DECEMBER 8, 2014 By Rashid Dumbuya
Considering the fact that it has almost taken six months since schools and universities in Sierra Leone were closed down due to the Ebola outbreak; and considering also the flip side effects and attendant consequences that come along with such closure, it is perhaps the right time for the Ministry of Education to come up with an EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL RESPONSE PLAN that will showcase how the MINISTRY intends to see students return back to school starting from January 2015.
At the very least, the RESPONSE PLAN will begin with a pre-test in the tertiary institutions and gradually roll out the response to secondary and primary schools respectively. If needs be, the established medical units and facilities that are presently within some of the tertiary institutions should be utilized as Temporary Ebola Holding Centres to deal with any potential outbreaks or emergency situations that might occur on campuses during the pre-test period.
This Ebola Back to School Response Plan will be a pre-test. It is not the formal reopening of schools but an evidence based approach that will show the actual and potential risks that can be encountered if schools and universities were to be reopened. There is absolute need for it. The risks could perhaps be over-exaggerated but with a pre-test, the truths could be revealed. The pre-test could be optional and may not necessarily include every student and it could be done within a reasonable period.
While caution must be exercised in the rolling out of this scheme as risks may be imminent, an argument could perhaps be made that the prejudicial effects of having university students sit idly at home far outweighs the probative value of having them in school. Aside this, with the skyrocketed Ebola infection rate at the moment, it is beyond comprehension to guess the exact time that the World Health Organization will publicly certify Sierra Leone as Ebola safe and free to begin doing things normal again. Can we as a nation afford the luxury to wait that long before students get back to school?
While we all look forward to and long for that D-day to come, it is fundamentally logical and imperative that the nation be seen taking some positive strides in the educational sector to get things moving in the interim period; albeit through a gradual and well-thought out process. It is against this backdrop that the Liberia government has even revoked its declaration of public emergency notwithstanding the fact that they are still far from being certified as Ebola free by the World Health Organization.
With adequate preventive measures in place, some little things can be done while we continue to fight the Ebola scourge in the country. I therefore kindly appeal to the Ministry of Education in Sierra Leone to roll out an EBOLA BACK TO SCHOOL RESPONSE PLAN that will gradually see students return to school come January 2015.
Rashid Justice Dumbuya
*Rashid Dumbuya is an International Human Rights Advocate and Public Defender from Sierra Leone and currently an LLM candidate and the University of Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom.