Today is World Teachers Day and we are celebrating the teachers across the country who are working to give our children a better future.
The COVID 19 pandemic has had an impact on virtually every aspect of life, with education being one of the hardest hit sectors. The pandemic has to date caused the disruption of learning to over a billion students and 73.8% of the world's school population. In Liberia, children have been out of the classroom for many months; and are only just starting to return with Grade 6 leading the way.
However, despite the closures, education has gone on; largely because of the commitment and dedication of teachers. In response to COVID-19 school closures and adherence to social distancing, UNESCO and many governments and agencies have focussed on the use of distance learning, to reduce disruption to education. This has come in many forms from audio lessons and SMS groups, to the distribution of radios and printed self study packs. In Liberia, radio programmes with the support of the Ministry of Education have been one of the most effective ways to reach students. At the heart of each, type of learning and each community engagement has been a teacher.
Education providers had to think deep and devise innovative ways to keep students learning at home, putting into consideration the challenges in terms of accessibility, connectivity and affordability. Teachers have been pivotal in helping their students navigate the world of distance learning, and adjust to the new normal. Many of these teachers had to learn and adapt to the new approaches themselves before supporting learners and adjusting their usual daily routines. It has been a challenge and yet teachers have had to rise to the challenge; not just for themselves but for the many children who rely on them each day.
It is therefore uplifting that this year's World Teacher's Day celebration, themed "Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future" celebrates the teaching profession and recognises the important role teachers played - and continue to play - during the current pandemic and solicits support for them because of the huge task ahead; as schools start to re-open.
Bridge - a partner in the Ministry of Education's LEAP programme - initiated the @Home learning program quickly to support the government and the children it serves across the country. Many of the learning components continued to have teachers at the heart of them; sensitising communities to how they worked and making sure that families had access. The learning resources include grade level learning guides; self-study activity packs which are designed to help children complete different tasks; hundreds of stories through the virtual storybook library to help children practice literacy and mobile interactive quizzes that children can take directly on WhatsApp or SMS; complementing the other aspects of the remote learning programme.
Justina Weah and her mother Josephine Weah are grateful to Grade 6 LEAP teacher Edith K. Weleswne, who has taken it upon herself to visit Justina and other students in her community in Samuel Weah- Maryland County to support them with @Home learning materials and to help them continue practicing what they have learnt through mobile quizzes on SMS. Teachers across Liberia have risen to the challenge posed by COVID and have focussed on helping children continue to learn, while providing support, reassurance and guidance to families and communities
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly added to the challenges faced by already over-extended education systems throughout the world. This year, taking a moment to praise teachers seems especially important. Although teachers should be praised everyday, taking a moment to celebrate the teaching profession, take stock of their achievements, and draw attention to the voices of teachers, gives us a moment of reflection and a chance to think about how the absence of the classroom and its teacher affects our everyday lives.
As students gradually return to school there will be desperate efforts to try and close the gap created by months of school closures. Many countries, whose education systems were struggling before the pandemic, will not be able to continue to their old ways and should not. Liberia is already ahead with the LEAP programme and there will be many that look to our government and their innovative approach to education But, for today let us just take a moment to thank the teachers in our lives who have stepped up and kept kids learning, in the toughest of circumstances.