Back to School After Ebola
As schools re-open in Ebola-affected countries, children are being given a second chance to learn, and to play, as well as a chance to hope. Founder of World at School, and former child soldier, Chernor Bah, wrote in The New York Times that school is a place of safety for children, a place where they can begin to hope and to look forward to the future. This is important everywhere, but particularly in a country still recovering from the effects of a long civil war and where half of all children are not able to finish primary school.
Before the outbreak of Ebola, most of the country’s 2 million children were enrolled in primary school, as well as many older, secondary school-age children, who wanted to try again. However, too many factors prevented them from completing their primary education and in the end, just 45% of children in Sierra Leone went on to secondary school, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.
Then, in June 2014, three months after the first outbreak of Ebola, the government closed all schools and prevented large gatherings of people in an effort to control the spread of the disease. Learning programs on the radio helped to keep kids engaged and to bridge the gap until schools were able to re-open. You can hear one of these classes in the UNICEF video below.
In the last month, schools in Liberia and Guinea have re-opened, and Sierra Leonean schools are supposed to open at the end of this month. Have a look at this video about the return to school in Liberia.
The 60 million girls Foundation has worked on several projects in Sierra Leone. In 2011, we supported a peer-mentoring program for girls in the remote area of Kabala. This program promoted education and created role models so that young students could see that it was possible to finish primary school and move on to secondary school.
To keep older children in school, the 60 million girls Foundation also engaged in a pilot project to integrate technology with learning to improve educational outcomes. For schools in remote areas and with large class sizes, it can be tough for children to access the educational materials they need. The pilot project attempted to fulfill this gap.
In the first phase of this project in Kabala’s integrated learning centre run by CAUSE Canada, we loaded USB flash drives with a math tutorial program called Khan Academy (KA) Lite. Prior to the Ebola crisis, 60 high school girls had access to the program.
The second phase of the project adds to the information available to the children: we put KA Lite, as well as an encyclopedia and books, onto a Rasberry Pi (pictured below), a hard drive that fits into the palm of your hand. Through the computers at the learning centre, the girls could access these programs to enhance their own learning experience. As all programs are pre-downloaded onto the portable and very cost-friendly Raspberry Pi, students have no need for Internet access to use them. This is key in remote areas where broadband is not always readily available.
While schools across the country were closed to prevent the spread of Ebola, the integrated learning centre in Kabala continued to allow small groups of girls to use the computers and to continue their efforts at self-directed learning using the software we provided. In addition, the mobile computer labs pictured below in a CAUSE Canada photo, facilitate further access to learning.
We will bring you an initial analysis of the project results soon, and further updates once the program is fully back in place. In the meantime, we are looking forward to seeing all children affected by Ebola back in the classroom.