School life is one of the most enjoyable phases of a young person's life. Going to school five/six days a week, attending classes, chattering with classmates, playing with friends, arranging schools programmes and sitting for exams - these are just a few of the things that are a staple of their busy and youthful days. However, there are thousands children around the world who dwell near disaster prone areas and each year, they suffer severely from disruption of education as a result of certain regular calamities like flood or cyclone. Due to our geographical situation, many Bangladeshi students are faced with this problem every year as well. On top of the disruption to classes, there are also other consequences such as damages to school buildings and equipment, or the use of school being used as shelters insteads, leading to a loss of proper school days.
Moreover, during such times of natural disaster, high priority is given to relief, shelter, food and sanitation by the government and NGOs. While such basic necessities must be focused on, the limited focus on education only contributes to deepening its crisis during any disaster.
According to academic and writer Syed Manzoorul Islam, such disruption of education is unacceptable. “Education is a continuous process - there cannot be any break in it no matter what. Disasters will happen and emergencies will occur, but there can be no interruption in education. And I think one important role of state, government and citizens is to make sure there is continuous education for every child. Once a child is enrolled into a school, he or she has the right to continue and go to the highest level of education.”
The impacts on affected children
Cyclone Roanu, which battered the coast of southern Bangladesh on May 21, 2016, was not as severe as cyclone Sidr. However, 26 people still died and there were lots of damages to land, property and assets, including schools. From the month of July, certain parts of the country have also been suffering greatly from floods. Shushuya, high school in Tangail, is one of the many schools that are affected by floods every year for around 15 to 20 days, and this year has been no exception. All of these schools have had to stop providing education while they wait for the waters to recede.
One of the many impacts of such disaster is that children have to combat with a disruption of their daily life-cycle. According to Nafiza Ferdowshi, lecturer, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at University of Dhaka, sudden breaks in normal routine can cause a serious breakdown of these children's disciplined life.
“This has a huge impact on a child's psychology. If a student is serious about his studies, a lack of regular school hours and exposure can contribute to a feeling of insecurity, and he can end up having bad results.”
Based on her working experience in disaster-prone areas, Mahbuba Nasreen, Director and Professor, Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, University of Dhaka, also pointed out the feeling of insecurity among children as the reason of high dropout and non-participation rates. She said, “exams immediately after opening of schools is another reason of dropouts, since students are not prepared after the interruption of their education.”
In accordance with the government's efforts to ensure that every children has the right to education, the Ministry of Education is working in coordination with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief to minimise the obstacles and get children back to their normal education cycle as soon as possible. According to Mohammad Shahin Islam, an education officer in Tangail, “immediately after getting back to normal status in waterlogged, flood or cyclone affected areas, we provide every possible support allocated by the government to students, such as providing books, rebuilding school structures and also arranging extra education hours in order to complete the syllabus.”
A zero gap example
NGOs and other related organisations are also working towards arranging all kinds of assistance to children in such disaster situations, including in diminishing the education disruption during emergency situations and natural calamities. Save the Children is one such NGO, who are relentlessly working with children through their non-formal education programmes, and operating in hard-to-reach locations in disaster prone rural areas.
60 schools were damaged by the cyclone Roanu but due to the dedication of the students towards learning and strong support from Save the Children and its partner organisations, classes in these schools started from the very next day of the disaster. From a humanitarian aspect the children can start their education and get rid off psychological trauma as soon as possible, IKEA Foundation funded to rebuild school structures. Special teams were also formed was formed to foster the activities.
According to Mostak Hussain, Director Humanitarian, Save the Children, “Save the Children is a child focused organisation. Therefore, during any disaster we extend our help through relief, food, shelter and wash facilities, but one of the major focuses of the organisation during disasters is still education.”
Tania Akhter, a student from one of the damaged schools in Hashi Shikdar Para, is preparing for the upcoming public exam PSC. According to this young girl, she never supports being absent, and misses everything about school, including the classroom, learning and her friends. Her teacher said, “students are so eager to learn and they hardly miss classes; they continued coming to school from the next day.”
While reconstruction of this fully damaged school was underway, classes still continued to be held in a nearby hut until the emergency team were done with rebuilding. This is the case with most of the schools. The team started working from June 2016 with the aim of fulfilling the reconstruction of schools by August. And now, 1800 students are having classes in new schools. Additionally, students have also received new schoolbags, umbrellas, water bottles and other educational materials and stationery by also IKEA Foundation.
“We prefer children to continue their education without any obstacles and we believe this is a lifesaving approach. Our Donor IKEA Foundation also focuses on this specific arena, and that is why they extend their support for education in emergencies. Not all donors would agree to do that. We believe that if education is given and continued in such circumstances, then the child will have a better and more sustainable future. Save the Children is solely giving this kind of support for education during emergencies,” added Mostak Hussain.