Nepal Post Earthquake Diary 1. Reopening schools. Shanti Jagannathan
Soni is a student of Sri Sundar Suryodaya Primary School labeled ‘unsafe in a bold red sign, following a 7.8 earthquake that rocked Nepal a month ago. Most of the school, atop a picturesque hill, has crumbled to the ground. In district Kavre, where the school is located, 548 of the 594 schools with over 100,000 students have been affected by the earthquake. In neighboring Sindhupalchok district schools are in dire straits- over 80% of classrooms are completely damaged.
Just a little over a month after the devastating earthquake, schools all over the country are set to re open on 31st May. This is irrespective of the widespread destruction of physical facilities. Communities are still grappling with loss of shelters, assets and shifting earth and landslides. Yet, the one thing everyone wants –poor parents in rural areas or affluent parents in Kathmandu – is the early re-opening of schools and resumption of education. Restoring education is synonymous with reviving hope and normalcy. Just how is this to be done?
With about 8000 schools affected and 30000 classrooms completely destroyed, the government of Nepal aims to set up 15000 transitional learning centers (TLCs) to resume education immediately. The Head Teacher of the Sri Sundar Suryodaya School Nur Prasad Bajnayi said that the school will reopen on 31 March if only for teachers and students greet each other. Re-opening of schools signals resilience. It was astonishing for me to note that this spirit ran through everyone that we spoke to – teachers, students, administrators, teacher unions and officials from the Ministry of Education.
The resumption of schooling is a critical component of psychological recovery. Reconstruction and retrofitting of school buildings may take 2-3 years. Transitional arrangements for uninterrupted delivery of education services are crucial in order not to lose gains from past education investments. International evidence warns us that interruption of education services for a significant length of time can lead to major losses in terms of possible student drop outs.
Some key issues that need consideration as education is getting restored in Nepal;
- Ensuring that Transitional Learning Centers approximate as much as possible a real school environment; the introduction of ‘creative sciences’, outdoor exploratory activities and sports would help children come out of trauma. There is an opportunity to renew pedagogic processes and create models of ‘classrooms without walls’.
- Adjusting the school time table to front load holidays and catch up on the lost days of schooling which will no doubt be the case
- Building back better not only with disaster resilient features in construction but also with stimulating learning environments within schools
- Helping teachers with appropriate tools, techniques and resources so that they are better equipped themselves to help children
- Strengthening connectivity and ICT solutions – only 6000 schools in Nepal have electricity. Fewer have connectivity. Providing some of the cluster schools with connectivity will tremendously enhance the availability of resources to teachers.
Returning to the school sector in Nepal after 5 years exactly one month after the earthquake, it was wonderful to reconnect with old friends in government and elsewhere. But even more wonderful was to encounter positive and forward looking views in the midst of bleak surroundings. The District Education Officer at Karve, Dipendra Gurung, despite a damaged district education office, hosted a meeting in a temporary structure. He spoke about philosophy and meditation and for each one to do their best to restore education services. I hope we the development partners can match the resilient spirit of the Nepalese.