Consequences of school closure on access to education: Lessons from the 2013–2016 Ebola pandemic

William C. Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an unprecedented shutdown of society. Among the various safety measures taken, much attention has been given to school closure as a non-pharmaceutical mitigation tool to curb the spread of the disease through ensuring “social” (physical) distancing. Nearly 1.725 billion children in over 95% of countries worldwide have been affected by school closures implemented in April 2020 as the virus continued to spread. In the field of education, policymakers’ attention has been directed at keeping students on board through remote learning and addressing the immediate needs of schools upon reopening. The study presented in this article focuses on who remains absent after schools resume. Using publicly available survey data from the USAID Demographic Health Surveys Program and the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey from before and after the 2013–2016 Ebola pandemic in Guinea and Sierra Leone in West Africa, the author examined changes in school enrolment and dropout patterns, with targeted consideration given to traditionally marginalised groups. At the time, schools closed for between seven to nine months in the two countries; this length and intensity makes this Ebola pandemic the only health crisis in the recent past to come close to the pandemic-related school closures experienced in 2020. The author’s findings suggest that post-Ebola, youth in the poorest households saw the largest increase in school dropout. Exceeding expected pre-Ebola dropout rates, an additional 17,400 of the poorest secondary-age youth were out of school. This evidence is important for minimising the likely post-COVID-19 expansion in inequality. The author’s findings point to the need for sustainable planning that looks beyond the reopening of educational institutions to include comprehensive financial support packages for groups most likely to be affected.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Review of Education
Early online date26 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Apr 2021


  • COVID-19
  • differences-in-differences
  • dropout
  • Ebola
  • health crisis
  • school closure
  • West Africa


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