Ebola-hit Sierra Leone starts school by radio

2014-10-08 05:00
A health worker wearing protective clothing and equipment against the deadly Ebola virus sits at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone. (Michael Duff, AP)

A health worker wearing protective clothing and equipment against the deadly Ebola virus sits at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone. (Michael Duff, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Freetown - Sierra Leone on Tuesday launched an ambitious schooling effort for more than a million children denied their education due to the Ebola epidemic, saying lessons would be delivered via radio.

Classes in a variety of subjects will be broadcast for four hours, six days a week, on 41 radio stations and the country's sole TV channel, the government announced.

"The plan is to provide a suitable option for our school-going population as the entire school system has been disrupted since the outbreak of the Ebola disease," said Education Minister Minkailu Bah.

Schools have been closed since the government announced a state of emergency in July in response to an epidemic which has killed 3 500 people in west Africa, more than 600 of them in Sierra Leone.

More than two million of its population of 5.7 million are aged between three and 17, although in reality the secondary school attendance rate is less than 40% for both boys and girls.

Bah also admitted that reaching many of the nation's schoolchildren would be difficult in a country where radio ownership is around 25% and fewer than two percent have access to a television.

But with no end in sight to the epidemic, which has also engulfed Guinea and Liberia, Sierra Leone's economy and the education of its future workforce are in peril.

"As things now are we cannot expect schools to reopen until early 2015," said Sylvester Meheaux, of the Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools that is helping the government run the classes.

"In the meantime, we are worried some children would end up being drop outs, pregnant and otherwise. These developments are a major concern for us in the educational sector."

Public reaction to the announcement - which did not include details of how the scheme would be funded - has been mixed.


"This is not the type of tuition we used to know for our children, but we have little option," said Sam Mbayo, a retired clerk from the eastern district of Kailahun.

"Any means to educate our children rather than leaving them idle is welcome. Otherwise we are going to have a generation of illiterates."

Fatima Sheriff, a single mother from Freetown, said she was worried in particular about the damage the closures of schools was doing to the prospects of young girls.

"For many of them this is the end of their educational dreams as the choice of the going into prostitution and other vices loom," she said.

Manuel Fontaine, the regional director of UN children's fund (Unicef) which is supporting the initiative, said the radio classes would be focussed on teaching children "life skills" and maintaining their contact with the outside world.

But, he added, it was important that schools reopened as soon as possible, "partly because there is a problem of long-term damage in children who have no education, and because there is a risk that children will drop out of school, of education in general".

Bah, the education minister, said Sierra Leone authorities would "be devising other means (of) accommodating the hard-to-reach areas" without access to radios.

"We are quite aware that not all children will benefit from this method of teaching, but we are doing our best to reach as many children as possible", he said.

Read more on:    unicef  |  sierra leone  |  ebola  |  west africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.