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Typhoon-affected schools slowly reopen

MARABUT, 10 December 2013 (IRIN) - Schools in typhoon-affected areas of the Philippines are slowly reopening and thousands are resuming classes one month after the category 5 storm struck, giving these children a much needed sense of normalcy. Millions of pupils have had their education disrupted due to schools being severely damaged or used as shelter.

“We want to resume classes. We just don’t know how,” said Noel Lombres, principal of the Marabut Central elementary school in Samar Province, where 468 children aged 5 to 11 years of age once attended classes. Three of the school’s 15 classrooms were blown off their foundations, and 12 no longer have roofs since Typhoon Haiyan first made landfall in the town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar province on 8 November, leaving over 5,900 people dead and more than 1,700 missing.

‘Soft reopening’

Starting on 2 December, the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) began what is being termed a ‘soft’ reopening of its schools. International partners are providing support that includes using tents as makeshift classrooms and setting up other temporary learning spaces to provide safe and protective environments for children, along with psychosocial support, continuation of learning, and an opportunity for communities to come together.

"It’s important that the children get back to school in order to resume their normal lives,” Luisa Bautista, regional director for Region VIII, one of the three worst affected areas, told IRIN in Tacloban. The region has six provinces - Leyte, Southern Leyte, Biliran, Northern Samar, Samar and Eastern Samar - where an estimated 676,000 children have had their education disrupted.

Over the past week, thousands of children in her region have returned to classes, but given the sheer scale of the devastation, schooling remains suspended in many areas. Formal classes are expected to resume in either the first or second week of January 2014, Bautista confirmed.

Displacement

More than 4 million people remain displaced, including 103,604 still being housed in 386 evacuation centres, while the rest are staying with family and friends, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) said on 10 December.

Thousands of others are living in the open in makeshift shelters they have put up near their destroyed homes.

Schools continue to be used as evacuation centres, including 97 in Samar and Leyte, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

Preliminary estimates of the damage to the region’s education infrastructure stand at more than $52 million, according to the NDRRMC, but assessments are ongoing.

According to the latest DepEd figures,14 out of 57 school divisions in Region IV-B, VI, VII and VIII in central Philippines were the worst affected, making them the priority areas of response. Prior to the storm, 669,097 children attended elementary school in this area, while 264,372 attended secondary school. Of the 54 percent of schools assessed in these regions, 4,500 classrooms were damaged or destroyed, with debris-clearing in many schools still needed to allow temporary learning spaces to be set up.

Four-phase strategy

In collaboration with international partners, the Philippine authorities have a four-phase strategy for reopening schools, including the activation of offices and personnel tracking; personnel care; back-to-school; and longer-term rehabilitation.

The education cluster’s strategy, led by UNICEF and Save the Children in support of the government’s efforts, aims to restore access to education and early childhood development services for over 500,000 children and youth in the most affected areas.
Teachers affected

But not just the students need assistance. “It is extra difficult for teachers because they themselves were victims," said Yul Olaya, an education officer with UNICEF, noting the need for additional psychosocial support.

The DepEd said some 30,000 teachers, mostly women, in the 14 worst affected school divisions will need additional psychosocial support to deal with the aftermath of the storm; a number likely to increase as more schools are assessed.

"They [teachers] were looked up to as 'super-heroes' by their students,” said Rachel McKinney, the Save the Children cluster head for education. “Now, when everyone has been affected, it will tear them apart, because they want to take care of their children... We have to encourage them to meet regularly and talk about issues and to support each other.”

Teachers returning to their jobs are likely to encounter some children who manifest out-of-character behaviour, including depression and hyperactivity, according to UNICEF. "Teachers need to be able to draw lessons from the experiences of children surviving the tragedy, which is more important than 10 textbooks combined,” Olaya said.

"These are hard and real experiences, and the job of the educators is to be able to transform negative experience to positive learning. These [lessons] will be used by children, for them to become stronger and resilient persons."

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Theme (s): Education, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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