Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has directed that schools throughout the country be reopened on March 30, seven months after they were closed due to the Ebola epidemic.
Government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said Koroma has also ordered that water and sanitation be made available in all schools, as well as Ebola screenings and psychosocial support ahead of the reopening.
“In fact, when the president instructed the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in his New Year’s Day speech to nation, he requested they put in the modalities and get to him, and, since then, the Ministry of Education has been working. And now, yesterday, a high-level meeting was also convened where the president was informed that the plan is ready to be rolled out come the 30th of March [and] schools will be reopening,” he said.
Neighboring Liberia has had to delay its schools reopening by two weeks from February 2 to February 16 in order to give parents time to register their children, as well as make sure Ebola-related safety protocols are put in place in all provinces.
Bayraytay said modalities are being put in place throughout Sierra Leone, including the provision of thermometers in all schools, a clean water supply, and also the decontamination of all the schools that were used as treatment and holding centers during the peak of the Ebola epidemic.
“For, as a country, initially, the president even indicated that schools would be reopening around the second and fourth week in April. But, after the Technical Committee met, they indicated that they are now more than ready to roll out the schools reopening,” Bayraytay said.
He said the government will train teachers in some schools to do Ebola screening and diagnosis.
“What we are going to do as part of the readiness, we are going to train teachers so that they will be serving as our liaison persons in the fight against Ebola so they will do the screening and also diagnosis,” Bayraytay said.
Officials in both Liberia and Sierra Leone admit there is a need to reopen schools to perhaps reduce the rise in teenage pregnancy prevalent since the closure of schools.
“In fact, it is a very, very serious problem to the extent that the president himself, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, has given instructions to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology that every student that got impregnated in this period of Ebola shouldn’t be penalized from going to school. Rather, we should ensure that they go school and they shouldn’t be stigmatized,” Bayraytay said.
Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were the three West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic with a combined death toll of about 9,000 people. Guinea reopened schools last month.