The Global Partnership for Education has been working with the governments and development partners in the three West-African countries affected by Ebola. Sven Baeten, GPE’s country lead for Sierra Leone and Liberia and Doug Lehman, GPE country lead for Guinea, answer 5 questions to explain how education is affected by the Ebola epidemic.
1. What’s the situation right now in the three affected countries?
More than 10,000 schools in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea did not open for the current school year starting in late August and remain closed to this point. This means that more than 2 million school children living in already weak school systems have been missing out on much of the school year already. Schools in Liberia are expected to open in January. Sierra Leone and Guinea are hoping to be able to re-open schools sometime in 2015.
2. Are there any alternative educational programs available in the three countries?
Sierra Leone and Liberia are using radio programs to provide continued education to students. While these are good efforts to keep education going, the quality of these programs varies. It is very challenging to provide alternative education through radio in the current situation, because students are alone at home without a teacher who can explain the material if they have questions. The programs also don’t always distinguish between grade levels. It is expected that more focused radio programs can be aired in the coming weeks.
3. What has been the role of the Global Partnership in response to the crisis?
The Global Partnership’s primary role is to coordinate and mobilize our partners. We regularly convene meetings to ensure all partners – government, local aid groups and external partners – are communicating and moving forward. The Global Partnership is ready to reallocate GPE grant funding for emergency response. The Government of Sierra Leone has requested emergency education support to finance radio programs and to help with the reopening of schools. A similar intention was expressed by the Government of Liberia.
4. Why is it particularly hard for these three countries to deal with the education crisis?
Countries with strong and established education systems are often better prepared when a crisis like this hits and are able to rebound more easily. But these three countries are among the poorest of the world. Sierra Leone and Liberia are also post-conflict countries. They had to start rebuilding their education systems after the conflict ended and we’ve been working with them on this.
5. Should schools in these countries be reopened?
In principle, schools should be open whenever possible so the education of children is not disrupted. Particularly in weak education systems, the closing of schools means that students lose valuable education time that is very difficult to recover. But we need to remember that this is first and foremost a health crisis. The government, local partners and the Global Partnership follow the guidance of the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control on when the situation allows for the re-opening of schools.
When deemed safe, the Global Partnership will work with the governments and local partners to prepare for school openings. This includes sanitizing schools, ensuring clean water and toilets, providing school materials, mobilizing teachers etc. We also need to remember that schools will have to deal with many traumatized and orphaned students. That’s a challenge.
We have received reports of parents who want their children to go back to school as the situation at home is not ideal with many people crowded into small rooms having nothing to do. We have also heard terrible reports of increased cases of sexual violence that young girls experience. So, in many ways, reopening schools means providing safe places for children where they can learn.