The pronouncement however comes at a time when the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and Incident Management System are reporting a drastic decline in COVID-19 cases.
“We have decided to resume graduation exercises and this is because of the decrease in COVID-19 rates and changes in the guidance,” Education Minister, Prof. Ansu Sonii, told state broadcaster on Wednesday via phone.
He said the Ministry of Health has given the MOE authorization to proceed with graduation, but with a caveat. Schools, whose students, parents, and other family members exceed 200 people, are to contact the county health team where those schools are located.
“In this light, you have to make sure that the health protocols are observed. MOH representatives will look at your program and send a health representative to put in place measures of the health protocols. That’s all we are asking,” the MOE head said.
Liberia is currently experiencing a drastic reduction in cases. There are 17 active cases of the virus in the country as of September 21, 2021-- out of a total confirmed cases of 5,782. Total fatalities are 283, out of which 207 are men and 76 are women. Recoveries stand at 5,487.
Education authorities in July announced the suspension of all social programs such as graduation, gala day, and field trip amongst others across Liberia.
“There should be no graduation ceremony held for students from kindergarten to college level,” the Minister said then, adding, “all graduation ceremonies will be held later when the Country is in a stable health condition.” He warned that any school administration caught holding graduation programs would be fined heavily.
The suspension came at a time when the Delta variant of the coronavirus disease had emerged in the country and was wreaking havoc. The health ministry instituted some harsh measures to curb the spread of the pandemic and the education ministry had to make sure that all schools abide by the new mandates.
The MOE’s mandate was violated within days of its imposition. The government announced the imposition of $LR200, 000.00 in mid-July on three schools, notable among these being Haywood Mission, for reportedly violating the ban.
The schools were mandated to pay the fines before they could reopen for the next academic year.
“We already wrote them and imposed a fined of 200,000 Liberia Dollars and if they do not pay by the 21st of July, the next thing is to get the police to ensure that their school doors are locked and closed until they can pay that fine,” he noted.
But the Principal of Haywood Mission High School, Dr. Leo M. Simpson, insisted that his institution wouldn’t pay any money for hosting graduation ceremonies because such an exercise was not against the Education Law of the Republic of Liberia. He said his institution won't pay a fine for a crime they did not commit and, if the ministry revokes his school's permit, then 1,000 students will be put out of school.
But while lifting the ban on Wednesday, the Minister could not indicate whether those schools have paid their respective fines. He did not also disclose the total number of schools that violated its mandate during the time of the ban’s imposition.
Joy Amid News Over Graduation Resumption
Graduation is a milestone that marks life-changing accomplishments for many graduates, their families, and their friends. Yet, unfortunately, Liberia, like the rest of the globe, has been at a crossroads at this moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, the situation is improving as cases have reduced drastically, she said.
“This is good news to schools across the country, as many were anticipating to hear such news,” Minister Sonii noted.
Senior high school students are currently writing the West Africa Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE). Many of them have received the news of joy.
“I’m actually happy to be hearing this news. Celebrating the end of one’s high school journey brings good feelings…I’m glad that I will experience such feeling,” Miriam Bonnorh of the Amos T. Taybior High School said, “Though we are now going through the stress of the last miles (WASSCE) of the primary education the news is a relief.”
Aaron Koffa of Paynesville Central Academy thinks the harsh economic reality should be no excuse for young people who have sacrificed for years to have a breath of fresh air at the end of their journey.
“We need to go out with friends and loved ones and have fun. COVID-19 has actually compounded our frustration but we think the MOE’s decision is very timely,” he said.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights(JHR) through the Mobilizing Media against COVID-19,in partnership with Frontpage Africa and Heritage Newspaper