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GEF’s Spotlight on Women’s Rights & Education Series: Ebola’s Impact on Liberia’s Schools

Along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, the CDC has designated Liberia as a country with widespread ebola transmission. Ebola has impacted all facets of life in Liberia, including putting a halt to the educational system. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered all schools closed since the end of July 2014.  They are not scheduled to reopen until March at the earliest. Even prior to the ebola outbreak, schools in Liberia were struggling with low literacy and school attendance rates – 43 and 34 percent, respectively.

The country suffered through two brutal civil wars spanning from 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003 - wars that made extensive use of child soldiers under President Charles Taylor’s brutal rule. Some children missed years of school during this time. The fear is that many children will never return to school, says Laurent Duvillier, a communication specialist at UNICEF. Girls are particularly at risk because families may keep their eldest daughter out of school to help out at home. Furthermore, according to the Huffington Post, orphaned teenage girls may become default mothers to their younger siblings, making their return to school even more unlikely.

Ebola is another impediment to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s plans to improve education in Liberia. As the first female elected head of state in Africa, the Nobel Prize winner wrote last year that, “[i]nvesting in girls' education is not only a moral imperative, it is a smart investment.” Under her presidency, the government of Liberia launched its National Girls’ Education Policy in 2006.  Its aim is to provide free and compulsory primary school education and cut secondary school fees by 50 percent, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goal two.

So what is being done? Protocols are being formulated to set up hand-washing stations at schools and to train teachers to deal with ebola symptoms. The Liberian Education Ministry, along with UNICEF and other nonprofits, are also working to keep kids on track. Radio programs are beingbroadcast to provide education lessons while schools are closed. According to NPR, most Liberian children, however, do not have access to radios and even for those that do, the broadcasts are not available in all parts of the country. Nevertheless, for those with access, the radio programs help kids maintain a routine and can keep them engaged in learning. 

GEF’s first Woman of Excellence Award recipient, Katie Meyler, is also having an impact on the fight against ebola in Liberia.  She founded More Than Me, an organization that built the first tuition-free all girls’ school in Liberia. More Than Me’s holistic approach to education includes partnering with the Ministry of Health and others working on the ground to rid Liberia from ebola. They also provide support to survivors and help them reintegrate into society.

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