The Liberian government announced last weekend the resumption of academic activities, beginning Monday, January 12, 2015. The Ministry of Education (MOE) said registration of students would commence that day, followed by teacher orientation and other preparatory activities. Classes will commence on Monday, February 2.
This announcement immediately received mixed reactions from school authorities, especially in Monrovia. Some for various reasons expressed un-readiness. They cited teacher availability, as some have resigned and moved on. Others wondered about money for buckets, Clorox and thermometers to enforce Ebola-preventive measures; and other emergencies associated with school reopening. Still others argued that the notice was too short. Many school authorities also raised the burning issue of transportation.
But two leading Liberian educators, both of them women and heads of private institutions, reacted differently. Sister Mary Laurene Browne, head of the Roman Catholic-run Stella Maris Polytechnic, told our Education Correspondent C.Y. Kwanue that yes, times are tough, but Liberians and their partners should make the sacrifice and proceed with school reopening. She gave two primary reasons: first, waiting any longer for the resumption of academic activities would cause the country’s education system to “go from bad to worse.” The longer we took, she reckoned, the more difficult and more expensive it would be to reopen schools. Secondly, she feared that should we wait until Liberia is declared Ebola-free “our school-going children would become over-aged for their current classes.”
The renowned educator suggested that all of us—government, schools, including all staffs and the students— “should ensure strict observance of the preventive measures . . .”
Madam Hesta Katakaw, probably the nation’s leading education entrepreneur, lamented that many of the school authorities were behaving like “foolish virgins.”
Remember the story Jesus told about the bridegroom’s coming, and how the Kingdom of Heaven would be like unto that? There were ten virgins who were told to prepare for the bridegroom’s coming. Five of them were wise, five were foolish. While the bridegroom tarried (delayed), all of the virgins slept. But before then, the wise virgins prepared themselves by filling their lamps with oil. The foolish five, however, never bothered to prepare themselves or their lamps. When at midnight it was announced that the bridegroom was arriving, the foolish virgins rushed to the wise ones saying, “Give us some oil, for our lamps are gone out.” But the wise replied, “No, lest there be not enough for ours. Go ye therefore to the shops and buy oil.” By the time the foolish virgins returned, the bridegroom had arrived and the door had been shut. They cried to him to open the door, but it was too late. Jesus then told his disciples, “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man cometh.”
Surely, like Sister Laurene and Madam Katakaw, there is not a single school principal or authority that did not know that it was only a matter of time when all schools would be declared reopened. So while the government waited for the deadly Ebola virus to go away, all educational authorities, beginning with MOE, and even the parents, should have been preparing for school reopening.
Alas! The hour has come when President Sirleaf has declared the time ripe for our students to return to school. Which MCSS school is there that has not, during all these months of waiting, cleaned its yard and building, repaired its broken benches, refurbished its bathrooms and made ready its classrooms, laboratories and libraries for school reopening?
In the Ebola interim, which commenced in March 2014, the Ministry of Education itself should have been engaging all public school authorities and helped them get ready for the eventual school reopening.
We hope that has been the case, and that MCSS and all other government educational institutions in Monrovia and around the country are ready. And as Sister Laurene has reminded us, every school should be equipped with all the utensils, buckets, thermometers, etc., and materials—Clorox and other needed chemicals and soap for the bathrooms—to ensure that all the measures are strictly observed.
School authorities may reject the notion of being foolish virgins; but surely in times of crisis—any crisis—no one should sit supinely and do nothing. If it is no more than keeping the surroundings clean or repairing the broken benches, that would have been something.