Liberia: Reopening Schools Remains in Limbo Amid COVID-19 Pandemic in Liberia

Monrovia — The current school year has been dealt another massive blow as the Ministry of Education casts uncertainty over the resumption of classes in the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Liberian government to abruptly shut down all school activities back in March as a measure to curb the spread of the virus. But the decision is rendering thousands of students indeterminate about the future of their education sojourn.

The Ministry of Education, in a recent press statement published on its website May 27, emphasizes that "No date has been set yet, for the reopening of schools in Liberia."

The Ministry said, "It is finalizing a comprehensive policy aimed at outlining cleared strategies on mitigating several factors and challenges to facilitate the reopening of schools and complete the academic year 2019/2020 in line with the National curriculum."

"Hence, all schools (public, private, faith-based and community) shall remain closed until the health authorities deem it safe to reopen and begin physical/on-campus activities."

But as the total number of cases in the country reaches 288 with 104 active confirmed cases, there are concerns that schools in the country might not reopen any time soon.

This situation has presented a massive setback for thousands of 12 graders who were preparing to take the West African Examination Council's regional test this year.

Many 12 graders bewailing the setback say COVID-19 has ravaged their plans for college. In Liberia, the prerequisite for enrolling into college is making a pass in the regional exams, which has now been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic.

Daralyn Diamond Williams, a senior student of the Salvation Army's William Booth High School in Monrovia, is worried that the closure of schools has disrupted her plans for college which she has dreamt about "every minute of her life".

"My plan for this academic year was to be done with high school and enrolled at the University of Liberia," Daralyn said.

"But since this deadly virus came about, it has made me loss hope, and thinking about the delay it has caused for me as a senior student, I will have to sit and wait for one whole year without doing anything. I pray and hope that everything will be over soon so that I can continue from where I stop."

Jehu Nuslah, another 12th grader of the Charles Henry Dewey High School in Bomi County, shares the same view about COVID-19.

"I had plans to further my education after WASSCE [WAEC] and graduation and now coronavirus has interrupted, so we are living with uncertainty now," he said.

"I want the Ministry of Education to work with the WAEC office to come up with a timeline and schedule for us to sit our exam, instead us going back to class to start learning again."

Added Massa Sonii, a female student of the Sime High School also of Bomi County: "We were in the middle of the year where students were prepared to write their exams, but the outbreak of the virus has stopped all of those things," decries "Right now, we are not in school to do our normal study to go on camp, so we are worried as students - how will it be like if it continues from now to June or July [this year]."

Also in Grand Bassa County, many 12 graders are also worried that the pandemic is disrupting their educational plans.

Chinda Freeman is a 12th grade student of the Seventh Day Adventist School in Buchanan city who is "disappointed about this school year".

"See what COVID-19 has caused us? By now, we should have been preparing for graduation and college entrances but we are still sitting home doing nothing," said the 19-year-old female student.

"What is hurting me is that I made a plan to have graduated before reaching 20 year-old this September, but I'm not sure that it will work. I am feeling too bad."

"I wish I could go back to school to learn new things, most especially at this time that we should have been sitting for WAEC," added James King, a 12th grader of the Bassa High School who says the pandemic is making students boring at home.

"Some days, I can worry about my school because I don't know whether school will open this year or not. Besides, I am scared about getting the coronavirus. This is seriously affecting our education".

Meanwhile, Education Minister Prof. Ansu D. Sonii has commended schools for continuous ensuring that some curriculum activities continue through distance learning or online.

But the Ministry has frowned on schools that are asking students to pick up lessons from campuses. It claims that these students are breaching the social distancing rules which pose health risk when they go on campus so the Ministry paced a ban on the physical collection of instructional materials by students.

In Ghana, 12 graders and final year university students will resume academic activities on June 15. The country currently has a total case of 8,070 with 36 deaths and 2,947 recoveries.

On April 30, UNESCO announced that "most governments' had set dates to reopen schools with a "phased approach that places priority on health, safety and remedial learning" after an online meeting held on April 29. UNESCO says 71 countries have already announced when schools will reopen.

At that time 12 schools had reopened schools, 52 have set the date for reopening during this academic year and seven plan to reopen in the next one. The majority of countries - 128 - have not announced any dates yet, UNESCO said.

It is unclear whether Liberia attended the meeting or what the country decided for the reopening of schools during the virtual discussion. Meanwhile, the fate of thousands of Liberian students remains in limbo as COVID-19 disrupt every sector.

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