No sooner did I post yesterday on schools opening in Guinea and Liberia, than the Sierra Leone government made their announcement. They plan to re-open schools from in March.
It’s no wonder the pressure has been on to get children back in school. Students will have lost eight months of this school year come March. The longer kids in Sierra Leone are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Especially teen age girls. I’ve seen various reports of the pregnancy rate for girls out of school rapidly rising in recent months.
When 60% of your population is under the age of 25 and out of school, you’re literally holding up the country’s development and future success.
Good news in the Ministry of Education’s announcement is the government will pay school fees for secondary school boys as well as for girls. Their program to pay junior high school fees for girls was just getting off the ground before Ebola struck. This was to incentivize parents in keeping girls in school beyond primary grades. Primary school is free.
With the big economic hit families have just taken with the Ebola crisis, the decision was made to pay secondary school fees for boys, too. It wasn’t made clear if this includes senior high students.
Most people outside Africa aren’t aware that public secondary schools across the continent are typically not free. Student fees pay for much of day to day operating expenses. For families living on $1 and $2 a day and with multiple children, $25 annual school fees are a big hit.
A large cast of government and donor players attended the yesterday’s announcement: ministers of Finance, Health, Education, Social Welfare, Energy, Water Resources, CEO of NERC and donor partners including US Embassy, CDC, Red Cross, World Vision, WFP, UNDP, WHO, UNICEF and DFID (UK Dept for Int’l Development).
Hopefully, this means promises on paying schools fees and providing sanitation services for schools will be kept and delivered promptly.
For the whole announcement, see the Sierra Leone State House website.
Arlene Golembiewski, SFSL executive Director