Battered Education Sector: Narayan Upadhyay
The devastating earthquake has hit hard almost every sector in the nation. The deadly temblor has not only killed over eight thousand and injured more than 20,000 people, but has also inflicted huge economic losses. Life has yet to return to normalcy in the worst hit districts.
The deadly quake also wreaked havoc on the nation's education sector. The dilemma in the education sector - whether to start classes in the schools and colleges - has been plaguing the education authorities. The reason for this dilemma is the massive damages the quake inflicted on the school buildings and classes.
The Department of Education has announced that the schools will open from coming Sunday in the districts where education activities have been disrupted by the quake. The private school operators have also said that they would open their schools in the Kathmandu Valley and other quake-hit districts from the same day.
However, given the number of quake aftershocks that continue to rattle the quake-hit districts, the parents and guardians are not sure if they want to send their wards to school. For the parents and guardians, it is natural for them to feel anxious about the safety of their children because the quake has exposed the weaknesses of several building structures, including those of schools and colleges in the nation.
Many private schools and colleges are being run in rented buildings, whose structural quality is yet to be known to the school operators or to the parents and students. For example, a multi-storied building at Dhapasi of Kathmandu that was rented by a privately-owned college to run its engineering courses collapsed instantly during the quake.
Many buildings run by private education institutions have suffered major or partial damage in the quake. These buildings may not be in a position to hold classes for safety reasons. Most of them are in urgent need of major maintenance if the operators want to begin classes in such buildings.
The extent of the damages done to the school and college buildings has left many of us with dreadful feelings. One can only imagine the sufferings the April 25 could have inflicted on the students and their parents and guardians, had it hit the nation on any other day. As the quake day was a Saturday, a public holiday in Nepal, many a life of the students and teachers was saved. It also freed the parents and guardians from great tension and anguish.
Owing to the quake's adverse impact, the education authorities have not been able to start the new academic session in several districts. The new academic session has already been delayed by a month. School buildings and classrooms in over 30 districts belonging to both the public and private sectors have suffered damages, barring a massive number of students from attending classes.
According to a report, over 16,000 classrooms of more than 6,000 public schools, from pre primary to higher secondary, have been destroyed by the April 25 temblor. Likewise, over 7,000 classrooms have suffered major cracks while around 12,000 have suffered repairable cracks in them. Such a scale of destruction and damage to the classrooms, according to the Education Department, has a direct bearing on the education of about three million students in 39 districts.
A UNICEF report sheds light on the length of the impact the earthquake disaster has left on the education sector. According to it, about 950,000 students across the nation would not be able to return to school if the authorities fail to take timely action to replace the damaged classrooms with temporary ones. To assist the schools in re-running their classes, the Education Ministry has provided some funds so that the schools can build makeshift temporary classrooms. But majority of the schools are yet to receive the government funds, which has hampered the class repair and reconstruction works.
Meanwhile, the quake has left a deep trauma in the minds of the young and adolescents. Many of them have witnessed the sufferings of their families, neighbours and friends while many have been separated from their near and dear ones after the quake. The traumatised students may be reluctant to visit schools. The reigning fear that another quake may hit them also stops them from attending class while aftershocks continue to rock them.
A recent news story stated that teachers who were taking classes ran out, leaving behind shell-shocked children inside the classroom during a quake aftershock. No one can deny such incidents will not repeat once classes begin. These incidents only dent the confidence of the students and their parents.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that destruction and damage caused to the classrooms as well as the lingering fear of aftershocks suggest that schools in the worst hit districts cannot be begun with assurance unless some safer arrangements are made. Though the Education Department has announced the setting up of temporary learning centres in the schools with heavy damages, the learning-teaching activities may not take place soon to their fullest as most of these schools have either not repaired the damage or reconstructed the destroyed classrooms.
Fear of dropouts
This academic session, the education activities in many schools and colleges would not be the same as in the past years. There are fears that in several districts, schools will witness a large number of dropouts. It will be hard time to maintain the retention level because the confidence level of the parents and students has been severely dented by the quake and its ill impacts.
To boost the dwindling confidence among the parents, teachers and students, the education authorities must work to create a safer environment in all the schools and colleges. The students and teachers must be provided with safe classrooms, albeit temporary ones, so that classes can be held confidently. All concerned should work towards this direction to bring the disturbed education sector right on its track. If not, the teaching-learning activity of the current academic session will be badly hit. And the education authorities will have a very hard time maintaining the academic calendar.