5-and-a-half-year-old Soni had been looking forward to returning to Sri Sundar Suryodaya Primary School on Sunday following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake a month ago in Nepal.
Her neighborhood school now carries a bold red sign warning “unsafe.” Most of the school, atop a picturesque hill, has crumbled to the ground.
Her school wasn’t the only one to fall down. In Kavre district east of Kathmandu, 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, over 80% of classrooms are reported to be completely destroyed in 546 out of 557 schools.
Just a little over a month after the devastating earthquake, schools all over the country are set to reopen on 31 May, irrespective of the widespread destruction of physical facilities.
Communities are grappling with enormous losses – of family members, homes, farmland. Yet, the one thing everyone wants—whether poor parents in rural areas or affluent parents in Kathmandu—is for schools to reopen soon and lessons to start. Restoring education is synonymous with reviving hope and getting back to normal. Research studies reveal that students that have an abnormally long break in their studies are less likely to return to regular schooling when it starts up again, often undermining government efforts to improve education and job opportunities later on.
So just how is Nepal getting its education back on track?
About 8,000 schools have been affected in one way or another, and 30,000 classrooms completely destroyed. Reconstruction and retrofitting of school buildings may take 2-3 years.
The government of Nepal has planned to deploy 15,000 temporary and transitional learning centers to restart the education process immediately. Some key issues for consideration as the government gets education back on track are:
- Ensuring that transitional learning centers replicate as much as possible a real school environment. The introduction of “creative sciences,” interactive lessons, outdoor physical and exploratory activities and sports would help to create a joyful atmosphere, helping children to come out of trauma. There is an opportunity to renew pedagogic processes and create models of “classrooms without walls.”
- Adjusting the school timetable to frontload holidays and catch up on the lost days of schooling which will, no doubt, be the case as transitional arrangements come into place.
And in the longer term:
- Building schools back better not only with disaster-resilient features in construction but also with stimulating learning environments within schools.
- Providing teachers with appropriate tools, techniques, and resources so that they are better equipped themselves to help children.
- Going forward, strengthening connectivity and ICT solutions. Only about 6,000 schools in Nepal have electricity. Fewer have mobile or Internet connections. Providing some of the cluster schools with connectivity would tremendously enhance the availability of resources to teachers. Simple mobile phone-based daily inputs to teachers can be highly motivational.
Despite the tragedy of 25 April and subsequent aftershocks, Nepal’s education professionals remain positive and forward looking. Despite his damaged district education office, the District Education Officer at Kavre, Dipendra Gurung, urged everyone to do their best to restore education services. Development partners need to proceed with the same spirit.