable education system in the country since the end of their civil war in 2003, making the school closings not seen as an incredibly drastic action by the Liberian government.
Schools across the country are seeing a new purpose while they are closed, in aiding with the Ebola response. Many of them are running childcare centers for abandoned children. Children are placed under quarantine until they are deemed healthy enough to be placed in foster homes.
In addition, school teachers and other staff are working to stop the spread of the disease to other parts of the country.
UNICEF is currently training 300 teachers, who will then train 11,000 additional teachers, to help increase awareness pertaining to Ebola prevention for individual communities, reports Larisa Epatko for PBS.
While the schools are closed, children across the country are facing increased risks in other areas:
“Our school acted as a safe place for students to come where they received food, medicine and counseling on top of the normal school day,” said Emily Bell, marketing manager for More Than Me Academy. “Our students are at higher risk for sexual abuse and transactional sex, and are getting sick more often without a school nurse.”
In order to combat these risks, schools are working with individual communities to ensure that resources are available to children, including a social work team and preventative medicines.
With no word on when the schools plan on re-opening, UNICEF is working to stress the importance of taking the proper measures before the schools do open again.
“Children have certainly been affected by this,” said Ratnam. “However, discussions are beginning very soon on the protocols and certifications needed for schools to reopen — as this will ensure that when schools do reopen, they remain safe environments for children.”