Nepal one year on: slow progress leaves huge numbers of children still out of school

Children's welfare after natural disasters, Education in emergencies

A Nepalese schoolboy sits among the rubble of a destroyed school in Bhaktapor Picture: A World at School/Claire Wilkinson

When the massive earthquake rocked Nepal one year ago today, the immediate response was search and rescue – digging through the rubble for survivors.

In the days that followed, the urgent humanitarian need for the 2.8 million people affected was food, water, shelter and medicine. But very soon thoughts turned to getting children back into school as quickly as possible.

Why? Because education gives children a safe place to play and learn, where they can start to recover from the trauma.

It protects them from the threats of child labour, early marriage and trafficking – a particular problem in Nepal – that can ensnare out-of-school children. And it gives them a sense of normality when all around is chaos.

“Children are desparate to be in school,” said Claire Wilkinson, senior communications manager for Theirworld, the children’s charity behind A World at School.

She went to Nepal recently to see what life is like now for children and to help in the making of an amazing virtual reality film about their plight, which was viewed 80,000 times in the first four days after being published. Watch the film below. And find out how to get the best experience while viewing this 360-degree video.

Even where there is still a school standing or a temporary school, Claire explained: “Some are walking long distances, six hours a day, to get to a school. Because there are fewer schools, children are travelling even longer distances in unstable landslide-prone areas. 

“Many are scared to take these journeys and so do not return to school. But others show absolute determination because they want to have the chance to rebuild their own lives and have a better future.” 

The earthquake immediately left almost 1.4 million children out of school – 700,000 of them girls vulnerable to trafficking, early marriage of being forced into domestic work.

Several hundred thousand have been in temporary learning centres or have been given education materials – but a huge number remain out of school. There are no current official figures but it could be as high as one million.


On April 25, 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal – killing almost 9000 people, destroying or damaging more than 30,000 classrooms.

It was followed by a second huge quake on May 12 that caused more damage and added to the havoc in the lives of children and their families.

Entire streets, like this one in Bhaktapor, were destroyed by the earthquake Picture: AWAS/Claire Wilkinson

In the wake of the disaster, $4 billion in aid was raised. An A World at School “scorecard” on education in emergencies last month revealed that less than 6% of that was earmarked for education.

Worse still, just 47% of the education target was realised and only 31% of children were actually reached by appeal funds.

So far, no schools have been rebuilt or repaired by the government. The Agence France-Press news agency reported: “After months of bickering, the government finally established a National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in December to oversee rebuilding and distribute funds.

“Until then, rebuilding had effectively been put on hold because the government had instructed people to follow specific quake-resistant designs to qualify for aid – but had not released the blueprints.

“Even aid organisations that had started to rebuild schools and health facilities were told to pause their efforts until the new body could review them, a process that took months.”

Some of those aid organisations last week called for rebuilding efforts to be speeded up, with reconstruction just starting in many areas and three million people living in temporary shelters with tarpaulin roofs.

A temporary classroom built from bamboo in the grounds of a damaged school in Kathmandu Picture: AWAS/Claire Wilkinson

One of them was Save The Children, which said: “A large number of schools not only have to be rebuilt, but they have to be built back better and safer than previous models.”

The charity Plan International agrees with that sentiment. Mattias Bryneson, Country Director for Plan International Nepal, said: “Building schools and repairing the thousands of classrooms that were destroyed is central to children’s development, the health of their communities, and Nepal’s ability to move forward.”


Muna Tamang, who moved from her home in mountainous Sindhupalchowk District to Kathmandu before the earthquake, told how about 80 girls have disappeared from the area.

The 16-year-old said: “Many girls went missing from the village after the earthquake. They must have been lured by traffickers.”

Lakpi, 16, is from the Sindhupalchouk district, one of the areas worst affected by the first earthquake.

Children are delighted to be back at school, like this one in Kathmandu Picture: WAS/Claire Wilkinson

She said: “I was very sad when I saw the school destroyed. I had been coming for three years. I was worried about my future. I had not felt that sadness before.”

Now she walks past dangerous landslides each day to get to a temporary school housed in tents.

Sharmila, a 12-year-old girl with visual impairment, has been living in a tent with 11 other girls in Tupche village, 80 miles from the capital Kathmandu.

She goes to a boarding school which was destroyed, along with the children’s home.

Sharmila told the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF: “Things have changed a lot but we all need to get along and live together – and we need to keep learning.

“That is the advice I get from my teacher.”

Children make a dangerous river crossing in Dhading district Picture AWAS/Lauren Ciell


Plan International has built 310 temporary schools for 21,000 children in communities where schools were destroyed.

It intends to build 20 new schools and repair 1600 other classrooms – these will be “safe schools,” built with disaster-resistant construction and reinforced with emergency preparedness training for students and teachers.

Nepal’s government had declared a moratorium on construction until new national standards for building and construction are developed.

Mr Bryneson added: “Plan International is ready to start construction on these new safe schools. We just need the go-ahead. A year is too long for children to be spending in temporary classrooms made of bamboo and tarpaulins.”

Claire from Theirworld said: “They are OK as a very temporary solution – but not long-term. Schools had to close during the rainy season and on a windy day in the mountains they close because the tent structures are unable to cope.”

Temporary schools or Temporary Learning Centres (TLCs) have provided education for thousands of children since the earthquakes.

A temporary learning centre in place of a destroyed school in the mountainous area of Sindhupalchok Picture AWAS/Lauren Ciell

Save the Children and its partners constructed 586 TLCs for 193,000 students in nine of the worst affected districts.

The charity also supplied education materials, teaching-learning kits and back to school bags.

With funds from UNICEF, Finn Church Aid (FCA) has constructed TLCs for nearly 20,000 students. It will also repair partially damaged but structurally safe school buildings and tear down unsafe ones.

FCA Nepal Country Manager Lila Bashyal said: “FCA continues to provide psychosocial support because even after one year of the massive earthquake, due to continued aftershocks, teachers report that earthquake survivor children are still traumatised with high levels of psychological and academic distress.”

Among other charities working on the ground is SOS Children’s Villages, which has provided 9000 students with resources including uniforms and school supplies. 

Boys wait for their friends to cross a river on their way to school in Dhading district Picture: AWAS/Claire Wilkinson


Last year, more than 80 million children around the world had their education disrupted by emergencies – that includes conflicts, natural disasters and health cises such as the Ebola outbreak. Of those, 37 million were forced out of school completely.

While the funding needed for education in emergencies has risen 21% since 2000, donor funding has fallen by 41%. In 2015, less than 2% of all humanitarian aid went to education.

A World at School and its supporters have been leading the way in calling for a special mechanism to be set up to deal with funding education in emergencies.

The platform will be launched at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey next month. To ensure this is a serious turning point, it must commit to providing at least $2 billion in funding, reaching 20 million children annually within the first five years, and with a plan to reach all children by 2030.

You can read more about A World at School’s report on education in emergencies titled Don’t Leave Them Out.


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