Quake was a learning experience for Nepal’s schools

At the edge of Tika Vidyashram School in Sanepa rises a new, three-storey building, much bigger than the one damaged in the earthquake. The classrooms are airy, bright and spacious, the staircases are wide and there is even a balcony that overlooks the grounds.

The government school was built 70 years ago with traditional mud mortar and bricks, and had to be demolished after the 2015 earthquake.  The new blocks have been designed and built with reinforced concrete to be earthquake resistant, as well as to provide a child friendly, comfortable environment.

“The old school was dark, and the students looked gloomy. But the new classrooms provide a much better environment for children, and even the teachers are happy with the improved facilities, which means a better learning experience,” says principal Bimala Lamichhane. Like Tika School, many government schools in the earthquake areas have not only been rebuilt, but they have been built back better.

Read also:

Shaking up the health sector, Sewa Bhattarai

Lessons Unlearnt, Editorial

Tall order, Sewa Bhattarai and Prakriti Kandel

Tika School’s reconstruction is financed by loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to the Nepal government. The main academic block of the school now has nine rooms, a building for science practicals is being erected nearby with four large rooms spread over two floors that will house a library, science lab, computer room and music room.

Tika School is among 8,000 schools undergoing reconstruction after being damaged in the earthquake. A majority of them are government schools and follow similar earthquake-resistant designs created by the Central Level Project Implementation Unit under the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA).

Engineers from the District Level Project Implementation Unit (DLPIU) oversee the construction and ensure that quality is maintained. The NRA says 4,201 of the damaged and destroyed schools have been rebuilt while 2,619 schools are under construction with help from various donors like JICA, USAID, and private groups.

Read also:

Nepal’s traditional seismic resistant designs, Sheilin Teo

Building back cheaper and stronger, Sapana Shakya and Aman Raj Khatakho

One private group working to rebuild schools is Sustainable Future, which uses non-traditional building technologies that are said to be environmentally friendly and earthquake resistant. Two schools destroyed in the earthquake, Dwarpaleswor and Bageswori schools of Kavre district, are being rebuilt using rammed earth technology.

Sustainable Future is also involved in the project that is using the same technology to expand Bayalpata Hospital in Achham, a facility run by the organisation Possible under a public-private-partnership with the central government. Sustainable Future collaborated with Namaste Nepal in building Bageswori school.

“Rammed earth uses locally available mud and minimal cement to construct the walls of the schools, making the buildings better suited for the local climate,” explains Narayan Acharya of Sustainable Future. Cement is used in the upper and lower tie beams so that the vertical and horizontal rods going within the mud walls are well connected. This makes the buildings stronger than traditional reinforced concrete structures.

“At first we thought 'How can we build a school out of mud?', but we realised that there were huge benefits,” recalls Shiva Prasad Bajgai, chairperson of Dwarpaleswor School Management Committee. “It is hot here in the summers and very cold in winters, and the mud architecture has insulating properties.”

Read also: Class Struggle, Prakriti Kandel

To the north in Sindhupalchok, the Bhote Namlang Secondary School was also completely destroyed during the earthquake and was reconstructed with the support of Helambu Education Livelihood Partnership (HELP). The school now has 22 rooms: 12 were newly constructed, 4 were retrofitted and 6 additional rooms were built by the DLPIU.

Bhote Namlang school serves as the education hub of its community, and it was the local people who took charge of the reconstruction, with help from New Zealand  and UK-based organisations. The school was reconstructed using local skills and material without any contractors. Architects listened to the local people’s needs before submitting their design. The school's frame structure ensures that it is earthquake resistant.

Read also:

Nepal is being loved to death, Anil Chitrakar

Nirmala Pariyar's 2nd life, Ramu Sapkota

Bhote Namlang has 675 students, and faced a shortage of classrooms and furniture for four years after the earthquake. But today, there are bright modern classrooms, and the students are happy, says Jimmy Lama of HELP, adding that now new sections can be added to accommodate more students.

Apart from being earthquake resistant, many of the rebuilt schools now have much better infrastructure than they did before 2015, allowing them to focus on improving the quality of instruction.

The only problem is that with accelerated outmigration after the earthquake, the villages are being depopulated and there are fewer children. The hope is that with better schools, some of the families who have migrated to the cities may actually return.

Says Bajgai of Dwarpaleswor school, “Now that we no longer have to worry about infrastructure, we are thinking of expanding the school to Grade 10 and investing in better teachers and improved quality.”

  • Most read