21 October 2014: Just 12 years ago my country started revitalising its education system after the civil war had destroyed almost everything. Today, the deadly Ebola virus is destroying our education systems once again.
Schools have closed down indefinitely and lessons or classes are banned. Our tutors are paid but they give no lessons, some of them no longer study or research their own subjects.
Candidates of external exams have been unable to take their exams and will have to sit for another academic year because the time of their exams has passed. So, ironically, the education system is moving backwards to pre-war times.
Learning through the radio
The Ministry of Health and Education has announced a campaign of ‘teaching and learning on the radio’. This has started but with some problems. In rural areas buying a cup of rice for a day is hard let alone buying a radio as well as batteries.
Even among those in big towns and cities who have radios many will not benefit as most of the subjects cannot be understood without seeing symbols and formulae. I listened to the first programme and the subject was maths. Honestly speaking, I could only hear the tutor calling symbols, formulae, etc but I didn’t know how they were written. So I got confused and baffled. This will be even more difficult for young children to understand.
The idea is good, however it would have been better if radio sets with batteries had been supplied or even to put video footage of teaching on CDs distributed to every house. For those with access to the internet the videos could be shared online. Today almost every village has a DVD, laptop or a television to watch movies etc.
Young people are becoming frustrated
Children and young people are frustrated at the lack of educational opportunities and the potential impact that could have on them and our country. They are also desperate.
Many are deciding to find work or take any short-term options. There will be thousands more school dropouts, street children and children, especially girls and orphans, who will be exposed to violations and dangers - including rape and sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy and early marriages.
I talked with some of my female school friends and they told me that they are feeling discouraged and fearful that their educational journey has come to an end. Some are being pushed into marriages, prostitution and sexual violence.
One of my female friends who has just completed her external exams told me:
“I’m traumatised. I have struggled to complete my secondary education for many years, and it is now being lost; we are discouraged from reading our books and pursuing our education.”
However, she made one good reflection: “The presence of Ebola at this point in time seems to have silenced harmful traditional practices such as FGM [female genital mutilation].”
As a young man myself, I have sat my West African Senior School Certificate examination and I was hoping to study accounting, ideally abroad. However, our district has been quarantined and I am left feeling isolated and confused. I fear that I and my friends will not achieve our dreams.
After all our years of hard work and dedication and the commitment of our government to support our education, it feels like Ebola is destroying everything, within the shortest possible time.
Even buildings are suffering
The empty schools are becoming overgrown, flooded with rats, some school furniture and buildings are collapsing and others will soon do the same because there are no longer people occupying them.
Where will children sit and have a conducive learning environment when schools do finally reopen? Please help us take steps to revitalise education in this country. Otherwise the future of the children and of the nation is bleak.
What I am asking for
I have the strong feeling that as a young person I can play a pivotal role and I should be supported to achieve my passion of ensuring children and young people acquire their rights to create a peaceful future.
Education in particular is our right. We must harness the energy and talents of young people who are frustrated by this crisis by supporting them to embark on advocacy and motivational campaigns on the radio - sensitising people on the facts about Ebola, and encouraging parents to support their children to learn in whatever way they can.
We could ask tutors to prepare questions; at the end of every week or month we could hold a quiz and give attractive prizes and awards that will even include scholarships to the winners. These quizzes could contain questions on Ebola to help continue to raise awareness.
As well as the governmental and international aid efforts, we must also find innovative ways to engage children and young people through this terrible time of uncertainty.
We have to stop this Ebola disease from eating into the very fabric of our society and the future of children in our small, beloved country.
Plan International is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.