Disasters and fragility of the education system | Political economics



More than 16 million children have been displaced, more than 20,000 schools partially or totally destroyed, more than 3.5 million students deprived of access to education. This is the most immediate impact of the recent floods on Pakistan’s fragile education system. The long-term impact has yet to be felt.

If past history is any indication, when a calamity of the magnitude of the 2022 floods strikes, it takes years to rehabilitate and rebuild the infrastructure that has been washed away. The last batch of schools destroyed in the 2005 earthquake were rebuilt only last year, after a lapse of 17 years. Education has often been treated as an afterthought and has never been closely linked to national development and the sovereignty of the country, despite being a matter of national security and supreme national interest.

The main reasons for this glaring gap are the lack of political will and incentives to work on education, a dire lack of financial resources and inherent inefficiencies in the system.

Faced with the new challenges posed by the floods, it is extremely frustrating that although Pakistan has witnessed multiple calamities over the past two decades, the education system has neither a disaster management strategy nor the capacity to respond with viable solutions for displaced persons. students. Every time a calamity strikes, the education system collapses.

This is abject criminal negligence on the part of the state. For once, there should be a general responsibility to respond to the convention of violation of Pakistani children’s constitutional right to education. Support from non-state actors also requires major disruptions and a well-considered makeover. The current model of development assistance through donors has certainly not had much impact on the capacity and performance of the education system. Unless that specific area sees dramatic improvement, there is no point in investing in anything else.

Based on previous experiences, we do not expect fully destroyed schools to be reopened anytime soon. In their absence, there is no alternative mechanism to get children into school, who immediately after the pandemic are once again affected by indefinite closures.

Prolonged school closures are directly proportional to acute learning losses for students. Andrabi, Daniels and Das’ study found a gap of 1.5 to 2 full years of learning loss among children after the 2005 earthquake, where students were out of school for 14 weeks in mean. Later research showed that these children, as adults, earned 15-18% less than they should have earned for the rest of their lives as a direct result of unresolved post-disaster learning losses.

Let us now take this information to address what the impact of the lost level of learning would be for students who were already struggling to catch up in school after the pandemic where the first wave of school closures across the country lasted 25 weeks. unprecedented. The vast majority of Pakistani children during this period had no access to education. A year after schools reopened, the state was still racking its brains to assess the extent of the learning losses suffered during the pandemic and devise a plan for remedial learning. Then the floods hit.

With this new calamity, a significant number of children whose learning had stopped during the pandemic are once again reliving the uncertainty of a future that seems too good to conquer. Having witnessed widespread death and destruction, having perhaps lost family members and friends in the merciless torrents, locked in unfamiliar environments with the baggage of post-traumatic stress, these children, at least for now , were literally left to their own devices.

Admittedly, meeting the needs of children in a humanitarian response is not an easy task, the lack of immediate donor priority vis à vis education, lack of access to affected areas and limited or no data on the specific educational needs of affected children make the challenge all the more difficult. However, there are several important practices that can be learned from the experiences of Pakistan and other countries during natural disasters.

To begin with, the education system must have a strong disaster risk preparedness and management component built into it. This would essentially include the ability of the system to systematically and quickly collect data on the extent of damage to school infrastructure, the number of children in need of education (including those who were not part of the education system formal school but who are in school, and the number of teachers whose physical and mental health allows them to return to their jobs.

Such an assessment is often followed by actions that address the most immediate needs of children in the aftermath of an emergency, that’s to say, the provision of a safe environment in which they can express themselves and begin to have normal social interactions. This is important to build their resilience and address their protection needs through education programs. Training teachers in inclusive psycho-social first aid for children is paramount in this effort.

Beyond the humanitarian phase of the response, the slow but steady resumption of normal educational activities initially through temporary learning centers is important to meet the learning needs of students during the uncertain interim period before schools are ready to reopen their doors. However, too much reliance on temporary learning facilities can prove counterproductive in the long run. Consequently, the mobilization of sufficient funds to undertake a comprehensive reconstruction of damaged or destroyed school infrastructure must be a priority of the State as much as any other component of the reconstruction phase.

For such a systematic response to materialize, we must first go back to building the capacity of the system and enriching it with a comprehensive education sector-specific preparedness and contingency plan. This plan should be locally informed and adapted to the specific context of the area it is intended to cover.

The problem is not that there are no solutions available to deal with the education crisis resulting from emergencies, but that there is not enough will in the system to make amends. If there is one common thread in the response to past disasters such as the 2005 earthquake, the 2010 floods and the 2020 pandemic, it is that the system has failed to put our children first. The underfunded and lethargic system cannot be left to handle this crisis with the same apathy that has been inflicted in the past.

Moiz Hussain is a development professional working on girls’ education with Malala Fund

Areebah Shahid is the Executive Director of Pakistan Youth Change Advocates (PYCA).

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