Like most houses rebuilt after the 2015 earthquakes, schools from Kavre to Gorkha now use reinforced concrete structures. This means safety drills will have to be adjusted, and search and rescue procedures completely revamped to take into account the new construction material.
The lack of trained professionals and training in search, locate and rescue in collapsed concrete structures will be wholly different than in 2015, when most of the collapsed buildings were of lighter timber, brick and mud mortar construction.
In 2015, crucial hours in rescue operations were lost because of the lack of concrete cutters, and with them, lives. Some children who had already escaped swaying buildings rushed indoors to perform duck-cover-hold procedures taught at schools when the structures collapsed on them.
“Despite having earthquake resistant structures we have drills at least once a month in school so that students have complete knowledge regarding earthquake safety,” says Tashi Tenzing Norgay of Nepal Green Tara Foundation which rebuilt two schools in Nuwakot in 2014. When the earthquake hit central Nepal in 2015, those two schools were among the few still standing.
After the earthquake, the foundation has built three more schools. “Infrastructure is important but so is earthquake education,” says Norgay. But the importance of drills have been forgotten in most schools, especially as schooling scenarios changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With schools closed for the past 10 months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, students have had no earthquake preparedness training. But as schools prepare to open now, the focus will largely be on infrastructure that ensures social distancing.
Local governments are working with the Health ministry and UNICEF to launch the Learning Continuity Campaign this week. The campaign engages parents, teachers and local government, providing guidance on safe reopening of schools and alternative modes of instruction like home-schooling, low-tech solutions like telephone/SMS for learning, radio programs on parenting and specific focus on marginalised children to prevent dropout, have been highlighted.
The newly-built infrastructure of the schools has been a draw for some parents, thus upping the number of enrollment to community schools at a time when Covid-19 crisis has weakened economic status.