Back to school

Jun 1, 2015-

Luckily for us, the Great Earthquake hit Nepal on a Saturday, and not a weekday. This meant that most offices and businesses were closed, but more importantly, schools were not in session and children were at home. According to the Ministry of Education, 16,475 classrooms in 6,902 public schools were destroyed in the earthquakes, while 7,266 classrooms have suffered major damages and 12,613 minor damages. The education of around 2 million students in 14 hard-hit districts came to a screeching halt.

Now, parents watch with trepidation as their children trundle off to their schools, which reopened on Sunday after a five-week hiatus. The intensity and frequency of aftershocks have gone down in recent days, which has encouraged increasing numbers of parents to send their kids to schools. But concerns, understandably, remain. The government has yet to assess the structural integrity of all school buildings, both private and public, and parents are unsure if schools now have earthquake drills and proper preparedness plans in place. A parent suggested in a tweet on Monday that he would like to see the curriculum changed post quake.

Still, the sight of uniformed children on their way to get an education is a sight for sore eyes, bringing much- needed normalcy back to life in the Valley.

In the districts, however, the situation remains bleak. Though schools conducted formal reopening ceremonies, many students were told to go home and return only after a week. School buildings all over the nation are dangerously damaged and many don’t have the wherewithal to conduct classes under temporary arrangements. “In Sindhupalchok,” reported author Aditya Adhikari on Twitter, “only 34 of 591 schools have managed to construct a tent or a shed.” Many schools have also lost teachers and students. The Sangkosh Higher Secondary School in Dhading mourned the loss of 240 teachers and students in the earthquake before ending the school day.

It is vital that the government gets its act together and provides the assistance necessary for these schools to resume classes. The Department of Education had earmarked Rs 25,000 for each school to construct a temporary alternative, but a parliamentary monitoring committee found that many schools had yet to receive the cash. The schools were supposed to procure zinc sheets and tarpaulin, both in short supply, on their own. This situation must be rectified, with the cash released and the building material provided.

While it is extremely important to resume the interrupted education of millions, it is even more important that this be done in a manner that ensures the children’s safety. A number of schools in the Valley are conducting classes in shifts—only certain grades on certain days—and on the ground floor of their premises and under makeshift structures. But it is not clear how many have earthquake drills and exit plans in place and whether they have taken any lessons from the Great Quake. Earthquake-safety responses perhaps also need to take local contexts into account. The traditional ‘duck, cover and hold’ technique has come into question, with many children actually either running into their houses or staying put in collapsing houses even when open spaces were close by. The recent major earthquakes  should be a wakeup call. We have to be willing to learn from the mistakes we have made.

Published: 02-06-2015 07:16

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