Author: UNICEF for every child
Site of the publication: UNICEF
Type of the publication: Report
Date of the publication: 2022
Liberia was hit by the pandemic in an already challenging economic environment characterized by high inflation, frequent and severe fuel shortages, and high exchange rate in a dual currency economy. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures, the Liberian economy was projected to contract sharply by 3 percent in 2020. This represents a sharp contraction, considering an earlier projected economic recovery of 3.2 percent in January 2020. IMF projection estimates a modest recovery of 3.2 per cent in 2021.
World Bank estimates an increase in the population living under the national poverty line from 55.5 per cent to 65.2 per cent. An estimated 335,000 to 526,000 Liberians are at risk of falling into poverty. Consequently, inequity will widen and deprivations facing children in Liberia will multiply.
Liberia recorded its first COVID-19 case on 16 March 2020 and within four months crossed the 1,000 confirmed case mark. By 31 December it recorded 1,836 cumulative cases with a total of 83 deaths. Montserrado county was the most affected. Seventy-seven per cent of cases were among patients aged 15–54 years, and children under age 15 years accounted for 7.7 per cent of all cases. Cases amongst males were almost twice (66 percent) than in females (34 percent). The fragility of Liberia’s health systems was highlighted given high infections among health care providers: a cumulative 222 (12 percent) confirmed cases and five deaths.
Every child survives and thrives
There was an uninterrupted access to traditional vaccines, with no stock-outs of BCG, Polio and Td vaccines, due to efficient vaccine procurement by UNICEF. UNICEF procured traditional vaccines (funded from regular resources). UNICEF also procured and supported the installation of solar refrigerators in 103 new health facilities, thereby creating access to lifesaving vaccines for about 40,000 children, most of them in hard-to-reach areas. UNICEF worked in partnership with Gavi Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), Centre for Disease Control (CDC), World Bank and Clinton Foundation, to improve national immunization coverage rates.
Every Child Learns
During the reporting period, in which the COVID-19 pandemic led to school closure, the education programme ensured: i) that 1.05 million children continued learning through distance education; and ii) safe school reopening operations in which at least 41,000 children in grade 12 came back to school.
Access continued to learn by accessing distance education via e-learning and home-based education: In the first three months of school shutdown, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF in collaboration with several NGOs, initiated Reading Campaigns, Radio Programme and e-Learning, through direct partnership with Mobile Network Operators, Community Radios and Banking Sectors. reaching in the process, close to 1.055 million children including out of school children. The target was achieved through extra effort made by UNICEF’s NGO implementing partners.
Children access quality education through safe school reopening and conducive teaching and learning environments: With most school grades closed throughout the year due to COVID-19 containment measures, the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, adopted a phased approach to the re-opening of schools utilizing grants from both the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank.
Firstly, the Government prioritized the reopening of 139 public and 568 privates starting with 41,526 Grade 12 students, that were registered for the August 2020 – West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations. Schools received teaching and learning materials (books, pens, pencils, etc.) and facemasks for all the students, that UNICEF procured and delivered to the respective schools using a jointly prepared distribution strategy.
Every child has an equitable chance in life
The education sector made headway on three fronts aimed at ensuring there was equitable access. First in consideration of early learning as a rights equalizer and long-term foundation for economic development, UNICEF supported the drafting Early Learning Development Standards for Liberia, setting valuable benchmarks that informs teachers, parents, and all adults who contribute to children’s development, about the expectations they should have during the early years.
These standards represent the major intents to kindle optimal development of children regardless of gender, individual characteristics, social, economic level of their families, affinity or skill level. Additionally, the Alternative Basic Education initiative was expanded during 2020 to 27 additional learning centers to provide additional learning pathways and options for out of school children. Finally, the sector embraced new innovations in distance education including tv-based e-learning and self-learning materials which demonstrated the ability to reach hard to reach out of school children.
Lessons learned and innovations
While the pandemic provided an opportunity to scale up innovative learning mechanisms including remote and e-learning, there is an urgent need to measure both the full impact of educational loss due to the pandemic and to reimagine all the new learning requirements. Learning innovations, including distance and e-learning, are now in great demand and have been rolled out. However, these innovations need to be mainstreamed and there is need for clear feedback mechanisms that assess effectiveness and attainment of learning goals.
Going forward, several innovative measures have emerged that will need consolidation and scaling up. The need to reimagine schools or learning centers as multi-service platforms has also emerged as a priority approach for the future. At schools, children will be able to access health kits and psychosocial support to address the multiplicity of needs, which go beyond learning and schooling, among impacted children. Apart from providing holistic services, such schools also address protection and equity issues.