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EJS Center / News / EJS Center Board Member George K. Werner shares key lessons from the Ebola crisis on the reopening of education systems

EJS Center Board Member George K. Werner shares key lessons from the Ebola crisis on the reopening of education systems

In an op-ed for IPS News, EJS Center Board Member and former Liberian Minister of Education George K. Werner highlights key lessons from the Ebola crisis on the reopening of education systems, which could be applied in the current pandemic. In the piece, co-authored with Luminos Fund CEO Caitlin Baron, he notes the high stakes for protecting children’s learning through the crisis:

“Around the world, over one billion children are out of school. All will face learning losses (data from World War II and other crises offer grim indications on this) and far too many will be lost to learning forever. Estimates suggest the COVID-19 pandemic will cause this generation to lose $10 trillion in future earnings.” 

While there has never been such a large-scale shutdown of education systems globally, Mr. Werner notes that Liberia has already faced similar challenges. Just as the Ebola crisis was winding down, he was appointed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to serve as Minister of Education, tasked with reopening schools and rebuilding the education system. At the time, “one and a half million children were excluded from school, in addition to 500,000 children who were already excluded before Ebola roared through the country.”

Reflecting on this experience, he outlines three key steps for reopening schools after a crisis like COVID-19:

“First, targeted outreach must be conducted to bring the most vulnerable and older students back to school.

Next, each child should be assessed to understand the extent of their learning loss, and to meet students where they are in the curriculum.

Finally, remediation should be provided to bring students who have fallen behind back up to grade level.

Here is the key, and challenge: all of these steps rely on the efforts and tenacity of frontline educators, but low-income countries do not have nearly enough teachers.

For governments undertaking this effort, he highlights the value of collaborating with civil society. He cites the example of Last Mile Health, an organization co-founded by fellow EJS Center Board Member Dr. Raj Panjabi, which worked closely with the Liberian government, under Madam Sirleaf’s leadership, to tackle the Ebola crisis.

“Last Mile Health has reached over 1.2 million of the poorest Liberians through a network of 3,600 community and frontline health workers. Community health workers are paid professionals, recruited from these same poor communities and empowered to provide basic healthcare in consultation with the formal system.”

He argues that taking a similar approach to education could create “a global workforce of frontline education staff from remote communities to serve remote communities,” building critical resilience for education systems.

Read the full article here.