Handling Trauma At School : Prem Khatry

After the administration, it is the school kids to demonstrate courage and willingness to go to work. Schools have opened on the date given by the government. However, the attendance in the first few days is not very encouraging. Parents of small kids are still in a dilemma: Is it better to send them to school or keep them safely at home? Many of them remained undecided whereas many were counting the days to send as they took all their working time while attending and nursing them.

Jestha 17th, corresponding to May 31, was a day to be recorded in the history of education in modern Nepal. Hundreds of thousands of school children today attended school, yet many in both the government and the private sector remained out for lack of safe classrooms. In Kathmandu, a large percent of private schools opened and conducted soft, fun-type classes. Buses in much smaller numbers were seen running to the pickup points from early morning. Parents themselves reported they wanted to drop and pick up their charges.

For those children whose schools were destroyed beyond repairs it was a sad day to stay home and not go to school. For still others, their parents' unpleasant comments on the face-lifting effort at school brought challenges to find a better, safer school with an acceptable track record. In all, it was a busy day for the school managers, students and curious parents. Schools were found engaging students in many fun, information-focused activities instead of regular course works. That seemed to work well for the students to adapt to a new situation after the mega quake.

Force-shunning bad memories

When the school sector is struggling to make the post-quake environment student-friendly, there are jolts giving children doubts and fears about the complete full stop on the chain of tremors.  It is not easy for them to forget the bad memories they had. The major concern of the schools now is to help them shun the bad memories and help them be normal. Many children on Sunday and Monday showed it when they were with their friends, classmates and teachers. Things can be different when they are alone at home watching horror pictures of the quake and aftermath.

The parents of the school children must be counseled about the need to normalise the environment at home. As we live in the middle of aftershocks, there is no other option than to remain calm and get used to the minor tremors that are shaking Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa, Dhading and Kathmandu as the epicentres of these shocks. The proposed Tamsaling area has gone through minor shocks of all dimensions numbering hundreds from April 25 to date. This state of affairs has made it difficult to send children to school, workers to the workplace and others to leave home and family and set for a journey - long or short. Business has been difficult to handle.

After the powerful quake, Nepal faces a host of challenges in the field of reconstruction and habilitation. In many places, the land has given way, and during the monsoon there will be problems everywhere. But as the title suggests, this article will focus mainly on schools and their prime concerns only.

One major challenge for schools is spending time on normalising children - who have lost their own, seen it, experienced it - and it will take time for them to be normal. It is urgent to give special focus on their emotional needs. A special environment could be created in the class itself, using classmates to help erase the emotion. In fact, children forget things easily. They can adjust to a new situation faster and better than adults. But the schools must use psycho therapists to do this job. Untrained teachers cannot handle such situations.

For example, in badly damaged areas like Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa and Dhading, among others, the situation can be like the one created during last year's floods at Sunkoshi. For days together, the children were thinking of their lost class/schoolmates. It is not easy to find a psychologist in a village in Nepal. In Barpak, Gorkha, students lost several teachers who were busy in a meeting. Children will think of them always and for a long time to come. It is essential to erase such memories from the minds of the children by using the teachers themselves.

Thousands of school buildings have been destroyed during the quake. They won't be able to create enough classrooms in a short space of time. One option is, then, to reframe the sections in the lower classes. At the same time, schools must not wait for any compensation or relief in a short time. Using one’s own resource for the time being is the only viable option for the schools. It may take a long time to recreate a permanent space. And, open classes won't be helpful and practical, considering the onslaught of the upcoming monsoon. 

If cities are having difficulty in finding proper material in time, what will happen to the schools in distant places? How will schools manage this summer and plan for the years to come? These questions are important to be noted by the government and the school managers at all levels and in all the affected districts. As a matter of fact, public schools are in very poor shape and preparation.

Finally, school needs to be extra careful to guarantee the safety of the students. Teachers must make efforts to shun the worst part of the quake-related memories from the minds of students, and in the initial stage not overburden them with homework. More importantly, it is advisable to instruct the best ways to be followed to remain safe in case of a quake or tremor at school, in the bus or at home.

Code of conduct

Recently, the Ministry of Education has published and made available to the public a folder containing several important instructions, including a code of conduct for teachers, students and school management committee at a time of disaster of such a dimension. Like the team that posted the multi-coloured tag on schools, there could also be a team to see if all is well with the school's classrooms.

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