Education Thought

Ebola and the #UpforSchool Rising

They had gathered in numerical strength, young; most from diverse backgrounds, diverse cultural inclinations but with a unifying passion. They raised their voices – even in the face of seemingly silence-filled actions – to call attention of the world to the basics and its implication when tended and if ignored. While they leave no chance to the latter, their words and demands were unambiguous: they were rising up for school, demanding actions to get every child to school, without danger or discrimination.

It was the #UpForSchool rally that brought together young people from more than 85 countries, concerned about the global emergency in the education sector. Though they gathered in New York – with the United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, Chernor Bah, Hadiza Bela Usman from Nigeria and Bamine Boye (a fellow Global Youth Ambassador from Sierra Leone), inter alios – they are supported by hundreds (or even thousands) of other young people (individuals and institutions) across the world, working remotely for quality education and increased value of learning and living for this and future generations.

With about 58 million children without access to basic education globally, I resist the temptation of not reiterating – sadly though – that about 10.5 million of them are in Nigeria. The number may, if safe schools are not secured, increase and produce less desirable aftermaths. The #UpforSchool reveille surprisingly coincided with the date announced by the Federal Government of Nigeria, for resumption of primary and secondary schools across the country. The date had previously been postponed due to the visitation of the country by the notorious Ebola Virus disease.

Fortunately, our nation has been successful in the fight against Ebola. We recorded 21 cases of EVD nationwide and a mortality of about 33 percent. The proactive response of government and development partners is highly respected and commended. I observed keenly as Nigerians – irrespective of social class – paid attention to the nitty-gritty of personal hygiene and other necessary information in the prevention and – possibly – the cure of the virus. I however opine that this attention, if equally concentrated on other important issues, including (but not limited to) education and youth development, would produce positive outcomes, especially as we count down towards the year 2015.

As young people across Nigeria return to school on October 8, there is the continuous need to make schools safe havens for conducive incremental learning. In spite of the successes recorded in containing and eradicating the Ebola virus, hands should continually be on deck to provide information about further prevention of the disease. Training of teachers on the procedural ‘first aid management’ is a favourable step in the right direction. Beyond the training, government – especially through the ministries of education and health – and other stakeholders need to pay attention to the provision of necessary up-to-date resources.

Where are the non-contact thermometers and sanitizers situated in private and government-owned primary and secondary schools across the country? Where are the cartoons, rhymes, and songs linking the adverse effect of EVD on education and how to prevent it? Where are the teenagers equipped with the necessary information to serve as peer educators (building a strong-willed commitment for positive participation)? I ask these questions, hopeful for answers. It is not enough to serve information. Information, targeted at unique audiences need to be issue-based; we want schools to be safe, we demand actions to improve the quality of education and get every child in school.

Not even Ebola can stop these.

This piece appeared on PUNCH on October 7, 2014.