lapses in government response
April 15, 2015 By Alusine Sesay, Mohamed Massaquoi & Ibrahim Tarawallie
After closure for almost eight months as a result of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease, schools in Sierra Leone yesterday reopened. Concord Times reporters were out and about in Freetown to ascertain how prepared schools were on the first day of the resumption of schools across the country.
The atmosphere was not as buoyant as compared to normal times when children returned to school with smiles and expectation for a new academic year. Only few children could be seen walking to school in the morning rush hour. Many had to wait hours for transportation to go to their respective schools across Freetown. But some pupils in schools our reporters visited were happy to be back at school.
The Concord Times team looked at thematic issues, including the distribution of Ebola preventive materials, education and learning materials and access to transportation, as key to a safe and secured environment in schools.
Distribution of Ebola preventive materials
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology had promised to evenly distribute Ebola preventive materials, including Veronica buckets, soap/chlorine, thermometers and water and sanitation facilities to all schools across the country. However, in our assessment to ascertain how government went ahead with the distribution of Ebola preventive materials, Concord Times discovered that more preference was given to secondary schools, leaving out some primary schools in the Western Area as a result.
As for water and sanitation facilities, there was an uneven distribution as ten thousand liters of water were distributed to almost all secondary schools our reporters visited across the city, while only few jerry cans of water were supplied to primary schools.
Head teacher of the Evangelical Primary School at New England Ville, west of Freetown, Mrs. Magdalene Conteh, told Concord Times that her school was yet to receive any of the materials from the Ministry of Education.
“The buckets we are using now were improvised by me, only to make the environment safe and encourage parents to send their children to school. We have neither received supply of thermometers nor Veronica buckets for the school,” she said. “Even learning materials they promised us are not forthcoming.”
Concord Times observed that the school lacks proper water and sanitation facilities as there is absolutely no toilet facility. However, the turnout of pupils at the school was quite impressive.
At the EB Williams Municipal Primary School on Jomo Kenyatta Road, Concord Times found out that the Ministry of Education supplied the school just four jerry cans for a population of over five hundred pupils.
According to the head teacher in charge of Classes 4 to 6, Sheik O. Kamara, the school does not have running water and as a result they pay labourers to fetch water. “Where do you think we can have the money to be doing this always?” he questioned rhetorically.
The turnout of pupils, he said, was low as only 28 out of 266 turned up yesterday, although he expressed hope that more pupils will attend next week.
Head teacher representing Classes 1 to 3, Mrs. Dorina Lamin, said she was confounded as to what she could do to handle the water and sanitation issue plaguing the school. She revealed that Education Ministry officials had told them to train volunteers that will conduct temperature test on the children but failed to provide the funds, hence she would have to use one of her teachers to check the temperature of pupils.
Distribution of education & learning materials
Contrary to a statement by the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Brima Michael Turay on Africa Independent Radio that about 97% of schools countrywide have received learning materials, principals at the Bishop Johnson Memorial School, Henry Fergusson Junior Secondary School, and Head teachers of Sulaimania Municipal Infants School and East End Municipal Primary School, told Concord Times they were yet to receive education and learning materials from the ministry, although they promised to make do with what they have at the moment.
Acting Principal of Henry Fergusson, Mohamed Abudu Joaque, said this week will be used to orientate pupils about the school and the Ebola virus.
“We are going to place all pupils in their respective classes on Friday and hopefully classes will commence next Monday (20 April). We will be assessing pupils after every two months. The large turnout of our pupils in school today is a testament of the sensitization in the community about the reopening of schools,” he said.
One of the pupils, Aminata Kamara, said: “I am excited to come to school because this is my first day in junior secondary school. I am very much prepared to learn and also adhere to the measures put in place by health experts. I hope my colleagues will do the same.”
However, some of the heads of schools complained that their teachers were yet to be trained by health experts on how to use the thermometers, as well as educating pupils on Ebola prevention and control.
While teachers in the above schools expressed happiness to return to school and readiness and determination to teach and provide lesson notes, pupils also registered their willingness to learn.
Almost all the classrooms at the Bishop Johnson Memorial Secondary School were closed at the time of visit. It was observed that they were not properly sanitized as debris could be seen on the floor, with dust on the chairs and tables, although the school’s Principal, Joshua C.J. Tucker, told Concord Times that the school had been disinfected and cleaned by officials from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and UNICEF.
He said 80% of his teachers were more than ready to teach and provide quality lesson notes to pupils, although a single teacher who teaches in both the junior and senior schools was seen at the time of visit.
“We are ready to teach our pupils. I am a little bit surprised that the turnout is very low but I hope they [pupils] will come in their numbers as we move on,” he said.
Access to transportation by school pupils
The reopening of schools across Sierra Leone yesterday should not only concern the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, but other line ministries as well, including the Ministries of Health and Sanitation, and Transportation and Aviation.
Some parents reluctantly sent their children to school yesterday over 10 months after the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease which has killed more than 3,000 Sierra Leoneans.
It is no hidden secret that government had struggled to grapple with challenges in the fight against Ebola, leaving a good many Sierra Leoneans to doubt whether schools will reopen.
The issue of transportation is significant in fighting the Ebola virus. Majority of pupils do not have access to school buses and are heavily reliant on public transportation to ferry them to and from school.
With the reopening of schools yesterday, pupils had a herculean task of access to public transportation. There was pushing and shoving at bus stops and for taxis both during the morning and in the afternoon.
“We are struggling to get transportation after school hours. We have been here for the past three hours waiting for public transportation,” Aminata Fofanah, a student of St. Joseph’s Secondary School said.
But the plight of pupils could be alleviated soon as the Ministry of Transport and Aviation is reported to have finalized arrangement for the shipment of 100 buses to Sierra Leone, following the signing of a contract between the ministry and China Poly Group Corporation.
“The one hundred buses, which have been manufactured by Zhongtong Buses in the People’s Republic of China, are expected in Sierra Leone anytime from now, as arrangements are now being made by China Poly Group Corporation with shipping agencies for possible shipment to Sierra Leone,” an officer at the Transport Ministry told Concord Times.