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Liberia University copes with pandemic

The University of Liberia is struggling to re-open with e-learning this fall. Students suffer from a food crisis as well as a health crisis.

With more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa, United Methodist schools and universities face unprecedented challenges. Many are turning to e-learning while others focus on safety protocols as students return to school.
 
African churches are supporting teachers, parents, and children in many ways, including creating new programs to facilitate distance learning.

Dr. Albert B. Coleman, president of the United Methodist University of Liberia, said the university lacks the capacity to provide e-learning opportunities to its students, but staff are working on setting up digital platforms.

“This pandemic unveiled several weaknesses of the institution in meeting the educational demand of the Liberian people in time of crisis,” Coleman said.

The university closed March 25.
 
“We depend on tuitions to operate the university,” he said, adding that the university does not have an endowment to help operate in the absence of academic activities on the four campuses.
 
“Every effort that we are making toward reopening of the school is also intended to raise the needed funds for operation, besides providing the academic services,” Coleman said.

The Rev. Jerry P. Kulah, dean of the Bishop Innis Graduate School of Theology, said that as a college of the United Methodist University, the graduate school also closed.
 
While students have been away, he said they have been involved in anti-COVID-19 awareness and the distribution of food relief in their communities.

The graduate school was able to secure about $10,000 from a friend of the school overseas for a one-time food package to help staff members, pastors in rural communities, and other needy individuals, Kulah said.

“COVID-19 also exposed us (to) the virus of hunger,” Kulah said.

The Rev. James Z. Labala, dean of the Gbarnga School of Theology, said when the school reopens, agriculture will be included as a subject, “to ensure that we prepare them for any eventual food insecurity. Our biggest challenge as a people during this pandemic is food insecurity.”
 
The school, located in central Liberia, also is a college of the United Methodist University of Liberia, offering undergraduate degrees in theology.

“Like the entire university, we all were not prepared for the conditions this pandemic exposed us to. Though we are in a closed community, we could not even operate the school through e-learning,” Labala said. 

The University of Liberia is expected to reopen in September, according to the initial discussion with the government, but no date has been set.

Currently, only senior students at the high school level, including at United Methodist schools, have returned to school to prepare for a regional public test. Primary school students will stay home until further notice from the government.

READ MORE about schools re-opening in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and Congo.