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Education for building resilient communities

/ 01:39 AM November 08, 2014

It took 10 days for Raul Basa, principal of Cabalawan Elementary School in Tacloban City, to get to his school after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013. The huge amount of debris left by the record-breaking typhoon blocked all roads.

When he reached his school, Raul’s heart sank at the sight of two totally collapsed classrooms and seven partially damaged ones of the total 14. Even the school gate and perimeter fence were blown away.

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After checking that none of his teachers had perished in the typhoon, Raul looked for ways to keep his school functioning.

With help from Unicef, the government and private groups, classes resumed in just three weeks in hastily repaired classrooms with tarpaulins serving as temporary roof. Some classes had to be held in tents, causing one teacher to collapse from the heat. Teachers held classes in two shifts so all the students could be accommodated in what remained of the damaged classrooms.

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Raul said he expected repairs to be completed by yearend and classes to return to normal then.

Now a reality

And as devastating as Yolanda was, natural disasters that wipe out lives, endanger health and security and threaten livelihoods are now a reality for many countries throughout East Asia and the Pacific (EAP). A 2013 World Bank study said 40 percent of floods worldwide from 1980 to 2011 hit EAP countries, and 1.6 billion people in the region had been affected by disasters since 2000.

Along with being the most disaster-stricken region in the world, EAP is also saddled with various forms of conflicts within countries and among communities. Indonesia’s 29-year separatist conflict in Aceh, Myanmar’s (Burma’s) four decades of insurgencies, the Philippines’ two longstanding conflicts over land and autonomy issues in Mindanao, and Papua New Guinea’s and Thailand’s prolonged separatist conflicts are just a few of the many cases of strife that deny millions in the region peaceful and productive lives.

Within the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (Seameo), the Philippines serves as lead country for education in emergencies, one of Seameo’s main aims in reaching the unreached as countries pursue education for all.

In a regional conference on education in emergencies hosted by Seameo Innotech in December 2013, we saw how Southeast Asian countries grapple with different types of disasters of varying intensities and impact.

In recent years, at least five countries dealt with the haze crisis, while other countries struggled with the steady onslaught of cyclones and floods. As the Pacific Ring of Fire straddles some parts of the region, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis have caused severe devastation. Outbreaks of viruses such as avian flu and H1N1 threatened the region’s public health systems. And making matters far worse are the manmade emergencies, such as those caused by armed conflicts that continue to plague countries in the region.

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A common government response in Southeast Asia has been for interagency bodies to lead disaster recovery efforts. This approach, common in Singapore and Indonesia, for example, is holistic, involving coordination between national agencies and the public.

Within the education sector, the ministries in Lao PDR, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Singapore have formed working groups to help develop disaster resilience. Other countries reported having disaster management bodies at the school-community level. Across the region, efforts in education in emergencies include capacity building toward disaster resilience and response, building safe schools, and developing action plans that aim to lessen school disruption during emergencies.

Raul Basa’s school in the Philippines, back in operation while still reeling from Yolanda, is an example of the kind of difference this type of coordinated approach can make.

Active player

At a recent Seameo Innotech forum, it was proposed that the education sector could be an active player in building a disaster resilient nation by integrating disaster risk reduction (DRR) into schools’ curriculums and extracurricular activities, building capacity on DRR, and continuing to provide uninterrupted learning opportunities during emergencies to soften the impact of disasters on learners.

Meanwhile, Unicef East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, Unesco Bangkok and Seameo are collaborating to develop the “Regional Guidelines for Education Programs and Policies that Promote Social Cohesion and Comprehensive School Safety.” A number of countries in the region have produced emergency preparedness resource materials, manuals, and modules that form the basis of DRR training programs for students, teachers, education officials, and those in other sectors.

Moving forward to promote education in building resilience to disasters and violence, the three groups jointly organized the Regional Consultation on Education and Resilience last Nov. 4-7 at Seameo Innotech in Quezon City. The consultation was aimed at strengthening the capacities of EAP countries in developing comprehensive school safety and social cohesion approaches to address all risks faced by children, schools, communities, and education systems, and reinforcing their total resilience. It brought together different perspectives on education and resilience from representatives of government, particularly in education and in the national bodies tasked with disaster mitigation and management.

As we focus on our work programs, we realize that we need to recognize all challenges—urbanization, climate change, natural hazard and disaster, conflict, and economic volatility—and work through them in a systematic manner. Neglecting any one of these challenges would blunt any potential gains in educating for resilience. Through education, we hope to help build our children’s dreams and shield them from the angry fits of nature and humankind.

Seameo Innotech (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education—Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology) in Quezon City is an international, not-for-profit organization helping to find technology-based solutions to the pressing problems of basic education in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

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