Print Edition - 2015-07-09  |  Oped

Temporary solutions

  • Schooling allows children to regain a crucial sense of routine that helps them to come to terms with their experiences
- Umesh Raj Regmi
Temporary solutions

Jul 8, 2015-Schools have an important role to play in the aftermath of the earthquake. Class attendance gives children a chance to continue their education, protects them from exploitation and abuse, and exposes them to ideas that keep them alert. Schooling also allows children to regain a crucial sense of routine that enables them to come to terms with their experiences. Temporary Learning Centres (TLC), which have been opened in different parts of the country after the quake, provide a protective environment in which schoolchildren can play, heal and learn.

Since schools have opened from May 31, the significance of TLCs to earthquake-affected communities has been great. In the present scenario of Nepal, such learning centres aim to last for six months, though some of them might run for up to three years.

Need for schools

The Ministry of Education has declared that it will take three years to completely reconstruct damaged schools. Over 4,500 schools in 14 districts have suffered from some sort of earthquake damage and over 16,000 classrooms have been fully damaged. In total, over 6,000 schools have been affected throughout Nepal. The devastating quakes killed 64 teachers and 478 students. Given the circumstances, TLCs should be established immediately to transition schoolchildren back to normalcy and give them the educational exposure they need. It is estimated that 90 percent of schools in affected areas have a direct need for TLCs. They are a means to ensure the continuity of education.

TLCs can come in different shapes and sizes. It is said that a temporary hut can last up to two years. Any organisation or a person must coordinate with the District Education Cluster to build a temporary hut. The TLC model says that it should be made up of bamboo or other fine local materials with a 12-meter length and five-meter width. The roof can be made out of either waterproof tarp or corrugated sheets. There should be a mat or plastic sheet on the floor to protect children from the cold. A tent-based learning centre can also be acceptable in places where there is a lack of construction materials and space. This is what we call the local setting standard. Separate toilets need to be constructed for boys and girls. Many TLCs can be constructed within the existing school grounds in proximity to damaged or destroyed structures. In these cases, the available space may be limited, particularly in urban areas. If so, they can be constructed in open spaces further away from the school with safe, durable and user-friendly facilities.

In some areas, the already constructed Child Friendly Space (CFS) can be transformed into a TLC. In this case, the learning centre will serve the purpose of a formal school in a temporary setup. Three shifts of schoolingmight be necessary in order to cover all the children in a community. For example, an early morning shift for pre-school students, a mid-morning shift for primary school students, and an afternoon class for secondary school students. Other services can be provided by the community in other spaces. Recreational sports, games, and activities can take place outside and in children’s/adolescents’ clubs. Recreational, psychosocial and safety components are crucial.

Build back better

The TLC project needs to raise awareness on key issues that have to be considered while implementing such learning centers in emergency situations. It should be understood that that a TLC is not a stand-alone structure ‘classroom’, but a holistic learning environment with external play space, internal learning space, teacher/staff space and perimeter fencing. These are arranged within a well-considered site layout. According to the Unicef, these facilities must be complemented with adequate curriculums, learning materials and teachers, providing a safe and healthy learning atmosphere. The scale of the education crisis is expected to go down with the gradual emergence of TLCs in heavily affected sites. Nepal’s high dropout rate was already a major concern. Around 1.2 million Nepali children between the ages of five and 16 have either never attended school or have dropped out. Research has shown that children who are out of school for extended periods of time, including during emergencies, are less likely to ever return to the classroom.

So, there is a desperate need to set up alternative learning spaces, assess and repair buildings, and mount a public awareness campaign encouraging families to send their children back to school. A prolonged interruption to education can be devastating for children’s development and their future prospects. It is essential that we work to establish a system that assesses the structure and safety of school buildings that are still standing. National and international organisations such as Unicef, Save the Children, Plan International, Nepal Youth Foundation, Pahar Trust-Nepal, Good Neighbors, and Restless Development, seem to be on the front lines of supporting the government in establishing TLCs  Despite the necessity of TLCs post-quake, they might have some weaknesses in practice. The transition will not be smooth for adolescent students nor will courses be the same. Students’ adjustment in the centre and smooth teaching-learning activities in the threshold of the monsoon are other points of concern. But, ideas for further improvements will only be possible once TLCs come into operation. There should be fair coordination among different clusters of TLCs in the district. Parents, teachers, social activists, local leaders, and other stakeholders should have a positive and collective commitment to running the learning centres as an alternative to schools in their area. Teachers also need help coping with their traumatic experiences in this post-quake context. This cooperative, commanding and supervisory role will have to be played by the Ministry of Education and its immediate constituents.

Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation 

Published: 09-07-2015 07:55

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