One month on: Classes in Myanmar resume
By: Angela B. Thaung
Yangon, 2 June 2008 -- Exactly a month after cyclone Nargis damaged and destroyed over 4,000 basic education schools in Myanmar, children are back to school today as the new school year began.
UNICEF, the Ministry of Education, and the communities have been working together to distribute repair materials to schools either damaged or completely destroyed by the cyclone. Essential school supplies, learning materials and recreational kits for primary schools have also been distributed.
Dressed in school uniforms, children – some accompanied by their parents – strolled into the lane leading towards the compound of post primary school no. 32 in Hlaingtharyar township, one of the cyclone affected areas in Yangon division. The scene creates a normalcy of school life as seen before the cyclone hit Yangon. Children are so keen to come to school that they started to arrive at six in the morning, an hour before class resumed.
Some students and parents helped the school’s preparation to reopen by carrying benches into the classrooms. Some were still registering themselves, while others were either looking out for friends or already in the classrooms ready for lessons.
“I am very thankful to UNICEF,” said Daw Khin Thandar Aung, principal of the school. “UNICEF provided us with 200 roofing sheets, two sets of school-in-a-box and one set of recreation kit. We also received 5 roofing sheets for building an extra latrine. These supplies have allowed us to repair the roof in time, and today I am glad to know that 95% of the registered students attend school,” she added.
In any disaster affecting the whole communities, the opening of local schools is an important recovery measure. Children particularly rely on their daily routines for a sense of security, including the routine of attending school. “Getting children back to school is an essential step in helping children recover from distress and improve their quality of life,” said Ramesh Shrestha, UNICEF Representative in Myanmar.
Not all children in Myanmar can go back to school today. Due to the extent of damage in the hardest hit areas, the Ministry of Education has delayed the opening of schools in seven townships in the Irrawaddy division and one township in Yangon division to start a month later.
Parents in Myanmar traditionally place a high value on education. The estimated national primary school net enrolment rate is 82% for both boys and girls. Education is considered a priority across different socio-economic, ethnic and political groupings, and among all levels of society. However, the disaster that lashed some parts of Myanmar on 2 May 2008 brings with it challenges to many parents.
As many families are in dire hardship, some children from poor families will likely drop out of school in order to help their families. A single mother who came to enrol her two daughters said, “My elder daughter who wants to go to the ninth grade and dreams to become a lawyer will have to quit schooling this year. She needs to find a job and help our family overcome the hardship.“