Ebola's deadly grip on Liberia has forced education to fall by the wayside.
Public and private schools were shut down in July, and no additional plan was provided on how children would continue their education. Nearly three months later, the doors of the 4,413 schools remain closed with no indication of when they will reopen for 1.4 million school-aged children currently without access to education.
Education in Liberia has, understandably, taken a backseat to combatting the epidemic as more than 2,200 people have died from the virus. While communities mobilize to fight Ebola, little has been done to encourage continued education among school-aged children. Small community-driven initiatives have started, but no official government-led program currently exists.
The Ministry of Education has begun producing content for school aged children, and UNICEF is working alongside them to develop a plan moving forward.
UNICEF's Rukshan Ratnam said that the organization is working on long-term options for students as schools show no signs of reopening.
"Discussions are beginning this week on the protocols and certifications needed for schools to reopen — as this will ensure that when schools do reopen, they remain safe environments for children," Ratnam said.
UNICEF is working with Liberia's Ministry of Education to develop educational radio programs for children, so they can continue studies in their own homes, according to Ratnam. These are planned to begin airing within the next month.
Stable education in Liberia is a relatively new thing since the country's civil war ended in 2003. The More Than Me Academy, which provides education to vulnerable girls from Monrovia's West Point slum, was among the schools directed to close in July.
"While this break seems dramatic to us, it may not be so strange to Liberians. If this goes on for a year, there may not be that much effort by communities to provide education to children, but if it goes on for longer, they might," said Emily Bell, marketing manager for More Than Me, which provides education to vulnerable girls from Monrovia's West Point slum. The school was closed in July.
"UNICEF is putting out home education resources, but we haven't seen communities using them yet," Bell said.
Since schools are closed, Bell said, they've been repurposed to deal with Ebola response. Many are running childcare centers for abandoned children. More Than Me, for example, has been working to quarantine children to monitor them for Ebola before they are placed in foster homes.