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Picking Schools

Thursday Bishnu and I sat down with the National Society for Earthquake Technology- Nepal’s (NSET) deputy director, Surya Acharya, pick schools to visit, without cherry-picking.

We were tempted. Bishnu and NSET staff first vied for schools they remembered well and for government schools with the heaviest damage.

It’s certainly easy to choose schools that make headlines. Schools wrought with spectacularly crumbled columns or entire floors pancaked into the thickness of an arm. But, this study needs to be representative of the whole event, not just the the outliers. We needed to sample without bias.

To decrease our bias, we only looked at school names and enrollment numbers. We systematically chose schools located in heavily damaged districts that were built with earthquake safe measures or were retrofitted — not knowing their damage level. Then, we found government schools and schools retrofitted by other agencies.

The process took several hours, and it wasn’t easy. Some of the hardest hit districts, places I wanted to visit, were immediately nixed because NSET didn’t have any schools in the area. Other places, NSET had schools, but the shaking was minimal. Surya said we couldn’t go to the Rasuwa in the far north because landslides made the roads impassable.

In the end, we carefully selected two schools that NSET retrofitted a decade ago, when the organization was inexperienced, two more recent programs (where they had expanded their work to include community engagement and training) and two schools where they had served only as advisers. The last two school projects were managed by the Asian Development Bank.

Pairing was easier, but NSET’s often works on secondary schools, which couldn’t be compared to smaller nearby primary schools. Sometimes the closest secondary school far away. meaning that the shaking and soil conditions might be quite distinct. We had to abandon some of our early choices and start over several times.

Near the end, I was dissatisfied because we chose only schools for one very rural, or remote, community. I asked again about the roads far out in Rasuwa and Surya gave a call out to the district offices of education. He smiled, giving me a thumbs up as he chatted with his counterparts in the north. The road out to Dhunche was clear.

They found a set of schools out in a small town that fit our need. Though we we will pass through a landslide zone on the commute, the village is safe from and we won’t be spending the night. This gives landslides less of a chance to block our access out. I’ll be bringing my go bag and a hopefully my hiking boots just in case we need to walk out over a landslide scarp on our way back.

Now we have 12 schools identified in sets of three. Two are in the Kathmandu Valley and two are in the hills.

We’ve called the first set of schools here in Kathmandu and they arranged meetings with the headmaster, parents association, and lead masons starting on Sunday. I’m simultaneously excited and apprehensive. I still need to finalize questions for the masons and Bishnu and I need to figure out how to manage meetings in a jumble of English and Nepali.

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