Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Human Rights, Population, Poverty & SDGs

NEPAL: Education Shouldn’t Be A Casualty in Emergencies

Damakant Jayshi

KATHMANDU, Dec 23 2010 (IPS) - Nepal may be doing well in providing complete primary education to boys and girls, but has quite a bit of catching up to do when it comes to ensuring that their schooling does not become a casualty during disasters and emergencies.

An earthquake response drill at the Tika Vidyashram High School in Lalitpur, Nepal. Credit: Damakant Jayshi/IPS

An earthquake response drill at the Tika Vidyashram High School in Lalitpur, Nepal. Credit: Damakant Jayshi/IPS

This comes at a time when the ability to ensure continued education in difficult situations has become a first- response priority along with food, security, water, sanitation and health, says Sabina Joshi, emergency education specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nepal.

But this can be a challenge for countries like Nepal, where disasters have often meant interruptions in classes and where such disruptions are accepted as inevitable.

A case in point is the devastating Koshi river floods in eastern Nepal in August 2008. Education for some 29,000 students was disrupted in Sunsari district, according to a report by U.N. humanitarian agency, OCHA. It took weeks before classes resumed.

Though this year’s floods were not as severe as they were in 2008, the schooling of about 165 students was disrupted in Dharan, Itahari, Inaruwa and Ghokraha in Sunsari district. Textbooks and education-related stationery were also either lost or damaged during minor floods in August this year.

This Himalayan country is vulnerable to disasters like floods and landslides. Its capital, Kathmandu, has been identified as one of the most earthquake-prone zones in the world.

To step up the country’s ability to prevent interruptions in education, at least until secondary school, the Nepali government is working with international agencies and donors to adopt the concept of education in emergency (EIE).

“We are trying to increase awareness about the concept of education in emergency among government officials, teachers associations, school teachers and parents,” said Laxman Bashyal, a Department of Education official who acts as emergency focal point for education. “During emergencies, education was not given a priority and we are trying to change the mindset that the education of students can wait.”

Bashyal represents the government in the Education Cluster in Nepal along with officials from UNICEF and Save the Children Alliance Nepal. This cluster is tasked with preparing for and responding to the education-related aspects of emergency situations.

The idea of education in emergency has yet to reach every school, though.

Baba Khadka, headmaster of Shree Tika Vidyashram Higher Secondary School in Lalitpur district, tells IPS that the district education office has yet to discuss EIE. “The priority is (still) on life-saving skills in case of emergency,” she pointed out, watching two officials from the National Society of Earthquake Technology prepare a drill for teachers and students.

“God forbid – if an earthquake hits the area (Lalitpur is an adjoining district of Kathmandu and part of the capital), people are going to seek shelter in the school compound,” she added. “However, if the number is not too big and if the schoolbuilding remains intact, we would try to conduct classes.”

Her colleague, economics and accounts teacher Rajen Raigai, asked: “Say, after lives are saved and things start turning to normalcy, how do we resume education?” he asked. “This aspect must be addressed soon.”

Awareness campaigns on emergency situations are underway to reach teachers’ unions, district education officials and school managements.

Students should be able to go back to school within two weeks of disruption during emergencies, UNICEF officials say.

If a schoolbuilding has been destroyed, safe learning spaces have to be created as alternatives. Students would be taught in tents. As they may be undergoing trauma, the regular curriculum can be mostly replaced with lessons on life-saving skills and coping with physical, mental and social problems.

It is towards adopting the EIE concept that donor agencies have been trying to persuade – in their words “encourage” – Nepali’s government to adopt the Minimum Standards for Education prepared by Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE).

INEE describes itself as a global network of NGOs, U.N. agencies, donor agencies, governments, academic institutions, schools and affected populations working to ensure the right to quality and safe education in emergencies and post-crisis recovery.

The INEE Minimum Standards Handbook contains 19 standards for enhancing the quality of educational preparedness, and response and recovery.

UNICEF and Save the Children have identified 20 districts in Nepal’s Tarai region — plains in east-west corridor – that are vulnerable to disasters like floods. They are also working to create awareness about how to respond to an eventual earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley.

They point out that incorporating EIE does send the government’s commitment to ensuring that education continues even in disaster situations.

“The government ownership of dealing with education in emergency is important because then it becomes part of regular government programme,” said Gyanendra Shrestha, education team leader at Save the Children Nepal.

Policy constraints are a hindrance as well. Though it has the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, the government cannot anticipate an emergency and make a programme, and allocate a budget, for it, Bashyal pointed out. “We usually deal with an emergency when it occurs.”

The bureaucracy is often inflexible when it comes to quickly earmarking funds for education-related emergency situations.

UNICEF’s Joshi added, “We need to talk more and more about not only how to respond to an emergency, but also how to prevent it.” This includes moving schools that are located on riverbanks, she adds.

“There’s a close link between education as part of the second MDG target and education in emergency,” Joshi further said. “If there is disruption in education due to emergency, the goal of universal primary education is bound to be affected.”

Nepal is within reach of achieving the second MDG goal of providing 100 percent primary education (up to Grade 5) for its children by 2015.

The net annual enrollment rate in primary education of school-age children is 93.7 percent, going by education department data. This is up from 80 percent enrollment in 2000 and just 64 percent in 1990.

The MDGs are a set of eight goals that the world’s governments committed in 2000 to meet by 2015. These goals range from eradicating poverty to improving maternal and child health, to achieving universal primary education and ensuring environmental sustainability.

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