Post-quake education: Widening disparities

Negligence in prioritizing school reconstruction task by the government authorities, even after two years of the earthquakes, has aggravated the problem

Education should be for all. But a large number of children are now deprived of education because of the government’s negligence.

The recent earthquakes have imposed big disparities in the educational activities between affected and unaffected schools. Governmental sources say that in the earthquake affected 14 districts, more than eight thousand six hundred schools were wrecked affecting around 1.2 million school children.

These children are deprived of a normal learning environment. When students from such affected schools have to compete with the privileged ones in the open job market or in higher education, the deprived will certainly abstain from opportunities, not from any of their weakness but from exogenous causes.

During these post-quake years,  little has been done by the government to normalize the teaching environment in  affected areas. While several private schools are now reconstructed from private funds most government schools are still in the same battered conditions.

Most public and community schools whose buildings were destroyed in the quake  lack funds even to clear the debris. An example is the destitute condition of Durbar School in Ranipokhari situated at the heart of the capital city.

Last year, about three thousand Transit Learning Centers or TLCs were made in the quake affected areas. These TLCs are small temporary shelters with walls and roofs made of plastic, straw, bamboo or zinc.

It does not have enough rooms for all classes and students. So, normally classes are conducted under the open sky, and it is not possible to conduct classes during rainy, very cold or hot seasons.

In many places,  these temporary TLCs are now worn-out and waiting for disasters to fall down. Many such schools are running on paper to only fulfill the government’s mandate of 220 classes in one academic year. In the affected area about half were girl students. Most do not return to school or are being exploited. Such impediments and exploitation are higher during  crisis especially for  females.

Girl students are at high risk of being trafficked. The extremely quake affected areas like Sindhupalchok, Rasuwa, Dhading, and Nuwakot had the highest girl trafficking rates. Large numbers of girls from these areas are brought to nearby urban centers to the restaurants and dance bars or trafficked abroad.

According to the National Human Rights Commission, after the earthquake, human trafficking of girls aged below 18 years from these areas, shot up by 15 per cent. Even  data provided by Nepal Police Headquarters show that human trafficking from these areas rose up by 150 per cent. It was education that was making them more alert and reducing such risk. The anguish of the physically disabled and mentally retarded students who were studying in these areas is another sad story.

Some schools in the affected areas have been constructed by donors but in much lower numbers than their commitments. JICA showed commitment to the construction of 283 schools but until now it has completed only 83. Similarly, ADB committed  to build 175 schools but has completed only 84. The performance of government is as usual, dead slow. So far, the government has invited bids for only less than 50 schools.

Obviously, most sufferers are the students of rural government schools. The performance of rural government schools before the quakes was already bad nationwide. For example, in 2014, 93 per cent passed the SLC from private schools compared to 28 per cent from public schools.

This gap is going to widen in the coming years between quake affected and unaffected schools. Immediately after the earthquakes,  assessments conducted by the National Planning Commission showed rising dropout rates and decline in the upper class promotion.

Lowering of the educational budget has also affected the reconstruction of schools. Education was getting a higher budget chunk of around 15 per cent in the past years. Each year this budget is trimmed. Last year there was 11 per cent allocated for education which was downsized to 5.2 per cent this year making the annual reduction of about 38.4 per cent. Budget for education has been diverted to many other sectors  for the establishment of federal units and salaries of local bodies.

The donors who were involved and supported  educational development should alert the government. In different international forums the government has committed to spend 20 per cent of its budget on education.

Negligence in prioritizing school reconstruction task by the government authorities, even after two years of the earthquakes, has aggravated the problem.  According to the post disaster recovery framework, PDRF, it will need 167 million dollars for the reconstruction of schools.

To safeguard the educational future of more than 1.2 million children of the quake affected areas the government and the concerned stakeholders need to be very serious for a rapid action plan. The government should act not as a facilitator but as a responsible authority to maintain  proper educational system, ensuring equality and justice to all.

This year these affected schools must be constructed, and books and educational materials should be supplied. The government should increase the educational budget to 20 per cent as committed by it in different national and international forums.

Dr. Satyal is Professor of Statistics at Tribhuvan University