Children in Guinea started their school year in January. Schools were closed there for five months because of Ebola. In Liberia, the schools are to reopen February 16, 2015.
The change shows progress on ending the epidemic for both countries. However, not everyone is sure the countries should reopen their schools.
Sampson Wesseh’s kids ask him every day. “Papa, when will we return to school?”
Mr. Wesseh is glad the Liberian government plans to reopen schools in February. Authorities shut them in July 2014 when the number of Ebola cases increased quickly.
“My kids have been sitting home doing nothing, playing, running here and there. Nothing like education has been going on…The more the children sit home, the more they get dull.”
Officials say schools will have safety measures in place. They will provide thermometers to check children’s’ temperature and chlorine for hand washing.
But some Liberian parents say they may keep their children home a while longer.
Mother Christine Thomas says she wants the World Health Organization to declare Liberia Ebola-free before she returns her children to school.
“My fear here is that if the children go to school and they come down with Ebola it will not be too good for the parents. We will be feeling bad, So we are hoping and praying that there will be a little bit of debate on the opening of schools.”
Is this decision putting children in a dangerous situation?
In Guinea, teachers are also concerned. They worry about the crowding in their schools. It is hard to prevent contact between children.
Teacher Amadou Diallo says the children play together during breaks at school. No one can stop them from doing that. The students also share food. He thinks it is too dangerous to reopen schools at this time.
A person can get Ebola from contact with the body fluids of an infected person. Public health experts say most usual contact between people is not very dangerous.
Several teachers in Guinea told VOA that they have been trained on Ebola, along with 80,000 of their co-workers.
A health care worker takes the temperatures of school children for signs of the Ebola virus in Conakry, Guinea
Civil society groups said they would protest if the schools did not reopen. These groups say they will go out to schools and check on safety measures. They will make sure there are hand-washing stations. The groups will check to see that schools are taking students’ temperatures every day. A high temperature is an early sign of Ebola.
Schools were only shut for five months in Guinea and Liberia. However, the schools have problems that may continue.
First, students may be fearful about attending school. They may worry about catching the disease. Also, schools may have financial difficulties. Officials used money from school budgets to fight the spread of Ebola.
In Sierra Leone, schools remain closed. Wongani Grace Nkhoma Taulo is Chief of Education at the United Nations Children’s Fund. She says teen pregnancies are rising in Sierra Leone. She says UNICEF is also investigating reports from the country of increased child labor.
“The impact of the virus on the education system could be something that really reverses the gains that Sierra Leone has made over the years.”
While schools are closed, Liberia and Sierra Leone are using radio and television to broadcast at-home lessons. However, these lessons are not a good substitute for a classroom. Not all children have radios or televisions.
Ms. Taulo says that when schools do reopen in Sierra Leone, teachers may need to put in extra hours. They may even need to have weekend and holiday classes to help kids complete their study.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Anne Look reported this story for VOA News. Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
authorities - n. (plural): people who have power to make decisions and enforce rules and laws
thermometer - n. an instrument used for measuring temperature
chlorine - n. a chemical that in its natural form is a greenish-yellow gas and has a strong smell (used to kills germs)
reverse - v. to cause (something, such as a process) to stop or return to an earlier state
Now it’s your turn to use the words in this story. Write a comment in the comments section. What is your opinion about the schools reopening after being closed by Ebola?