Wongani Grace Taulo a Senior Adviser, Education Section, at the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in New York has identified two key lessons from the Ebola experience in Sierra Leone that“are worth considering as schools reopen after COVID-19.”
One of these is the establishment of targeted communications to help reach the poorest children mostly in rural areas and the suburbs of large towns and cities.
According to the UNICEF expert, “an effective communications strategy can ensure higher rates of
school return, especially in remote rural areas.”
“In Sierra Leone, we initiated a massive back-to-school campaign with messages – ranging from school safety measures to ways to support learners’ return to school – aimed to encourage parents and caregivers to send children back to school.” Wongani Taulo revealed that local radio platforms were used to disseminate messages because radio programs had “the widest reach.” Also used were “community mobilization pathways developed by UNICEF Communication for Development programmes to engage communities.”
“Whether through door-to-door messaging or “community (town) criers” with loud-speakers, we simplyintegrated our back-to-school messages into existing structures to reach our audience.”
Although the federal government of Nigeria has not given a specific date for the total reopening of schools, the Presidential Taskforce on Covid19 has announced a partial reopening of schools for exiting students including primary six, SS3 and Final Year students, while the interstate travel ban has been partially lifted to occur within curfew hours of 4 am to 10 pm (Federal Government curfew rules).
Various stakeholders in the education sector in Nigeria have been worried about the reopening of schools as lots of students and pupils have been left at home doing almost nothing while others are supportive of governments’ decisions to continue the Lockdown of schools to prevent an escalation of incidents of Covid19 infections.
While the schools are yet to fully reopen, strategies to mitigate potential a motivational syndrome that may arise for parents who may not be able to find education for their wards due to reduced income occasioned by the Covid19 Lockdown. According to the UNICEF adviser, “the impact of such a targeted communication strategy was seen in the case of pregnant girls in Sierra Leone, who were banned by the Ministry of Education from attending school when schools reopened (this ban was reversed only in March 2020). UNICEF and partners
developed a ‘bridging programme’ to help the pregnant girls continue learning.
This programme allowed them to come to school after regular hours, where the same teachers taught the same curriculum
offered to the other students.”
“Not everyone was supportive of the programme at first. Many in the communities, including teachers, were skeptical. The girls themselves faced a great deal of gender stigma.”
The other key factor was given as “specific incentives to facilitate the return of the poorest children to school.”“Economic impacts of a public health crisis can be life-changing in the worst ways for the poorest families. During such times, families may choose, among other things, to engage their children in income-generating activities, leading them to drop out of school altogether. When schools reopen after
a pandemic like COVID-19, we need strategies to reduce the economic burden of a child’s education.
In Sierra Leone, after Ebola, the government waived school and examination fees for two years to motivate
parents and caregivers to send all children back to school.”“With support of development partners, the government also provided learning materials to all learners, including assistive devices for children with disabilities, to attract learners to school. In addition, the
government scaled-up school feeding programmes.
For the poorest families who had been unable to work during quarantine, food security was a serious issue. The prospect of children getting fed in school motivated parents and communities to send them back.”