THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS: AN OPPORTUNITY AND CHALLENGE (PART ONE): THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF THE GOVERNMENT

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The good news is that the government of Liberia,  through President Sirleaf, has announced and set the date for the reopening schools and learning institutions of Liberia. The date is January 12 for intense preparations leading up to the commencement of classes on February 2. This intense process includes the cleaning up of all learning institutions, putting certain measures in place, and the registration of students. The pronouncement and actions are good news which excites students and parents but it raises some serious concerns. What safety measures are put in place? How realistic and implementable are they? Does not the reopening of schools send the wrong message that Ebola is over? What if one Ebola case shows up in a school? What will that one case mean for all learning institutions and the entire fight against Ebola?

I therefore propose a short series that will help us reflect on and take seriously the opportunity and responsibilities the reopening of schools brings to all stakeholders. The opportunity and advantage of reopening learning institutions is obvious and welcoming. It is the concerns and questions of many regarding the reopening of schools that will constitute the focus of the series. Therefore the series will center on the responsibilities of the government and its mainline Ministries and international partners, schools (proprietors, administrators and teachers), parents/guardians, and the community in which the school is located.

The series will proceed as follows. This introductory article will focus on the role and responsibility of the government and its partners. The second article will delve into the role and responsibility of schools. In the third article the focus will be on the role and responsibility of the parents and guardians. And, the fourth and final article will zero in on the role and responsibility of the community.

One of the areas in which Ebola has taken the biggest toll on affected countries is in the area of education. In Liberia, specifically, the children and all who were in various learning institutions have missed out on education for a whole semester! This poses a direct and immediate problem for the parents and guardians and the students themselves. In the long term it poses a big problem for the entire nation because its future leaders are missing out on the fundamental building rock of any nation—education, education, and education. The children are bored staying home and many parents/guardians do not know what to do about it and nor do they have the means to do something about it. One can imagine what this does to the home in the Liberian society during this ongoing Ebola crisis.

Thus it is exciting to hear and know that schools are about to reopen! Parents, guardians and students are running all over the place finding money and are registering in their numbers. But is it safe for all of us? Many people are concerned. Some of the parents I have spoken to are just too afraid for their children and have decided not to send them to school for this whole academic year or at least for the first semester! My own candid opinion is that I share the same concern but believe if we all work together we can make it safe for our learning institutions to reopen.

This is why this series is intended to help us to know or be reminded of some of the things we ought to do to reopen our schools and leaning institutions while a few cases of Ebola are still in the country. We begin with the government. By government we mean the three branches of government but in particular the line ministries of Education, Health, and Public Works along with the international partners.

The government has released protocols for a safe leaning environment in a nine-page document focusing on every school having an Ebola committee to be linked through the county heath team to a nearby health facility, hand washing and temperature taking facilities for students and school personnel, clear and simple information on contacts of students and faculty/staff at registration, and short-stay facility for suspected cases.

We appeal to the government and its international partners to ensure that the protocols are widely disseminated in all schools, communities and to stakeholders. That adequate hand washing water and thermometers are supplied to the schools, and that schools are closely monitored to ensure compliance with the protocols. In light of the enormity of what is to be done before schools reopen, I suggest that the reopening of schools be postponed to March in order to give all partners time do adequate preparations.

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