(By: Moses Owen Browne, Jr.)
Ganta, Liberia: Liberian teachers say teenage pregnancy and youth delinquency may stop pupils returning to school on February 2nd, when Liberia’s classrooms are set to re-open.
They also worry that schools are falling down and staff will not be paid, due to the economic constraints caused by the Ebola crisis.
Alex Wou, acting principal of St Lawrence Catholic School in Nimba County, said: “Even though we are excited that classes are resuming in two weeks, we are equally worried that half of the total enrollment won’t make it this academic year.
“Many of our students, especially girls, are pregnant, and their males counterparts are riding pem pem [motor cycles], fathering children or abusing drugs.”
The re-opening of schools has been hailed as a hopeful sign that the Ebola outbreak is coming under control in Liberia – a country that at the height of the crisis was reporting 300 Ebola new cases per day.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered all schools closed in July 2014 in an attempt to contain the deadly epidemic.
According to local newspapers, there are now only 5 cases in all Ebola Treatment Units across Liberia.
“We at St. Lawrence endorsed the decision, because no matter what, our children must go back to school,” said Wou.
“However, the challenges remain the same as they were 10 years back.”
So far, St. Lawrence Catholic School has only registered 563 students, out of a total of 1358 registered.
Wou said he expects no more than half of the students to make it back to school this year.
“Financial constraint is one major impediment,’ he explained.
“We have heard from parents and even the students who complained of lack of money to send their children to school.”
In Bomi County, students worry that schools are now too run down to provide a safe space for returning pupils.
Three students at schools in Bomi said that schools should resume – but that classrooms and buildings needed proper renovation and furnishings before classes could commence.
Mr. Wou also pointed out that it would be impossible to pay all the teaching staff for 12 months, due to lack of finances.
“We won’t be able to pay our teachers for 12 months; we won’t be able to buy stationary, desks and even additional chairs for the students.
“We will have to conduct workshops for our teachers and expand the classrooms to implement government’s regulations, but where will we get this money from?”
St. Lawrence Catholic School was established in 2000, but Wou said it is in need of repairs and serious renovation.
At St. Lawrence Catholic School, the average fee charged per student is $12,690 Liberia dollars for senior high division, $8,885 for junior high and $6,755 for elementary divisions respectively.
Plan Liberia plans to conduct a Back To School programme in Nimba County, focusing on supporting students with school fees, school materials and some financial support to keep the children in school.
The charity is also supporting schools with WASH activities, encouraging handwashing and sanitation.
Plan Liberia Country Director Koala Oumarou said: “Plan and our education partners are working tirelessly with the national government to ensure that schools are safe once re-opened to protect every child.
“It is a priority for us to see children back in a learning environment, so that they can continue their education.”