Mohamed C Bah, authorCan the use of basic technology such as television programs, radios and possibly internet access be a useful tool in educating particularly Sierra Leonean children during this Ebola crisis?
What is the relative role of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in keeping our children engaged as they witness the deadly and destructive pathway of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone? The doors of education should not be temporarily closed since technology today allows us to do so many things without being physically present at a geographic location.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should have a panoramic vision for accessing diverse technological capabilities as the Ebola pandemic continues to disrupt our state of normalcy. We should keep our school going population active in a virtual classroom powered by the use of technology. Many educationists and forward thinking Sierra Leoneans are raising eyebrows about the “sit in” and “do-nothing” educational approach to the Ebola outbreak. We must defeat Ebola by not surrendering to its mischief and unimaginable terror.
Even though the Ministry of Education has been marred by low national budget, the ghost worker problem that drains the educational budget, poor curricula, ineffective leadership across the board, lack of resources to incentivize teachers and poor working conditions including skyrocketing school fees that many parents cannot afford today – that sector is critical to the mental and psychological well being of our children and youths. We cannot afford to surrender to the Ebola pandemonium because of its lethal force. And it must not change our way of life.
The recent news that a Sierra Leonean Grammar School pupil may have emerged as the best in the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is a breath of fresh air. This is so, especially as this ailing social service sector (education) is so very important to national development. We need thinkers and strategists at the helm of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology not people who do not harness the potentials of its human capacity to build a viable institution. Sierra Leoneans are exceptional people, whose leaders have not represented their true aspirations as of yet.
If the education Ministry is proactive enough, they should network with companies like Africell, Airtell and other mobile companies on the use of teleconferencing as a virtual classroom to students and offer a creative learning outreach programs spearheaded by qualified instructors/teachers. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should partner with International organizations like United Nations Children Education Funds (UNICEF), United Nation Development Program (UNDP), and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNIFEM) to develop special curricula to target our young population especially our children during this health emergency.
These international groups and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can work with government to identify key subjects at various levels especially for children and make them available to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) for children to watch and learn as an interface resources. Both heads of schools, parents and teachers should play an inclusive role in helping the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology formulate interactive and stimulating educational programs to keep the mind of our children fully engaged and developmentally oriented.
The use of local radios by many households in the rural areas can be utilized to educate the children especially on design subjects so that they do not lose interest in acquiring education in the future. Time is running out and our people are dying but the future of our children and grand children is at stake as schools will remain closed for some time to come. The negative effect of an unguarded mind is particularly worrisome and can create poor brain development especially to our minors whose cerebral cortex still have rooms to grow.
Many Sierra Leoneans have been listening keenly for a statement from the Ministry of Education's plan and strategy but nothing seem forthcoming as the Minister seems to be missing in action. Practically, it is possible for our children, many of whom have access to radio, TV, telephones and internet all around the country to have some programs drawn to occupy their time. These days everybody knows that one does not necessarily need to be in a classroom environment to access knowledge and education. Sierra Leone has an opportunity to transform its morbid educational system into a technologically adaptable environment.
The Ebola disease should not cripple our educational institutions. We can learn from the experiences gained in addressing the Ebola crisis. Our resilience should embolden and stimulate us to develop new thinking into achieving an innovative learning culture where we can pick up speed and redeem our children from the brutal massacre of the Ebola virus disease.
Strategies applied to the health and education sectors could be replicated in all the other sectors of our society. Certainly, we can boldly create new frontiers of opportunities in this time of difficulties like the type of Marshal Plan that Germany put in place after the Second World War. As long as we care about the educational future of our young children, we have a winning chance of advancing their social ability to learn and grow. We can then be assured of a well capacitated Human Resource base for future development strides of our nation.
Indeed, money or funding cannot be the first thing we should think about when there is a problem. We should start by looking inward to see what we can do and then take steps to identify the necessary resources to address the problem. Education should not be at the back stage while we scramble to protect our citizens and eradicate Ebola. We should be multi-task problem solvers by applying flexible solutions and developing the forward thinking attitude of getting measured results. If we look at one problem as unrelated to the other – we will surely miss the chance to solving them collectively.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should take a visionary approach and strategically lead the way in changing how Sierra Leonean children access technology in relationship to the virtual learning classroom where Ebola cannot enter their doors without being overcome by the forces of natural extinction. We can find new ways to teach our school going population without being intimated by a 40 year old virus that is primitive to the power of the human imagination. That is why the fiber optic program should not stop at the Lumley beach station. Every Sierra Leonean household should benefit from this new advance technology.
We must not wait for Ebola funds to use basic technologies such as radios, televisions, teleconferencing and other networking system to teach and educate our children during this extra ordinary time of isolation and fear. We can act now to shape the future of our children by becoming thinkers and go-getters not donor funds lovers who are anxiously ready to go on a spending spree. Money that is kept in offshore accounts will never help a child in Sierra Leone to be leaders of tomorrow. It is a moral turpitude to watch the wanton destruction of this evasive virus while corrupt politicians amass ill-gotten wealth from the coffers of our nation
Our best human resources are our children. The future belongs to them and we have a sacred duty to build a society where history will tell them that we did everything we could when Ebola invaded our sovereign shores. We can then say – we defeated it not only because of our enduring courage and our resilient action; it was our unyielding determination and commitment to protecting them from a mind that was empty and a heart that was unfulfilling.
May God save our people from the wrath of the Ebola virus disease.