If there is a spot of light in the devastating news out of Nepal since its two major earthquakes in April and May, it is that the first and larger of the quakes struck on a Saturday, when schools and offices in Nepal are almost universally closed. More than 8,000 casualties are currently confirmed, but if students had been in their classrooms, that number could have been much, much higher.
Nearly 5000 schools, mostly stone, were damaged or destroyed in the initial quake. An additional 1000 are estimated to have collapsed in the following tremolo on May 12th, only 3 days before the government had originally intended to re-open schools where they were able. Now, that date’s been pushed back to May 29th at the earliest, and officials are scrambling to try to build nearly 7000 temporary learning centers before then.
Most of the schools that have survived in the afflicted districts are damaged, many failing hurried government inspections, others repurposed into shelters and distribution points. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, and relief shelters are slow to arrive. With the monsoon season due to begin in the end of June, un-sheltered refugees will be hard to relocate from their temporary refuges in school buildings. No one begrudges them the needed space, but they are an additional disruption to the process of getting school back in session.
Children’s advocates such as UNICEF and Nepal’s Department of Education are deeply concerned about the earthquake’s long-term affect on school attendance. Nearly a million students have no school to go back to. Before the quake, student and teacher absenteeism were constant problems, with an exceptionally high drop-out rate, particularly in the rural farming regions such as those worst affected by the destruction. And now three years is the best estimate anyone has as to how long it will take to rebuild the destroyed schools.
And beyond their educational needs, many believe it very important simply to give the displaced children a place to play and learn and return to a normal routine as quickly as possible, to remind them of something more than rubble and fear.
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