Nepal | April 25, 2019

Retrofit schools: Still ample time

Prof. Dr. Vikash Raj Satyal

Educational institutes which were closed after the deadly earthquake of April 25, have now resumed. Schools have opened from May 31. According to the inspection team of the Ministry of Education, in Kathmandu Valley, around 60 per cent of the school buildings are damaged and about two thousand class rooms are unusable. School buildings of Gorkha, Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, Kavre, Dhading, Nuwakot and Rasuwa were most affected by the quake than those of in Kathmandu. According to the Ministry, in the ten highly affected districts, including those of Kathmandu Valley, quake has affected the education of about one million school going children.

Meantime, while schools administrations have announced the opening of the schools the presence of student in the first two days was reportedly very low, at around 30 per cent. Children are joining their schools halfheartedly. The low presence of students is also due to the hesitation of parents sending their children to school. Parents are not fully satisfied with the safety condition of schools and class rooms where their children have to stay throughout the day.

In the present conditions resuming classes has difficulties as schools are not physically prepared and parents, teachers and students too are not mentally ready. The government should hurry to manage the debris and make temporary classes for the needy schools

School children are confused and parents are scared after the reopening of schools. School going children were trapped in tents for more than a month and this monotonous life have affected them so much that they are willing to join school. They are also worried if they can cover their course before the exams. But at one part of the mind is the horrible memory of the quake.

Parents are more frightened than their children. Many school buildings

were damaged partially or fully. Even those safe schools that have got green stickers, parents still have doubts on the inspection authorities. They suspect that the school authority could have influenced the inspectors. Parents, who had come to inspect the condition of schools were restrained by several school authorities.

Shuprabhat Bhandari, the president of the Parents Association after continuous inspection, has mentioned that many private schools are hiding ruptures in the building with cements just to show their school is safe, which is very risky. As hundreds of small children have to spend hours in schools, those schools with partial damage are more dangerous than the fully damaged schools. They must consult seismology experts, engineers or architects and strengthen the buildings before covering up the cracks.

Many schools are four or five stories tall. Parent are afraid if further big aftershocks occur their children at the upper story could be clogged on the congested stairs. Such schools should manage class in ground tents for a few weeks more until the terror of quakes subside or they can also run classes in shifts. Schools should discuss openly with parents what damage was done by the quake and what retrofitting techniques they used. All school buildings should be thoroughly inspected by the joint team of engineers, government officers, and parent representatives. It is not advisable to open schools before they are properly managed.

Most public schools whose buildings are destroyed lack fund even to manage the debris. They are unable to make temporary classes and have small open space at their premises. Such schools should be allowed to run classes at some nearby open public space or some nearby schools can share their space.

The government should provide the necessary construction materials for temporary school buildings. If not fully supported the public schools will be further behind the private schools. One worry of the school administration is the educational schedule.

As per the Ministry of Education each educational session should have 220 class days. Schools fear that with these long school shutdowns they could fail to comply with this regulation. This problem can be solved with some adjustment for which schools need to discuss with the government and the public. This year being an unusual year, we can make certain adjustments by curtailing long holidays.

For example, we can make festival holidays shorter. We can confine the holidays to festivals like Dashai, Tihar, Chhath, and Losar to 20 days in total. Schools were closed already for 37 days after the quake of April 25. This year we should have no summer or winter vacation. If we exclude from 365 days of the full year, 52 Saturdays, 20 festivals, and 37 quake days there would remain 256 days of classes. Now, if we use 36 extra days for retrofitting or for the construction of temporary classes we will still have 220 class days to comply with the regulation.

Hence, it is clear that we still can have about a month’s time to build the infrastructure of schools or for the government to construct temporary classes. This will also provide ample time to the parents and students to adjust psychologically with the aftershocks as they will be ceasing day-by-day. There will be ample time for parents to interact with schools.

In the present conditions resuming classes has difficulties as schools are not physically prepared and parents, teachers and students too are not mentally ready. The government should hurry to manage the debris and make temporary classes for the needy schools. It is the prime responsibility of the school administration and the government to provide a safer classroom to the students and assurance to the parents to send their children to school rather than merely hurry to open.

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