“Those were desperate times. We were not sure the school would survive at all.”
This is how one of the members of the School Management Committee of the Jalakanya Basic School in Okhaldhunga District in eastern Nepal describes the period immediately following the 2015 earthquakes. Student numbers had taken a dive. Parents had started transferring their children to private schools, and even those who were still enrolled were far irregular.
Need of the hour
How transitional learning centres helped keep children in earthquake-affected communities in the classroom in the wake of the disaster
The construction of a transitional learning centre (TLC), however, changed all that. Built as part of a joint USAID-UNICEF project to restore education in areas impacted by the earthquake, the TLC offered a safe learning space for Jalakanya students. In fact, things are going so well that the school is planning to add another grade in the coming year.
Similar success has been reported from all around the nine districts where 250 such structures have been built. Not only have these TLCs enabled children to continue their studies, but also provided much-needed leeway for school authorities to undertake permanent reconstruction of the classrooms and other infrastructure destroyed in the earthquakes. That process is expected to take a few years in many schools.
Construction time for a TLC is relatively short – they take around 45 days to complete. Each TLC has room for two large, airy classrooms, built to last for at least three to five years.
These structures have proven especially crucial for smaller institutions like Jalakanya with low student numbers that do not have the option of merging with other schools, but that are nonetheless essential to the communities in which they are located.
“There was talk of our school being merged with another school when the buildings were wrecked in the earthquake,” says Lal Bahadur Jirel of Bajyusthan Basic School in Jiri, Dolakha. With the TLC, however, the community was able to keep the school. “If the merger had happened, many students would have had to walk three hours every day back and forth to school.”
For Ram Lama, an eighth grader at the Bansanghu Secondary School in Sindhupalchowk District in north-eastern Nepal, it is far easier to focus on his lessons now that they’ve moved into the TLC. “We were studying in bamboo shacks, and classes were constantly being disrupted by rain and wind,” he says. “Now we’re able to hear what the teacher is saying more clearly and really pay attention.”
Mandira Kafle, who teaches at the Parijat Basic School in Okhaldhunga District, says it’s a delight to come to work now. “We weren’t sure what it was going to be like when they first started construction, but when we opened the doors and saw this space, we were so surprised,” she says. “The classrooms are so nice, sometimes I wish I had something similar in my house!”