Reconstructing schools in disaster-hit areas

Dhaka,  Thu,  24 August 2017
Published : 05 Aug 2017, 20:47:03
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OPINION

Reconstructing schools in disaster-hit areas

The delicate nature of the problem calls for all-out government intervention complete with adequate funds and infrastructure inputs. It's because the issue at stake is school  education, the first step into the vast domain of learning, writes Shihab Sarkar
After homesteads, roads and local offices, the rural structures considered most vulnerable to floods and erosion are schools. This has been the reality ever since schools began dotting village landscapes in Bangladesh. Due to their pronounced visibility, the disaster-stricken structures attract people's attention more distinctively than before. In the past schools damaged by nor'westers or floods would not be viewed as distressing spectacles. It was because these institutions were few and far between.

Among other structures, it was the schools and colleges in the main which bore the brunt of the last flooding in the country's northeastern and northwestern regions. The water has receded from major parts of the flood-hit areas. Life in those areas has begun returning to normal, with community activities resuming in full swing after a period of disruption. In this upbeat scenario, many rural schools and their students and teachers appear to have been left in the lurch. TV news footage and the print media these days are filled with photographs of nonfunctional educational institutions --- schools in particular. Badly affected by the recent flooding, many of these schools still remain inundated. Due to stagnant water in the whole school compound, the authorities had to declare the schools closed for an indefinite period. A handful of them, however, have been kept open. Students at these institutions attend classes after sloshing across submerged school compounds. Adolescent boys and girls have got used to coming from distant areas walking up roads under knee-deep water. Construction experts call for raising the bases of these schools. In that case they may have to be rebuilt. 

In areas along the river banks, scores of schools have been lost to erosion in the aftermath of the flood. For the regions downstream, it is a periodic occurrence. Like in the past, the schools have simply vanished into the post-flood river vortexes. With their schools gone, or damaged, teachers are found in many riverside villages taking classes under bare tin roofs. Classes in the open are also a common spectacle in the erosion-hit regions. A notable aspect of the damages caused by floods or erosion to schools is disruption of education. Of the affected schools, the primary-level ones turn out to be the worst sufferers. What's most worrying is that school dropout rate is normally high among primary students. Unexpected disruption to classes prompts child learners to eventually grow weary of schools. School without proper structure has few reasons to attract small boys and girls. Thus at one point of time, these students feel disillusioned at academic activities. It leads them to stop attending school altogether. Thus flood- or erosion-hit schools play their typical roles in deterring children from going to school.

Primary-level schools apart, adolescent girl students at junior or secondary high schools constitute another segment affected by the damages caused by natural disasters. After nor'westers and cyclones, floods and erosion emerge as the most potential threats to the continuity of their academic life. In the case of flood, adolescent girls find the trek to schools by wading through submerged dirt roads to be a gruelling experience. In many areas, the roads become completely non-existent.  Schools under floodwater become a double whammy for the students. With their schools vanishing due to river erosion, the same old spectacles are enacted: classes in makeshift structures. Barring a handful of tenacious ones, the girls in general feel discouraged to attend classes at these schools. Dropout follows.

   Humble, local attempts are normally found to be in place to rebuild the affected schools. But the delicate nature of the problem calls for all-out government intervention complete with adequate funds and infrastructure inputs. It's because the issue at stake is school education, the first step into the vast domain of learning.

shihabskr@ymail.com
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