Educating children after the Ebola virus hit Sierra Leone

The unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa calls for forceful action on multiple fronts. The number of infections could reach 300'000 by December. The Swiss Re Foundation has donated CHF 150,000 to increase children’s access to education in a province of Sierra Leone where the outbreak has forced schools to close. About 22 million people live in areas where active Ebola transmission has been reported, with more than 4 million more living in areas where at least 20 fatalities have been reported. The large number of cases both in densely-populated settings and in remote, hard-to-access villages makes the outbreak particularly difficult to contain. The virus has infected 6,242 people to date, causing 2,909 deaths.

In response to the Ebola outbreak, schools in Sierra Leone closed on 11 June. According to the Ministry of Education, none of the approximately 1.5 millionchildren enrolled in the country’s primary, junior and secondary schools are currently attending school. With schools closed, children are missing out on opportunities not only to learn but also to receive psychosocial and protective support and training in Ebola prevention. Moreover, once having left school, many children will never return, putting them at risk of child labour and other forms of exploitation. The mass closing of schools across West Africa is particularly worrisome as, even before the outbreak, the region accounted for over one-third of the world’s out-of-school children. In a country which has relatively recently emerged from conflict, it is crucial to ensure that Sierra Leone’s children and youth have opportunities to secure their own and their countries’ future.

Until all schools are reopened, Save the Children is seeking to ensure continuity in children’s access to education in Pujehun, Sierra Leone, throughinnovative, flexible approaches to learning and alternative learning channels. In light of a recent UNICEF study in which 85% of respondents stated that radio was their preferred means of receiving information about Ebola, radio broadcasts promise to be an effective method of delivering educational programming. On 7 October, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education started airing lesson on the radio for primary, junior and secondary students in core subjects (mathematics, English, science, economics, business studies and social studies). Lessons on life skills, psychosocial support (PSS), Ebola prevention, sanitation and hygiene will be added in the coming weeks. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and the Independent Radio Network are broadcasting the lessons through a network of 41 radio stations across Pujehun.

More learning materials are needed to ensure coverage of all school grades and all key subjects, and the materials should be interactiveand engaging in a radio format. Save the Children will coordinate with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and other education partners to support the development of an interactive learning radio programme. Giving priority to children in quarantined, vulnerable households and communities, it will also distribute learning materials and solar-powered radios to support self-learning. The intervention will directly target 2,500 children and, given the widespread use of radios in Sierra Leone, is expected to reach another 200,000 people.