Teaching about Ebola and its Impact on the World


The impact of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak was devastating, resulting in over 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths. The effect that the Ebola epidemic had on the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea was catastrophic; local communities, health systems and economies were shattered.

This was the biggest outbreak of Ebola that the world has ever known, which had both far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. The Ebola epidemic created an international health crisis so significant that it has an essential place within geography, sciences, citizenship and even media literacy lessons. In this article, we look at why teaching about Ebola is so important and examine how to use discussion points, lesson plans and Ebola videos to create a compelling learning experience.

The Ebola virus: a critical issue

The Ebola outbreak raises many complex questions and discussion points for students today. Through teaching about Ebola, students can understand more about how infections were able to spread so quickly and why health workers were at high risk of catching the disease. This epidemic has had disastrous repercussions for communities across West Africa, so students can find out more about the realities of dealing with a health crisis in countries with fragile health systems and struggling economies. Ebola has also altered traditional cultural practices such as burial ceremonies, mourning practices and even simple greetings. 

Another vital topic for discussion is the influence that Ebola has had on the rest of the world: volunteers from around the globe travelled to West Africa to help, putting themselves at risk in the process and facing incubation periods on their return. The West African countries most affected by Ebola have experienced limited trade with other countries and tourism has dropped rapidly since the outbreak. In short, the Ebola crisis opens up multiple opportunities for learning and in-depth discussion in the classroom.


Teaching about Ebola: key discussion points

An essential aspect of teaching about Ebola should be live discussions, where pupils can expand their learning about the more complicated topics surrounding the epidemic. These are some suggested questions to spark debate about the Ebola virus:


·         What was the real risk of Ebola infection to the rest of the world?

·         How have myths and hysteria about Ebola affected the worldwide response?

·         What are the lasting effects of Ebola on some of the world’s poorest communities?

·         What are the best ways to prevent the spread of Ebola in the future?

·         Would the Ebola outbreak be managed differently in wealthier countries?

These questions are designed to challenge students’ understanding of the Ebola virus and to help them realise the impact that media channels can have on creating panic and hysteria during an epidemic. Through discussions, students will also learn more about issues around poverty and will be able to empathise with the real challenges that communities affected by Ebola face.


Ebola Frontline video

One of the most powerful ways to engage pupils about the Ebola outbreak is through video. Ebola Frontline is an exceptional teaching resource that will bring the realities of this deadly disease to life. in the video, volunteers in Sierra Leone who are battling the epidemic are wearing adapted cameras fitted to their goggles, so the viewer is given a unique insight into the day-to-day hardships of fighting Ebola. The sheer tragedy, despair and frustrations of these courageous volunteers are brought closer than ever before through this remarkable video. Using video as a learning tool alongside discussion points and lesson plans will give students a well-rounded and comprehensive understanding of the Ebola virus.


Ebola virus: lesson plans

There are many excellent Ebola lesson plans available for schools to use. Oxfam has produced Ebola teaching resources based on the concept of “Behind the Headlines” which include teachers’ guides, presentations and workshop plans. These are ideal for teachers who want to encourage students to focus on the Ebola crisis in more depth. 

The Geographical Association also has high quality teaching information for Key Stage 3-5 including focused classroom activities; these Ebola lesson ideas look in detail at the geographical repercussions that the virus has had on the West African communities.

Teach Secondary also provides invaluable teaching resources for students learning about the Ebola epidemic. Their interactive lesson plan is aimed at Key Stage 3 science pupils and focuses on how diseases spread. During the lesson, students are challenged to come up with a strategic plan that will contain the Ebola virus.

The Ebola virus covers multiple topics and areas of learning. It has the potential to spark debates and encourages students to challenge perceptions and understand the long-lasting impact that Ebola has had on the world. Through powerful Ebola videos and compelling lesson plans, pupils can build their knowledge about key international issues.

BBC Active Video for Learning provides a wide range of high quality educational videos designed to bring any topic to life. These teaching resources will enhance your next class or lecture and are available in DVD format.