The Education Response to Ebola: The Role of Business

Education has been one of the first casualties of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, leaving five million children without a place to learn due to school closures. And while the public health response continues, the business community is calling for the prioritization of an education response to the crisis.  

The Global Business Coalition for Education’s new report on the education response to Ebola highlights some of the practical barriers to interim education solutions and calls for the responsible reopening of safe schools as a way to provide hope to children but also support the public health response.   

In an ideal scenario, where possible, schools should be publicly disinfected and safe schools should be responsibly reopened.  A safe school would include: teachers being taught about how to identify and respond to Ebola symptoms (and what to do should a case arise): students learning about how to prevent against Ebola’s spread; the conducting of twice-daily temperature checks to monitor the spread (like Singapore did during the SARS outbreak); improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities; and the rolling out of scaled-up school feeding to serve as a social safety net for the many communities impacted by the virus.

Education could be on the front lines of curtailing the Ebola outbreak, and launch a new phase of restoring opportunity and hope. To do so, governments must now come to a common agreement about the essential components of a “safe school” so that in partnership with the international community these programs can be rapidly and responsibly implemented. 

But financing and capacity are needed if this response is to live up to its promise. And that is where the business community has stepped in to highlight an instance where the traditional humanitarian response has left education—and nearly five million children—behind. 

This is not the first time this year we have witnessed the business community standing up for the protection of education in emergencies and incentivizing policy change. In May, following the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls, the Global Business Coalition for Education called for a Safe Schools Initiative in northern Nigeria that has mobilized over $30 million in financing, established a multi-donor trust fund mechanism for donor financing, and started to roll out programs to relocate high-risk students and put in place safe school interventions in some locations. 

Today, when 58 million children are out of school and over half in conflict-affected and emergency situations, it is more imperative that we respond quickly to education in emergency. But education in these situations continues to fall through the cracks, with humanitarian funding limited to less than two percent to education and international financing mechanisms not able to respond to these emergencies. From Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to the emergency in northern Nigeria and now the health crisis in West Africa, we need a central fund that is topped-off by donor contributions as emergencies arise to make education a priority for education in emergencies. And we need to plan ahead to anticipate emergencies so that education is prioritized and protected.

With business leaders responding to this new call to action, the donor community must respond. Some agencies have already come forward with priorities for education programming and we cannot stand by as another emergency threatens to increase the global number of out-of-school children by nearly 10 percent. Education has an important role in the Ebola response. The international community should follow the business community’s lead and support the reopening of safe schools for the children of West Africa.