Time to anticipate natural disasters

EducationWorld October 14 | EducationWorld

ALTHOUGH THE IMPACT OF THE RECENT rain and flood fury which has devastated the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir, is still being assessed, this disaster is certain to take a heavy toll on the education sector ” particularly K-12 education. Indeed it™s arguable that the heaviest price of this essentially man-made disaster will be paid ” in terms of lost learning and career prospects ” by the state™s most vulnerable citizens: children.
This has always been so. In the mid-1980s my school, located in rural West Bengal, was forced to shut down for two months following floods in September-October as many displaced families took shelter in it. When school re-opened in November, it was still partly a rescue and rehabilitation camp. In December, when annual examinations were held by the state board, many students didn™t write them, with a large contingent dropping out permanently from school.  Later, I met some of them serving in local tea shops, working in family occupations, or supplying fish to local markets.
In contemporary India, almost 85 percent of the landmass is vulnerable to natural disasters, with 22 of the country™s 28 states classified as multi-hazard zones. The trauma experienced by children and the disastrous impact of heavy rains, flooding, earthquakes and other natural and man-made disasters (terrorism, war, law and order breakdown) are under-reported in the media, if reported at all. Although it™s impossible to prevent natural disasters, there™s no excuse for not being prepared to cope with post-disaster consequences.
Managing safety and natural hazards in schools is not a new concept. A Regional Consultative Committee on Disaster Management (RCC) was established at the initiative of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) in 2000. Moreover, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) systems have either been introduced already or will be introduced in schools of several RCC signatory countries, which regularly or occasionally suffer natural disasters. For example, in Sri Lanka, the ministry of education propagates a comprehensive school safety practices programme among school managers and decision makers through provision of training in short courses.
In India as well, there™s been considerable discussion ” even if not traction ” on the issue of safety and disaster management in K-12 institutions. As early as in the Tenth Plan (2002-07) document, the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry highlighted the need for integrating disaster management into the education system. In 2003-2005 the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) integrated a short course on disaster management into its prescribed curriculum, but other examination boards including state boards are yet to follow suit. In 2012, the University Grants Commission (UGC) proposed an optional paper on disaster management in undergrad education and recommended disaster management in orientation and refresher courses offered by teacher training colleges.
However as always, there™s been a glaring failure to take these proposals and suggestions forward and implement them in the country™s 1.40 million schools and 35,000 colleges. According to Census 2011, 21 percent of the total population is in the 5-14 age group ” by no means a negligible proportion of the population. With such a huge percentage of children and youth at risk, minor tinkering with school curriculums won™t suffice. More substantive disaster risk reduction systems need to be devised. Some suggestions: Identifying disaster-prone schools. Regular enumeration of schools and publication of maps identifying schools in each state and Union territory by the Census of India and National Sample Survey Organisation will help education officials at the block and cluster levels learn about (i) number of children studying in schools sited in disaster-prone areas and (ii) ascertain the number of students migrating or dropping out annually.
Mapping schools. Digitised maps and satellite images published by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) and National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO) must be made available to education officers at the block and district levels. With the help of maps and images, they can prepare disaster management plans for schools within their jurisdiction.
Affix accountability for school safety measures. It must be made obligatory for education officials at block and cluster levels to collect and analyse information relating to the number of children within their jurisdictional ambit and conduct school safety audits and devise contingency plans for managing disasters.
Training for disaster management. Apart from ad hoc short programmes to train teachers and education officials, programmes devised by NGOs and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) need to be offered by higher education institutions to prepare young professionals to work with schools to provide a better and safer environment for future citizens.
The time has come for anticipating natural disasters to protect children proactively rather than reactively.
(Dr. Saswati Paik is assistant professor, Azim Premji University, Bangalore)

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