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Going to school despite Ebola

by Bettie Johnson


Schools in Liberia will reopen amidst the Ebola epidemic next month. In July last year, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had ordered the closure of all schools in the country to diminish contagion. The virus has killed over 2 thousand persons in the country, possibly more that never entered official statistics. Recently it seems to have lost its impetus, so opening schools is considered safe.

However, many parents are not happy with the government’s decision. Benjamin Jacobs, a government official with responsibility for Monrovia’s schools says that “parents are raising concerns about the opening of schools, but they are not stopping their children from going to video clubs.” Officials are focussing on the safety of students and staff. “We have asked the ministry to assign emergency vehicles to school zones,” Jacobs says. “These ambulances will respond quickly to all students who show symptoms of the Ebola virus.”

Tolbert Nyenswah, the assistant health minister for preventive services, says that his ministry “is making sure that all preventive measures are adhered to”. Recently, the Ministry of Education decided on four measures to be taken:

  • Setting up multiple hand-washing facilities at schools,
  • bathroom entry points to wash hands before entering class,
  • provision of several  thermometers to each school and
  • the fumigation of all school campuses.

Parents are voicing concerns, however, that are not directly related to infection risks. Malay Mbayo is a mother of five school kids. She says: “The Ebola virus hit us financially. All our savings have been used for the sustenance of our family. We need financial help so that we are able to send our children to school.” Life under Ebola meant an economic crisis for the country. Many people are unable to come up with school fees or cannot buy the necessary school utensils for their kids.

Students are calling attention to this issue, as recently happened in a protest in Liberia’s capital Monrovia. The group Concern Students of Liberia demands  “free schools for the first semester”. The reason is that “a lot of the parents have gone bankrupt,” as the group’s leader Abraham Bility explains. The idea is “to ensure that students across the country are provided free education during this academic year,” he adds.  In Bility’s eyes, the government’s recent pronouncement granting free education to students at government-run elementary and junior high schools is not sufficient because thousands of children are attending private schools.

“As far as we are concerned, not even government schools are free of cost, because if you have people buying uniforms that’s not free,” Bility argues. He wants the government to do more in support of the thousands of children who lost their parents due to Ebola. Meanwhile, wealthy families fly their children out of the country to go to school in Ghana for example.


Bettie Johnson is a journalist with the newspaper FrontPageAfrica and lives in Monrovia, Liberia.
[email protected]

Update February 3: The Liberian government has postponed the reopening of schools by another two weeks.


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