By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the consequences of the Ebola outbreak on the nation last year was the closure of all learning institutions in the country in August as part of the government’s decongestion policy to avoid the rapid spread of the virus. The disease which hit the country high for the second time in august, has claimed the lives of hundreds of Liberians. When it initially attacked the country in March last year, it did not claim so many lives as it did from August to date. Now, with the reduction in the number of cases over the past few weeks, the government of Liberia has announced the resumption of classes next month.
Since the pronouncement initially by the President during her usual Simple Liberian English with UNMIL Radio, there have been some concerns over the planned date because of the many problems associated with the re-opening of schools. Many welcomed the decision to reopen schools, but expressed concern that the government did not consider some of its “economic implications”on the side of parents and some of the schools themselves, as the decision to close schools also affected the financial viability of institutions, mostly those relying on tuition.
Some of the concerns being raised are that the effect of the pronouncement is abrupt and that educational stakeholders were not provided detailed information from time to time. Dargbeh Johnson, president of the Principal Association said information is usually sent from the Ministry of Education to them by cellphones and that stringent measures need to be taken by schools’ administration to have teachers adhere to the February reopening calendar.
While parents believe that the reopening of schools when the country has not been declared Ebola-free is like putting to risk the lives of the children. They are considering the constraints that they will be faced with in preparing the children for school in a relative short time and urged the administrations to guarantee the safety of the children while in school.
Addressing some of these concerns, the director of communications at the Education Ministry, Maxwell Bleetan said yesterday on Truth FM Breakfast Show that the Ministry does not believe that the process is abrupt because stakeholders were all aware about the three scenarios set in place by the Ministry five months ago regarding the reopening of schools.
He said the Ministry has specialized people who strategized a program that prepared all educational stakeholders for periods from January, February and March if schools are to be reopened anytime in the New Year and said the instruction from the President falls within one of the scenarios therefore the Ministry is ready to go on as planned.
Like many others, I support the reopening of schools throughout the country. But there are many issues on this subject matter. The issue of tuition to be paid by parents; the issue of uniforms and books to be borne by parents, as well as schools’ obligations to their teachers, some of whom have not been paid for months since most of the schools depend on tuition to operate. We should not also forget about anti-Ebola materials at schools, as the virus is still around.
Yes, indeed, there are economic complications associated with the reopening of schools. This factor in my belief was not considered before taking such as decision. I share the concern of the government to have schools reopened, but at the same time, it was necessary to consider all that that it takes to have schools reopened. It is not just the pronouncement but matching this with certain actions, like what the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) announced recently.
Recently the bank in the wake of the prolonged school closure as a result of the Ebola crisis, which has contributed to increased debt burden of the private schools that have borrowed from banks, announced that it will pay off the outstanding loan obligations of all private schools, from kindergarten through high school. The commercial banks have already provided the CBL with the list of schools and the amounts involved.
CBL Governor, Dr. Mills Jones, in a special Ebola Relief Package said that this intervention serves two purposes, saying, “It helps to relieve the banks of the burden of provisioning, where schools find themselves unable to repay the debts, and it helps to relieve the potential burden on parents who may already be experiencing financial difficulties from increased fees that schools may have to impose in order to meet the obligation of the banks.”
Once more, I support the reopening of schools, but to say it the Liberian way, “the time is too short,” and as we idiomatically say, “hurry, hurry burst trousers.” I am contributing to this matter to avoid any crisis or problems come February 2, the time set for the resumption of classes, as registration is set for this month.
Let me say again that I personally welcome this as it would add to my income as a part time teacher and also to my perquisite as a thesis advisor. But these problems and concerns must be addressed for simultaneous and smooth school year. I Rest My Case.