Rebuilding quake-damaged schools
The statistics of schools damaged by devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015 is staggering. According to Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report 8,242 schools were damaged by earthquakes. But even after one and half years of devastation hardly any of these schools have been rebuilt, forcing millions of school-goers to study under flimsy tents or the makeshift shelters made of zinc sheets. When both teachers and students have to worry about rain and heat inside the classroom, we can imagine the difficulties of teaching and learning activities in such a condition. The government response to reconstructing of schools has been woefully slow. For example, bidding process has begun for less than 100 schools. If we go about it at this slow pace, it will take years to complete the reconstruction of all the damaged schools. One of the first priorities of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s government should, therefore, be expediting reconstruction of damaged schools of 14 most-affected districts in coordination with MoE and National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). There should be no excuse for delay.
This, however, does not mean to suggest that reconstruction of individual houses can wait. It cannot, and should not under any pretext. Many people lost their lives in makeshift tents during winter and monsoon because they had no permanent structures to provide shelter from heat, rain and cold. The government and NRA have yet to figure out a smooth working modality in order to distribute, supervise and plan reconstruction process. So far only a fraction of earthquake victims has received the first installment of reconstruction grants from the government. This is worrying. Dahal and his coalition partners must focus on helping earthquake survivors rebuild their lives. But rebuilding of schools should be carried out with more urgency, for delay on this front will have direct bearing on teaching and learning outcome and performance of children for years to come. Many public schools in the 14 districts were poorly equipped and had dilapidated buildings. Rebuilding can be an excellent opportunity to invest in proper infrastructure in order to excite local communities to put faith in public education system.
It is rather a relief that Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have pledged Rs. 11.5 billion and Rs. 8.5 billion respectively to reconstruct damaged schools. Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has pledged to reconstruct 70 schools in Gorkha, Dhading and in other districts. Similarly, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has also shown interest in reconstruction of schools. The government on its part also pledged 7 billion rupees for reconstruction of primary and secondary schools in earthquake affected years for this fiscal year. Thus fund is not a problem. The government has allocated Rs. 26.25 billion, 11.6 percent of the total budget, for education sector this fiscal year. Apart from this, MoE spends millions in midday meal to encourage children from economically poor background to attend schools. All these investments will only have positive impact on learning outcomes only if our children get to study in safe and earthquake resistant buildings. Hence the urgency for reconstruction of schools.