On 25 July, news broke of the Ebola death of a Liberian man in Lagos. The American International School of Lagos (AISL) was due to open mid-August. Superintendent Rayl had only just arrived for his first term at the school, and his very first days in Nigeria. In an emergency meeting with the Board of Directors he decided to postpone the opening of the school for an extra two weeks, closure to the date when other international schools were due to open.
The month of August crawled by as the entire school community waited to see how the outbreak would unfold. Facts were hard to come by and uncertainty was high. Official sources were saying that the handful of cases in the country were limited to those who had had direct contact with the initial Liberian man. So, despite colourful rumours, AISL and other private international schools opened on Monday the 25th as planned. The entire teaching and administrative staff was present to greet a solid majority of the school’s 700+ students from pre-K to grade 12.
Then, two days later, on Wednesday at around noon, the school was formally ordered to close again. Federal Government officials had decided that all schools, public and private, must stay closed until October in order to give time to provide Ebola-prevention training for schools across the country: this despite the fact that AISL already had strict and effective protocols in place.
This closure could have been disastrous for the educational needs of AISL’s children who follow a demanding Western curriculum. However, though the kids were not in their classrooms, they missed not a day of school. From the first day of the closure, teachers switched to age-appropriate online methodologies, relying on long-suffering parents for supervision. They used all means at their disposal: Skype, email, YouTube and any online programmes that could be mastered. The middle school was able to take advantage of Google Classroom, a programme that had been launched only days earlier. IB students had virtual classes and met at private locations with peers and supervisors in tutor groups and small study sessions.
Obviously this learning situation was not ideal – not for parents, students or teachers. Both teaching and learning processes are different in an online environment. Primary school is toughest on parents. For older kids, however, valuable lessons were learned: organisation and taking responsibility for their own learning, for instance. Kids were required to collaborate with peers and learn to work in unusual or less than ideal surroundings. They learned the true meaning of flexibility and determination if they were to achieve their educational goals.
Online learning is, today, a skill that is useful throughout one’s life, as is learning to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Thankfully, the international school was able to rise up to the occasion and fulfil the needs of their pupils, a display of the resourcefulness of an international school accustomed to rolling with the punches.
In the end, AISL was able to reopen on September 25 – six weeks after the originally planned start date. So far, Ebola has not re-appeared in the country. The government has been praised for its ability to contain the deadly disease though the country remains vigilant – borders are porous as Europe and North America has discovered. For the kids, whose education, routines and social life depend on the school, let’s hope no more closures are required this school year.
Diane Lemieux has spent a whole lifetime as an expat and sees moving to live in a new country as a life choice made by an increasing number of people. Those who successfully recreate a full and satisfying life in a new place develop the skills and approaches needed to deal with any change that life presents us.Her new book, The Mobile Life, co-written with Anne Parker, helps those who are undertaking this journey for the first time, and highlights the achievements of those who are experienced resettlers.