Via USA Today: Radio educates Sierra Leone amid Ebola lockdown. Excerpt:
Since schoolchildren make up nearly 30% of the country's population, authorities here closed the schools in the hope of reducing Ebola's spread. But educators in the poor, war-ravaged West African country knew they couldn't simply end education.
Sierra Leone is struggling to rebuild after a decade-long, brutal civil war. The average citizen earns just $1,400 a year. Half of the population lives off subsistence agriculture. Education has suffered in Sierra Leone's moribund economy.
Just 43% of adults are literate, according to UNICEF. Meanwhile, 21% of primary school-age children and 29% of secondary school-age children don't attend school, according to the Education Policy and Data Center, an education development organization in Washington, D.C.
Working with UNICEF, Sierra Leone educators hatched a plan to give kids an option to study over the airwaves during the Ebola lockdown. This month, 41 radio stations across the country began transmitting lessons on different subjects, including mathematics, English and health education for students at all grade levels.
"The entire school system has been disrupted since the outbreak of the Ebola disease," said Sierra Leone Education Minister Minkailu Bah, who asked parents to let children skip chores during on-air schooling times. "The plan is to provide a suitable option for our school-going population."
Mgbechikwere Ezirim, a Freetown-based education officer for UNICEF, said she believes the radio lessons might be the best available option for the country's children.
"If we don't carry out these lessons, a whole generation of children might lose their education," she said. "It is engaging the minds of the young ones who have been kept at home and cannot even play with one another because of Ebola. It also reminds them that all is not lost, because the schools will reopen one day."
Victoria Morgan Jones, 17, welcomes the radio schools. "I'm also very bored just staying at home without doing anything," she said.
Jones follows classes on the radio, but is often frustrated because she can't raise her hand to ask questions. Students are encouraged to call teachers on the radio, but her family can't afford to, she said.
Around 80% of Sierra Leoneans have access to a radio, according to a 2009 BBC survey. The government and UNICEF also plan to hand out more than 80,000 handheld radio sets and work closely with stations to reduce broadcasting costs, Ezirim said.
Still, poverty and limited radio reception in remote areas are preventing some kids from hearing the lessons, she said.