Education over Sierra Leone’s airwaves amid Ebola
The unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2015 called for forceful action on multiple fronts. As of September that year, active Ebola transmission had been reported in areas with a total population of about 22 million, with more than 4 million more people living in areas where at least 20 fatalities had been reported. The large number of cases in both densely-populated settings and remote, hard-to-access villages made the outbreak particularly difficult to contain.
In response, all schools in Sierra Leone closed in June 2015, depriving approximately 1.5 million primary, junior and secondary school students of the opportunity not only to learn but also to receive psychosocial and protective support and training in Ebola prevention. Leaving school puts children at risk of never returning and falling prey to child labour and other forms of exploitation. The mass closing of schools across West Africa was particularly worrisome as, even before the outbreak, the region accounted for over one-third of the world’s out-of-school children.
The Swiss Re Foundation donated CHF 150 000 to Save the Children to increase children’s access to education in a province of Sierra Leone where the outbreak forced schools to close. Until schools reopened, Save the Children ensured continuity in education access in the district of Pujehun through innovative, flexible approaches to learning and alternative learning channels. In particular, it delivered educational programming in core subjects such as mathematics, English, science and social studies via radio broadcasts transmitted by 41 radio stations across the district. Lessons on life skills, psychosocial support, Ebola prevention, sanitation and hygiene were added later.
Save the Children further coordinated 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 also distributed learning materials and solar-powered radios to support self-learning, directly targeting 2 500 children and, thanks to radio’s popularity in Sierra Leone, likely reaching another 200 000 people.