The Effect of the Ebola Crisis on the Education System’s Contribution to Post-Conflict Sustainable Peacebuilding in Liberia
The education system in Liberia, and the PBEA program in particular, sought to address the challenges of the Ebola response through four fronts: health awareness, case referral and tracing, Ebola Protocols, and psychosocial support. While the application of resources to the fight Ebola led to a relative divestment from the peacebuilding dimension of the PBEA project, and as such the peacebuilding role of education throughout the health crisis, the interventions adopted also had positive effects. In particular, they have helped pave the way for more effective future peacebuilding interventions, particularly those that rely on the volunteers activated during the Ebola crisis. This research seeks to support both post-Ebola and post-conflict recovery processes through the national education system, with a view to contributing to the promotion of sustainable peace and development in Liberia.
The education system remains under-prioritised and riddled with inequalities across the economic, political and cultural domains. Issues of redistribution remain paramount – and while recognised have not been adequately addressed. This failure to prioritise addressing the multiple dimensions of inequality in the education system in Liberia is a result of the over-emphasis on the part of the national and international peacebuilding community on security, democratic elections, and economic reforms at the expense of prioritising the basic needs of the citizens of Liberia to access quality basic health and education services.
When the Ebola outbreak emerged, the education system, which could have acted as a national preventative factor in combatting the outbreak, became instead a risk factor, with poor hygiene and sanitation and lack of preparedness. The Ebola crisis revealed a lack of governance mechanisms in place in both the health and education systems to deal adequately with the crisis, which reflects broader systemic governance issues in Liberia. There appears to have been a sharp learning process which took place in the midst of the crisis to address some of these misconceptions and challenges, with more bottom-up community processes emerging as a key catalyst to redressing the effects of the outbreak and containing it.
The role of the National Volunteers, looks now from the evidence presented to have been a highly useful initiative, which had and has multiple potential added value for the education system and for the broader peacebuilding process. Drawing upon youth as a resource for the future, rather than a security risk – as is so often the case in many post-conflict societies, the National and Junior Volunteers seemed to have played a really important role in raising awareness about the disease, providing community guidance and building trust between communities and the state.
Finally, the crisis also revealed the virtues of coordinated action between different government bodies. The quick and effective reactions to the two outbreaks that happened after Liberia was considered "Ebola free" suggest that there were important lessons learned that were acted upon.