The devastating earthquake that struck Nepal last Saturday demolished ancient cultural sites, wiped entire towns off the map, cut off access to many remote villages and killed more than 5,000 people – a number that is likely to continue rising as aid and relief efforts reach more rural areas.
The damage to the country’s educational system, from primary through university level, was also severe and has alarming long-term consequences.
An estimated 5,000 schools were destroyed in the earthquake, putting the education of hundreds of thousands of children at risk, according to Save the Children.
In the northern district of Gorkha alone, Save the Children estimates that as much as 90 percent of the district’s 500 schools were destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquake, affecting 75,000 students. Gorkha, close to Nepal’s border with Tibet, is where the epicenter of the quake was located, and relief efforts have struggled to reach families in the distant, mountainous area.
"Nepal's children will need the help of the international community to rebuild 5,000 destroyed schools and repair those that have been damaged -- otherwise, this disaster threatens to deprive thousands of children of their basic right to education for months, or even years to come," said Roger Hodgson, Deputy Country Director for Save the Children in Nepal.
"A routine school environment is one of the best ways to return children to a sense of normality and to talk about their experiences with their peers, helping them to recover from the trauma of the disaster."
Many children and their parents have continued to sleep outside, under makeshift tents or tarps, afraid of going back into their houses in case another earthquake or aftershock strikes.
According to the United Nations, the 7.9-magnitude earthquake affected 8.1 million people and has left 1.4 million in need of food assistance.
Schools throughout the country are likely to remain closed well into May, or much longer, depending on the extent of the damage to the buildings. On Sunday, the Nepalese government ordered schools to stay closed for the week.
Today, officials updated that announcement, deciding to keep all schools and universities in the 11 districts most affected by the earthquake closed until May 14.
Hari Lamsal, a spokesperson for Nepal’s education ministry, said school and college buildings would need to be inspected before classes could safely resume, and that the inspection process was expected to take at least 15 days.
In the hard-hit capital of Katmandu, the main administrative building of Tribhuvan University, which serves one of the world’s largest student populations, was completely destroyed. The offices of university officials, including the rector and vice-chancellor, also collapsed.
Established in 1959, Tribhuvan is Nepal’s oldest and largest university, with 60 constituent and 1,182 affiliated colleges serving close to half a million students, or about 90 percent of the country’s 541,000 university-level students. Preliminary reports suggest that at least nine constituent and 25 affiliated colleges, many of them in Katmandu, are partially or completely damaged.
Dev Raj Adhikari, the university’s registrar, said all academic activities had been suspended, and would not resume until facilities had been fully inspected.
"There has been unimaginable destruction," he said. "We cannot start our academic activities without first assessing the damage."