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In Africa, Ebola Epidemic Taking Toll on Teachers, Students


In distressing international-education news, the months-long spread of the Ebola virus has shuttered schools across western Africa, leaving many teachers' livelihoods in jeopardy. At the same time, schools (in some form) are seen as crucial to the affected countries' coping and recovery efforts. In an article in The Guardian, Julia Gillard, chair of the Global Partnership for Education, reports on planning activities underway in Liberia, where the virus has hit hardest:    

In Liberia, where schools will remain closed at least until 1 October, our education partners are currently collaborating closely. They have drawn up an emergency response plan that equips teachers, schools and districts to help raise public awareness about the virus. Plans are being put in place to help children to live with the trauma associated with the outbreak. Should schools remain closed for an indefinite period of time, education leaders are considering a national education radio program for home-based learning.

Helping the students cope with emotional trauma will be a steep climb for educators. UNICEF has reported that the Ebola crisis in Liberia, not surprisingly, is taking a heavy pyschological toll on children. A UNICEF communications chief offered heart-wrenching details:

Children are seeing their family members and relatives taken away by people effectively in astronaut suits looking like crop sprayers. And the affect of this is deeply distressing for children. Children who have been exposed to the virus are facing deep stigma and nobody wants to take them on because there is this terrible psychosis of fear around the Ebola virus. ...

She added that, with their schools closed, the children are living in a "sort of Twilight Zone" in which lack of supervision and support mechanisms is putting them at further risk of infection and other health problems.

As of September 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 5,370 Ebola cases in the recent epidemic, with 2,630 deaths. In her Guardian article, the GPE's Gillard cites predictions that the number of infections could surmount 20,000.

The Huffington Post rounds up ways to help.

Photo: Health workers carry the body of a woman that they suspect died from the Ebola virus, as children, right rear, watch in a area known as Clara Town in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 10. —Abbas Dulleh/AP

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