UNICEF estimates that five million children ages 3 to 17 are out of school due to Ebola. Schools in Liberia have been closed since June and have never opened since the premature end of the 2013-2014 school year.
“This Ebola crisis has been predominantly seen as a health crisis but its implications go way beyond health,” says Sayo Aoki, an education specialist for UNICEF working in the affected countries. “It’s time we start looking at it from other perspectives, and education is part of that.”
Victor Jackson, a young man leading a group of college and high school students to clean schools in Paynesville, said he believed that Ebola virus was on its way out and that it was time for schools to reopen.
Jackson said that the clean-up campaign by his group is going to cover all schools in Paynesville.
“Today we are here to do a cleanup campaign at the African Dream Academy to give the school a facelift and give back to our country,” Jackson said.
Cleaning the school is a way of psychologically preparing the minds of school administrators for the resumption of classes, Jackson suggested.
Jackson said, the cleanup campaign is intended to assist schools in their preparation for the resumption of classes.
Jackson said their initiative is to send a message that young people are productive and can play a pivotal role in Liberia.
The founder of Africa Dream Academy, Samuel Enders, said he was impressed to see young people willing to do all they can to see schools reopen.
“It amazes me to see young people giving back to their school in such a manner. They are giving beyond themselves,” Ender said.
While the government is fighting Ebola, education should not be forgotten in the process, Ender said.
Ender recommended that the government should adopt an accelerated learning program for post-Ebola schooling.
“We need this accelerated learning program so our students can be left over. Student will come to school 6AM-6PM from Monday to Saturday just to get them where they need to be,” Ender added.
Ender urged students to read while home adding that they should not feel let down by the Ebola because they are the future Liberia depends on.
Even before the Ebola scourge, Liberia was a troubled country educationally, still emerging from civil war with many of its youth behind in terms of education. Liberia was in the process of increasing its school attendance numbers and experts worry that Ebola has set progress back.
A clean up volunteer, Marthaline David said, the clean-up campaign at various schools will reduce the financial burden school administrators will have to bear.
“We cannot just sit and wait for government to do everything for us, so by cleaning schools we want government to know that we are ready for our schools to open,” David said.
David called on other youth to join their effort in rallying the government and schools administrators to begin preparing for the opening of school in January 2015.
Humanitarian organization The Global Business Coalition for Education has released a report on the opening of schools in the Ebola-affected countries.
The report calls for the responsible reopening of safe schools as quickly as possible, and it outlines the steps necessary to provide immediate, interim education solutions as well as long-term strategies.
“Without the reopening of safe schools, the most vulnerable and the most marginalised will bear the brunt of this crisis for generations to come, trapping them in an unbreakable cycle of poverty with devastating consequences for societal, health and economic development,” the report said.
Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless, and founding member of the Global Business Coalition for Education, wrote in the report, ““We cannot let education become an additional casualty of the Ebola crisis. As we tackle the immediate public health crisis, we must also find ways to address the educational needs of the five million children affected by school closures in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As a founding member of Global Business Coalition for Education, I urge others to get behind these recommendations to ensure the health crisis does not spiral into a lasting education crisis.”
The report continued: “Being out of school can have a crippling impact for vulnerable children, especially girls who are more subject to high-risk situations, including pregnancy and early marriage.”
According to the report delay in the opening of schools will see child labour increasing rapidly. “Contributing to the household economy becomes critical for families.”
“Education is put forward as key to prevent the exploitation of children and continued vulnerability of the poor and is vital to prevent against disease and future outbreaks.
UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown said, “With children out of school indefinitely, Ebola threatens to reverse years of educational progress in West Africa where literacy rates are already low and school systems are only now recovering from years of civil war. If we do not address our failure to deliver this basic human right in emergencies, millions of young people, those far beyond the borders of the three affected countries affected will continue to shoulder the burden of our inaction.”
Liberia will have to patiently wait until their caseloads are under control, since a premature opening may only add fuel to the fire.
The Liberian Leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently launched a campaign titled “No New Ebola Case” and the government has set its target to kick Ebola out of Liberia before the celebration of Christmas.
Health experts says with all the health measures in place Liberia could be Ebola free by early next year but the young people in Liberia are optimistic that January would see them in school.