Children in Ebola-stricken Liberia are playing, working or begging to fill their time while schools remain closed, according to children’s charity Plan International.
The virus has kept schools shut for more than four months, in a country which already suffers from limited learning facilities and trained teachers, as well as a high illiteracy rate.
New research from Plan shows that many children and youth will lose half a year or more of education, which is expected to affect their prospects in life, as well as dent their confidence and self esteem.
The report, entitled “Young Lives on Lockdown: The impact of Ebola on children and communities in Liberia,” says that while teachers and older children are continuing to teach their children and siblings at home, the majority of parents are themselves uneducated and thus cannot give their children home schooling.
“Most parents cannot read or write so they cannot help their children at home. At the same time, they don’t let other people come to their houses to conduct lessons for them or let their children out for even 30 minutes,” said one community leader interviewed for the research. Remember, there is the constant fear of Ebola.
Once schools do re-open, parents worry they will not have the money to pay their children’s fees as well as fees for other activities.
“Schools will soon reopen, but no money to put kids in school on time owning to limited vehicles,” said another community leader, who spoke to researchers.
In Joseph Town, Bomi, western Liberia, and any other parts of the country, hundreds of children can be seen playing at street corners or in empty market stalls.
The children play aimlessly without any form of learning or care provided.
“I miss school so badly,’ says Archie, 13. “I never thought I would be out of school all these months. All I do every day is play football and run around the community with my friends.”
Liberian school systems were slowly recovering after the civil war eleven years ago. Now, such progress has taken a step backward.
“The Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a serious threat to mankind, and it has affected and hugely impacted negatively every sector of Liberia, particularly education,” said Felecia Sackie Doe-Suma, Liberia’s Assistant Minister of Education for Early Childhood Development.
According to the research, the Ebola crisis is having a particular impact on older children’s education – with the risk that they will not return to education particularly at the high level.
This is most obviously the case in households who have lost parents or carers, where older children – almost exclusively girls – talk about their need to take over the parenting role.
More generally, dwindling (declining) family incomes and a rise in poverty can be expected to increase the pressure on youth to leave education permanently.
For these children and youths, the possibilities offered by education are replaced by the prospect of a lifetime of unskilled work or early motherhood.
Alphan Kabba, Plan Liberia Programme Manager in Bomi, added: “Children are left to play while some have turned to becoming bread winners in this Ebola period, due to the closure of schools across the country.
“This will have far-reaching consequences in the not-too-distant future.”
Plan plans to create learning spaces, safe home schools and radio listening clubs in 15 counties across Liberia beginning where Plan has program units.
According to Kabba, this will give children access to radio and provide the right atmosphere to listen to the government’s newly introduced radio program entitled Teaching by Radio.
Liberia’s Education Ministry launched the Teaching by Radio program in October 2014 on three national radio stations based in Monrovia.
The program brings together education specialists, classroom teachers and volunteer educators to teach children and keep them busy whilst schools remain closed.
“We teach five subjects – Language Arts, which include grammar usage; basic and everyday Math, Science for life, including nutrition in the Ebola context, and hygiene,” said Doe-Suma.
“We also teach history and social studies,” she added.
However, in Bomi, Archie says he has not heard the program, as Bomi County – which has a population of over 150,000 – has only one radio station.
“I do not have a radio for myself but I have not heard a program like that on any radio station in Bomi. I know Radio Bomi sometimes relays programs from national radio stations in Monrovia, but this has not been the case,” Archie said.
Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International, said the closure of schools will have long-term effects on children.
“The closure of all schools, colleges and universities means that children and youth are having their long-term futures impacted by the virus.
“This will affect their prospects, their confidence and their self esteem. It is very worrying that even when schools re-open, many parents will not be able to afford the fees. Older children will likely remain in work rather than complete their education. We must make getting children back to lessons a priority in our Ebola response work.”
- In total, 6388 have died in West Africa of Ebola. As of 10 December, over 3100 people have died in Liberia alone as the deadly disease continues to ravage the country with over 7700 reported cases so far, and the numbers still rising.
- Founded 77 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest child rights organisations in the world that works in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations. www.plan-international.org
- Plan started working in Liberia in 1982. The organization works in partnership with the communities and the government to ensure poor children have access to quality education, good health and adequate sanitation, and that they are well protected. The organization has 12,250 sponsored children spread over 176 communities in its programmed areas.