Nisha Magar and Sarina Tamang, both 11, were living with their families in rented homes in Kavre district when the earthquake struck last year. As their house collapsed partially, family members split up in the ensuing confusion, and the best friends got separated.
In the next few days, the families headed westward to Kathmandu, about 50 km away, and for nine months, both girls did not know if the other was well, though they lived barely a kilometre away: one family had set up a tent in Chuchepati, the other near Boudha.
Then, sometime in December, they crossed paths. And just like that, the two families started living together, in a tent in Chuchepati.
Nisha is now in Class V at Seto Bangala High School, while Sarina is in Class VI at Lumbini Academy. Their schools back home have been damaged. But on Monday, they took notes from the same book as Nisha’s younger brother, who is five-years-old, played with a tyre around the tent. Around them, kids played football, even as an NGO — Pourakhi Nepal — struggled to convince youths to enroll for a short-term skill development programme in entrepreneurship.
Putting the education system on track has been a daunting task for Nepal. Even before the earthquake struck, attendance in primary schools in Nepal, according to UNICEF, was 96.2 per cent for males and 91.4 per cent for females. “However, by the time they are eligible for a School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination (or Class X), only 20 per cent remain in school,” said Vishnu Karki, Chief Technical Advisor, USAID’s Early Grade Reading Programme. This is because of lack of relevance of education as it doesn’t translate into employment or returns on investment, added Karki.
Assessments conducted immediately after the earthquakes of April 25 and May 12, by the National Planning Commission, revealed that drop-out and repetition rates of students would increase while the rates of promotion would decline. Between then and now, the drop-out rates in the worst-affected districts have risen to 6.9 per cent, over the national average of 6 per cent, for Class VIII.
As per the Ministry of Home Affairs, the earthquake directly affected 1.12 million children in 14 districts. As per the Education Ministry’s (MoE) assessment, as many as 8,620 schools were affected in last year’s earthquake, while 19,692 classrooms were entirely damaged, 11,935 classrooms were majorly damaged, and another 17,434 had minor damage.
However, after suffering through endless delays, the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) for Reconstruction, under the Ministry of Education, started last month.
“Earlier we had planned to go ahead with reconstruction, with our advisers on earthquake resistance, but then the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was set up and was made the apex body for granting approval of designs as per safety norms,” said Hari Prasad, Joint Director in the Ministry of Education. “It took time to reach a consensus,” he said. In between, attempts were made to plug the gap by setting up 8,000 Transitional Learning Centres (TLCs), by the government, and another 4,000 by NGOs.
So far, the government has invited bids only for eight schools — three in Kavre and five in Lalitpur. But the government has its hopes pinned on international agencies like ADB and JICA. “ADB and JICA together have pledged to build 1,500 schools between them,” said Ima Narayan Shrestha, Project Director, PIU, MoE.
“While ADB has pledged over $110 million, JICA has pledged $112 million. India has also pledged $50 million for reconstruction of schools,” he said. “Also, there have been tripartite MoUs — between the Education Ministry, the NGO and the NRA for reconstruction of 600 schools,” he said.
However, it is all in the initial stages, a year on. “The first reconstructed schools will be functional only by next year,” said Shrestha.