Attendance was encouraging on the first day children returned to school Sunday, 37 days after the devastating earthquake rocked Nepal.
The month-plus unscheduled holidays have come to an end. But the tremors have not. Amid aftershocks striking every single day, children in most Valley schools not only managed to bring smiles back to their faces, but also boosted the confidence of their teachers about continuing with the classes.
Five-year-old Arman Khan had gotten admission to nursery class at Durbar High School in the first week of Baisakh, when the new academic session started. But his first day of classes took place only on Sunday. No one asked him to read or write anything. All he had to do was sing and dance along with other children.
At this oldest school of the country, the children paid no attention to the collapsed infrastructure and instead enjoyed the cultural program at the Temporary Learning Centre set up by the school.
Rojina Lama, 13, and her 11-year-old brother Kumar were witness to many old structures collapsing in Thimi on April 25. And their home in Dhading district is now only a memory. But all that was not enough to keep the siblings away from their Adarsha Secondary School at Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.
“We are happy to come to school and hope to resume our studies soon,” they said while walking in the streets of Thimi.
School teacher Roshani Shrestha at VS Niketan Montessor shared that those who came in the morning crying also seem to have forgotten everything and were playing happily.
For eight-year-old Younish Shrestha, it was a little different. The paper-made ‘smiling’ hairband did not match his expression. About the reason for his sadness, he said, “I enjoyed the holidays and wished they could be extended for more days still.” Roshani explained Younish’s attitude in terms of general child psychology and the tendency to keep avoiding school when there has been a long gap.
Sixth grader Rahul Yadav of SOS School, Sanothimi says he found the earthquake-related information at schools quiet boring.
“We have been facing earthquakes every day and watching the awareness messages on TV and the internet and it was boring to see the same things repeated at school,” he said. Rahul’s mother Bina nodded and suggested that the schools impart quake-related education in a more interesting way.
Less than half of students attend at most Valley schools
Around 70 students made it to Durbar High School where the enrollment was around 225 during the last session. Out of 1,000 students, hardly 350 reached Nobel Academy at New Baneshwor.
Nobel Principal Rishikesh Wagle said most of the students who have gone to the districts with their families are yet to return.
“It is mainly children who have gone to their homes outside the Valley who are yet to return,” said Wagle.
At VS Niketan Montessor at Tinkune, 87 out of the 200 toddlers managed to come, whereas 250 out of 500 students at Suryodaya School attended.
PABSON, an umbrella organization of private and boarding schools, said that around 40 percent of students came to school. But the numbers are expected to increase gradually as the guardians see more and more children doing so, said PABSON Chairperson Lachhya Bahadur KC
PABSON has estimated that around 15 percent of the children might not return to the Valley following the quake. KC said this was no bother for private schools, which would soon begin classes in full form as per the interest shown by students.
“The senior class students have shown interest in returning to full-form classes,” said KC. If the aftershocks become milder, schools would resume formal classes for grades 9 and 10, he mentioned.
The Department of Education (DoE)said that most of the schools managed to gather students in their makeshift classrooms for amusement and extracurricular activities, as earlier planned, to help them overcome the post-quake trauma.
“We have received good vibes from the badly-devastated districts and this has encouraged the government to gear up for full fledged classes soon,” said DoE Director Khagendra Nepal.
Stressed guardians wait outside for children
Though some schools such as St. Xavier’s at Jawalakhel restricted media from the school premises, guardians were allowed to accompany their children to the classrooms.
Some of the schools engaged the guardians also in their activities, and in most schools the guardians waited outside for more than two hours until the school wrapped up for the day.
At the premises of Suryodaya School at Dillibazar and at Maitidevi-based Universal Academy, which was damaged by the quake, the guardians could manage a smile on seeing their children singing and dancing.
Engineer Shambhulal Kayastha took his eight-grader granddaughter Bhumika to Nobel Academy from Koteshor. This was the third time Kayastha has been to the school within a week.
“The green sticker at the building did not reassure me untill I examined the infrastructure myself,” 60-year-old Kayastha told Republica while waiting for Bhumika at the school premises.
Nobel carried out yoga, meditation and cultural programs alternatively, dividing the students into different groups. Guardians witnessed similar activities from a distance at VS Niketan as well.
Like many, Sunita Maharjan said that fear of strong tremors during school hours prevented her feet from leaving the school area.
The author is education journalist with Republica English National Daily in Nepal. She originally published it in Republica and blogged for ELT CHOUTARI.