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It's Complicated

With each conversation I have and report I read, the post-disaster school assessment kaleidoscope in Nepal seems unfold further.

Dr. Rachel Davidson, of the University of Delaware, just returned from EERI’s Nepal earthquake reconnaissance mission. When we chatted, she mentioned how surprising it was to learn that most children in the Kathmandu Valley attended private schools. With little funding, and too few schools, the public schools are crowded and insufficient in meeting demand. Now the valley has over a thousand private schools, but only about 700 public schools.

Many of these private schools are in shops, converted to classrooms. I could see these private schools, often with prestigious-sounding English names, popping up everywhere when I zoomed into the schools map. My colleague, Bishnu Pandey, told me of some of these schools have thousands of students a piece — others are tiny operations tucked into top floors of apartment buildings or relegated to shops’ back rooms.

Private schools are quickly finding their own way through the recovery process. They are gathering funds from parents of their students and purchasing supplies to build temporary classrooms. These temporary spaces are simple wood frames wrapped in tarps, but they provide a space for children to get off the streets and back into a routine. Whether the tarps will withstand the coming monsoon is yet to be seen.

The eclectic mix of private schools makes the government’s job of school assessment even more challenging. I spoke with, who will be training the Ministry of Education staff to conduction detailed damage assessments of schools. Staff have already tagged many of the schools with green or red tags — signalling whether people can enter the building or not. A detailed damage assessment is the next step, in order to decide whether the school can be repaired, retrofitted, or whether it must be torn down and reconstructed.

In some senses, public schools are easy to assess. They come in similar shapes and building materials, which are referred to as building typologies in engineering jargon. Arup and the Ministry engineers will be able to teach Nepalese assessors to quickly identify the typology, and the damage level of each building.

This is a monumental task. The shear logistics of training staff, coordinating travel to thousands of school sites across the country, and getting all the data uploaded to a single place is overwhelming, especially for people who have also personally just experienced earthquakes.

But what of all these private schools? How do we develop an efficient method for assessing them when each is unique?

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