When a 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook Bangladesh on April 25 last year, grade-X student Nuri Yashfi Karim panicked and forgot how she was supposed to respond in such events.
Yashfi, who studies at a Mohammadpur school, has been reading about disaster management – how to respond during natural disasters – since grade-III. But, neither she nor her classmates followed the instructions. Lack of drills and difficult to understand contents on disaster management have been of little help to the students.
“The contents are not easy to understand and our school never held any earthquake drills. How was I supposed to respond? I was at a loss,” Yashfi told the Dhaka Tribune.
National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) officials said texts and images on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation had been added to 39 textbooks to help students understand the risks and act responsively during any event.
Students are taught, among others, natural disaster risk identification, prevention, mitigation, emergency response, global warming, climate change and adaptation practices. The Dhaka Tribune found such contents in Bangla, English, science, Bangladesh and global studies, agricultural studies, geography and different religious textbooks at primary, secondary, and higher secondary levels.
Jahangirnagar University’s environmental sciences teacher Syed Hafizur Rahman said the approach was incorrect. “All information are there in the textbooks but they are not suitable for the students. They need modification as the students’ ages were not taken into consideration when the contents were developed and integrated,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Mohammad Abdul Kaiyum, national project director of Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme-II, said supplementary materials on the topic had been added to teach students in an interactive way but untrained teachers impeded the process.
NCTB’s acting Chairman Mia Inamul Haque Siddiki said they noticed it after distributing the supplementery contents in selected schools where students were struggling to understand them. This prompted the NCTB, in association with the CDMP, to organise special training for teachers in 2014, which is ongoing in major cities.
Education experts said inserting chapters would not help students develop disaster management skills and encourage them to participate in disaster mitigation and preparedness activities.
When the powerful quake hit last year, over 40 panicked students fell sick in Pabna while 10 others were injured in a stampede at a Mymenshingh school, according to reports.
“Students are reading similar topics for years. A grade-V student should have deeper understanding of disaster management than a third grader, but the contents are almost unchanged from grade-III to grade-XII,” said the JU teacher, who conducted a study on disaster management contents in NCTB books.
A 2009 CDMP study found at least 2,737 risky school buildings in Dhaka. If another major quake hits, at least 90 of them would be destroyed and 1,173 would suffer moderate damage. After the April 25 quake, cracks appeared in at least 10 school buildings, and a college building tilted sideways, a government report said.
The CDMP conducted earthquake drills at 12,000 secondary and 30,000 primary schools. “We are building up Teachers Training College teachers as master trainers to train others. We have separately trained teachers from Dhaka on earthquake drills,” Kaiyum told Dhaka Tribune.
Prof Rahman suggested training for teachers on how to teach students in a communicative way and conducting regular drills.
NCTB chief Siddiki said they were aware that the texts were difficult to understand. “We are changing them and the curriculum as well. It will be effective from 2017,” he said.