Children in Sierra Leone were cleared to return to school on Tuesday after a nine-month long absence due to the Ebola outbreak that killed more than 10,000 people mostly in West Africa. Teachers and aid workers, however, said student attendance was low due to lingering fears of the disease.
More than 8,000 schools reopened for the country’s estimated 1.8 million students, whose education was interrupted by the health crisis. Sierra Leone’s government and the U.N.’s children’s agency, UNICEF, have promised to check temperatures regularly and promote handwashing to discourage the spread of Ebola in the schools.
“This marks a major step in the normalization of life in Sierra Leone,” said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF’s representative in Sierra Leone. “It is important that all children get into school including those who were out of school before the Ebola outbreak. Education for all is a key part of the recovery process for the country.”
Though few children returned to school in the capital Freetown, government workers and aid workers were optimistic that attendance would increase in the days ahead, according to Leslie Scott, national director for aid agency World Vision.