Thousands of schools damaged during April’s devastating earthquake in Nepal have begun to re-open, AFP reports. More than 25,000 classrooms in some 8,000 schools were destroyed in the 7.8 magnitude quake and its aftershocks, and more than 8,000 people died. Many have only been rebuilt on a temporary basis using materials such as bamboo, wood and tarpaulin.
Classes will initially focus on group activities to help children recover from the trauma of the disaster. Earlier this week, the United Nations said that one month on from the quake, the world needed to provide more food and shelter for those left homeless. Meanwhile, the Nepalese government – which has been criticised for being slow to respond – has called for more direct aid funding.
The government closed all schools in the Kathmandu region for the month of May, amid continuing aftershocks in the aftermath of the 25 April tremor. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, and many are still struggling to rebuild their lives. In the worst-hit districts of Gorkha, Sindhupalchok and Nuwakot, it is estimated that more than 90% of schools were destroyed.
In all, the government is planning to open 15,000 temporary learning centres, according to the Asian Development Bank. Education ministry official Lavadeo Awasthi told the Times of India newspaper that the temporary classroom structures “will have to do for the next two years, in which time the buildings should be restored”. Many children will be attending lessons in classrooms built on school playing fields or in buildings marked “safe” after inspections.
School days will be short and focus on game playing and cultural activities. The United Nations has distributed educational kits which include puzzles and picture books aimed at having an impact on children’s psychology. “The children are very happy here to engage themselves with different kinds of playing materials,” said Unicef early childhood development specialist, Shiva Bhusal.
But many parents are still concerned about their children’s safety. “Aftershocks are still continuing. It is difficult not to be nervous about sending the children back to school again,” Mina Shrestha, mother of eight-year-old pupil Sahaj, told AFP news agency. “But the teachers have assured us that it is safe here, and at least his mind will be fresh if he meets his friends and studies,” she added.
However, a number of schools remain closed. “It is impossible for me to re-open right now,” Lila Nanda Upadhyay, head teacher of Kathmandu’s Rupak Memorial International School, was quoted as saying by AFP. According to Unicef, Nepal’s high-school dropout rate was already a major concern before the earthquake. About 1.2 million Nepalese children between the ages 5 and 16 have either never attended school or have dropped out.