The children had just started getting their new textbooks in the first week of the new academic session, and there was excitement at studying in a new grade. That was when the earthquake struck. The children’s books, along with the family members of many of them, got buried in the rubble of the devastation.
When school resumed at May-end, as many as one million children had their own stories of suffering to share. Over 6,000 schools were damaged. A few of the students got to sit inside makeshift classrooms in the initial days after the quake while many others had to manage in the open.
The children’s suffering did not stop there. The protests in the tarai districts triggered by dissatisfaction over the demarcation of federal provinces kept the children out of school for another 100 days from August to November.
In the earthquake-affected 14 hill districts, children are forced to study inside makeshift classrooms which are almost completely run down by now. Many schools have shifted back into classrooms damaged in the quake, disregarding the red stickers indicating that these are unsafe.
At the same time, students in the tarai are perplexed about their future.
A month after schools resumed in the central tarai, following 100 days of forced shutdown, Kishan Shreevastav wanders around the protest sites in Birgunj at 10 in the morning, when he should have been inside his classroom.
A 10th grader at Shree Maisthan Vidya Pith, Kishan said going to school was a waste of time as the teachers came only occasionally during the last one month.
“I and my friends are taking coaching classes with a private school teacher as our own teachers are yet to start teaching the third chapter in any subject,” said the 17-year-old, showing a lack of interest in going to school even through his SLC board exam is scheduled to start from March 31.
Kishan’s problem is shared by three million students in the eight district of the province 2, where the students were forced to stay away from school following violent protests over the demarcation of the federal provinces. Fourteen-year-old Shayub Kumar Sah is only one of many who have decided never to go back to school.
This is the longest spell in the educational history of the country during which children have been unable to go to school, and the government has failed to show its presence to ensure them the right to attend school.
The setback in the education sector caused by the earthquake disaster, the tarai protests and the Indian blockade are a nightmare for the country
While the Department of Education estimates that it will take three to five years to reconstruct the schools damaged during the earthquake, the costs could go as high as Rs 38 billion. At the same time, the series of violent protests in the southern plains have had a negative psychological impact upon the children. The government is yet to flash the number of school dropouts this academic session. But experts warn that the psychological impact on the children could be as devastating as during the Maoist armed insurgency.
In the hills, children are yearning for a ray of hope for their education and for a better future. In the plains, school-going has suffered, with the involvement of both teachers and students in the protests. Children will have to live for the next decade with the consequences of these sad developments of 2015, experts warn.