International

Restarting School Crucial to Nepal Earthquake Recovery, Aid Groups Say

By Liana Loewus — May 08, 2015 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 4 min read
A child from the learning center in Bandipur, Nepal, works to clear the rubble from her family’s home, which was destroyed in the April 25 earthquake.

Corrected: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the title of Helen B. Sherpa. She is the country director for World Education in Nepal.

Chij K. Shrestha looked out on the town of Bandipur, Nepal, as the dust cloud was dispersing just after last month’s devastating earthquake. “The minute that cleared, I saw these houses just going down, one after the other,” he said. Twenty-two houses in all collapsed before his eyes.

The community learning center that Mr. Shrestha runs there, in the mountains about 90 miles west of Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu, withstood the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25, and is now serving as a shelter for several families who lost their homes, as well as a gathering place for children displaced from their houses and schools.

About 5,000 schools—or 1 in every 7—has been destroyed in Nepal, reports Save the Children, a nonprofit based in Washington. In the Gorkha district alone, where the epicenter occurred, about 90 percent of schools were demolished, affecting 75,000 children, the group says. Official government figures, which are still being tallied, are lower, but still substantial.

Such devastation could affect students’ educational opportunities for years to come, experts say.

How to Help

The following organizations are among the many currently accepting donations for relief efforts in Nepal:

American Red Cross
Little Sisters Fund
Room to Read
Save the Children
UNICEF
World Education
World Vision

Mr. Shrestha, a former vice president for World Education, a Boston-based nonprofit, who moved back to his Nepali hometown years ago, has been helping ensure the children are well-fed and cared for. One student recently said he was “craving milk, so I grabbed some milk and boiled eggs, and we played games with [the children],” said Mr. Shrestha. “Their parents were saying after that this was the first time they were seeing their children smiling.”

Bandipur has fared better than Kathmandu and many villages across the country, where an estimated 7,000 people have been killed. Within the country of 28 million people, about 1.7 million children are still in urgent need of aid because of the earthquake, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

For now, children’s basic needs—shelter, food, water, physical safety—are the top priority. But representatives from aid groups say that getting the education system going again for students is of the utmost importance as well.

“We work within the humanitarian system to re-establish school as soon as possible,” said Eric Eversmann, the senior director for basic education at Save the Children. “And we advocate for it to be sooner than anyone thinks is possible.”

The country has about 3.2 million primary-school-age children alone, according to UNESCO, and the Nepali government, which funds the majority of schools in the country, has said that classes should resume May 15.

Providing Refuge

Schools offer safety and a place for students “to get away from the hardship,” said Trevor Patzer, a co-founder of the Little Sisters Fund, a small nonprofit based in Nepal that supports girls’ education. “They can start focusing on the ABCs, and one, two, threes, instead of focusing on, ‘My house is destroyed.’ ”

Chij K. Shrestha, below, plays with children at the learning center in Bandipur. The center now serves as a shelter for families who lost their homes, and as a place for children to go while the community recovers from the disaster. Aid organizations say that getting the nation’s education system running again is a key part of the recovery process, which is expected to take years.

Aid groups worry that young people without supervision are vulnerable to child labor, forced marriage, or trafficking. “People go to ravaged societies to target children, ” said Mr. Patzer.

Even if there is no physical school building, teachers and students can begin gathering outside or in tents or other undamaged buildings. “Get them together because when they’re together, they’re safe,” said Mr. Patzer.

Giving students a place to go also frees up their families to begin figuring out what to do next.

The United Nations has put out a flash appeal for $415 million from international donors, about $20 million of which will go toward immediate education needs, including setting up temporary learning spaces. Such spaces differ from regular schools in that students often come in shifts for just a few hours at a time. Rather than the typical school curriculum, students may learn about continued safety during aftershocks and how to determine if drinking water is safe. Teachers can also begin to address students’ psychosocial needs.

Future Risks

Many say that a saving grace of the earthquake was that it happened on a Saturday and just after the morning meal. Students were not in school, and many people were outside working rather than in their homes.

“So many children lived that would have not survived had it been on a school day,” said Helen B. Sherpa, the country director for World Education in Nepal.

Now, though, there’s another imminent risk: monsoon season, which generally runs from June to September. “Having the infrastructure for schools at that point is going to be really important because it’s not going to be blue skies all the time,” said Mr. Patzer.

“When the monsoon comes, it’s very difficult,” said Ms. Sherpa, who is originally from New Zealand but has lived in Nepal for more than 30 years. “We’re trying to get temporary classrooms as quickly as we can and get children back into that environment.”

As for when schools realistically will reopen, “I think it will be a rolling process as you get out to the more heavily affected areas,” said Mr. Eversmann. “But provided the physical space exists, and you can get supplies there, schools should be up and running within the month.”

However, the actual rebuilding of schools will take longer—some say between one and two years.

That’s frustrating to those working in development because the Nepali education system had made progress over the past decade, since the civil war there ended. School enrollment was up to 95 percent in recent years, according to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

“We were moving away from just access, on to [learning] outcomes, and now we’re back to the access problem,” said Ms. Sherpa. “A lot of progress over the years could be badly set back.”

The anti-child-labor work that’s gone on could backtrack as well. “Most children were in labor because they were out of school,” said Mr. Shrestha from Bandipur. “I’m afraid that some of these things may happen again for the children.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as School Restart Seen Crucial to Nepal Earthquake Recovery

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

International Global Test Finds Digital Divide Reflected in Math, Science Scores
New data from the 2019 Trends in International Math and Science Study show teachers and students lack digital access and support.
3 min read
Image of data.
iStock/Getty
International Pre-COVID Learning Inequities Were Already Large Around the World
A new international benchmarking highlights gaps in training for digital learning and other supports that could deepen the challenge for low-income schools during the pandemic.
4 min read
International Part of Global Trend, 1 in 3 U.S. High Schoolers Felt Disconnected From School Before Pandemic
UNESCO's annual report on global education progress finds countries need to make more effort to include marginalized students, particularly in the United States.
4 min read
International How Schools in Other Countries Have Reopened
Ideas from Australia, Denmark, and Taiwan can help American district and school leaders as they shape their reopening plans.
11 min read
Students at the Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan, perform The Little Mermaid in full costume and masks.
Students at the Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan, perform The Little Mermaid in full costume and masks.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Rhoades/Taipei American School