Disaster education

Disasters and Exclusion from Education

By: Saswati Paik
Natural disasters in India are frequent and common. Around 85 per cent of the geographical area in India is vulnerable to natural disasters. Schools get affected every year in these areas. This article has made an attempt to explain how children in disaster prone areas lose access to schooling.
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Natural disasters strike many parts of India, some are seasonal or chronic and also predictable, while few are sudden and unpredictable. Out of 28 states and 7 union territories in the country, 27 of them are disaster prone. Almost 58.6 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes; 12 per cent are prone to floods and river erosion; of the 7,516 km long coastline, close to 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis; 68 per cent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought and hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches (MHA, 2011). Few places have chronic drought issues such as deserts and areas facing seasonal dry spell almost every year. In summer, these places face extreme difficulty in terms of food and water shortage and also overall livelihoods. Disasters include floods, riverbank erosion, cyclones, tsunamis, landslides, cloud bursts, droughts and earthquakes. School children in vulnerable areas are affected in many ways, leading primarily to discontinuation of their schooling.

Disasters impacting schools

According to Census 2011 around 26 per cent population in India is still illiterate, with the percentage among females being higher at 34.54 per cent. A majority of these are school dropouts—the reasons ascribed being complex ranging from poor economic condition of parents, lack of parental involvement, poor relationships between parents and teachers, to parents’ attitude towards the school environment. These factors influence academic achievement of students adding to the burden of illiteracy of the nation. Unfortunately, disasters are never highlighted as one of the causes in already vulnerable sections in terms of their uncertainties in livelihood.

Disasters hit many countries— impact varies

Disasters impact schooling of children both directly and indirectly. The impact of a disaster varies largely on the preparedness of the location specific administration, intensity of the disaster and the scale of damage. Here are a few examples:

  • Hurricane Harvey of September 2017 hit Texas and damaged several schools, which re-opened in a few weeks.
  • Thousands of schools were affected by the earthquake in Mexico on September 19, 2017. About four million students across 10 states could not go back to school for two to three weeks because they did not have safe classrooms. The administration inspected 98 per cent of all school buildings before declaring those safe (Mexican News Daily and CBC News, 2017).
  • The earthquake in Haiti in 2010 destroyed 4,000 schools. The schools opened after three months (Greubel et al, 2012).
  • After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the first elementary school in New Orleans reopened after three months (Greubel et al, 2012).

Schooling of children is impacted in developed countries due to lack of preparedness. In comparison, despite the destruction of schools in Japan, following the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake in 2011, where several lives of teachers and children were lost, classes commenced in disaster-proof and multi-hazard resilient buildings just after a week (Greubel et al, 2012). This shows the scale of preparedness of a country.

Developing countries however, need more time to recover from the damage. By the time the schools restart, several children discontinue schooling due to the socio-economic impact on their families. In a recent article in August 2017 by a United Kingdom based news agency ‘Independent’ it was stated that in South Asia, two million children were kept out of schools due to disasters. “Severe flooding and landslides in Bangladesh, Nepal and India have prevented around 1.8 million children from attending schools across the region. At least 18,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed by floods, and thousands of schools are being used as emergency evacuation shelters. Save the Children warned that it is putting children’s education and long-term well-being at risk.”

Magnitude of disaster impact on schools and schooling in India

In India, there are more than 1.4 million schools and about 28 per cent of the total population is of schooling age. Also as per 2014-2015 District Information System for Education (DISE) there are 197,666,909 students enrolled in India. Given the magnitude and spatial scale of disasters faced by the country, it can be inferred that to what extent school children may get affected by disasters (Pal and Shaw, 2017). Thus, the number of children facing disruption in schooling is not very negligible.

In most flood prone areas, the schooling process gets disrupted due to: (i) school remaining completely shut down in floods, (ii) school becoming community shelter for several weeks or even for a month, (iii) school’s access roads getting badly affected, (iv) children’s parents experiencing complete or partial damage of their houses and other properties, their livelihood becoming uncertain and education thus becoming a ‘luxury’. Once the school reopens after the floods, many children from affected households find it hard to return to schooling as they either have to work as labour, or need to take care of siblings as family members get into additional economic activities. Also, in many places, people migrate. Disaster victims in fact have been documented to even sell their children in the face of tragedy. Children are smuggled regularly on the Indo-Bangladesh border areas where flood and riverbank erosion are frequent.

600 villages in Uttarakhand were severely damaged in 2013 by the flood leading to schools shut down or used as rehabilitation camps in many affected areas. Few school buildings also got completely damaged and some villages were completely abandoned after the flash flood due to the extent of damage. Even 5825 school buildings were damaged in Odisha due to cyclone Phailin. In 2014, around 4484 villages of four districts in coastal Andhra Pradesh were affected by the cyclone Hudhud that damaged 317 primary and secondary schools. Also, numerous schools remained closed in Srinagar for over a month after the flood. In 2015, numerous schools remained closed for more than a month in Chennai City too during and after the flood in December. In 2016, 22 districts of Assam were affected by floods and schools were closed in this state as well as in some parts of other states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand due to the flood (Pal and Shaw, 2017). Thus, the seasonal or continuous disruptions due to disasters cause a setback to the educational achievements of children.

Disaster impact on schooling: Few questions

The impact of disasters has accelerated through time due to increase of population, expansion of settlements and many unplanned interventions in both in the rural and urban areas. On the one hand, the number of schools and enrolment has increased across the country, on the other hand, dropout has remained a concern. Table 1 shows the average annual Drop-Out rate in school education in India for period 2011 to 2014.

Though drop-out rates have decreased for primary school students, the drop-out rate is a reason of concern in case of upper primary and secondary school students. There is an increase of 1.12 per cent in drop-out rates in upper primary students from 2011-12 to 2013-14. The rate is already very high in secondary school which has increased significantly from 14.54 per cent in 2012-13 to 17.86 per cent in 2013-14. It is a very significant increase of 3.32 per cent.

A few observations that arise are:

  • Despite the knowledge about the scale and frequency of disasters in India, dropout rates are not interpreted in the backdrop of disaster impact.
  • There is a provision of taking stock of death of cattle, damage of houses and more after such a disaster in India – but there is no provision to take a stock of schools, the extent of damage to schools and the number of children dropping out in the affected areas immediately after disasters.
  • Despite a huge diversity in terms of terrain and climatic conditions across the country, academic sessions follow the same annual calendar in all states and union territories. The academic session begins in and around May-June every year and flood season starts in July-August and sometimes continues till October. In case the monsoon fails it causes drought till the end of the year. It is thus obvious that for almost 2 to 5 months, depending on location and scale of damage in a particular year, children face an annual pattern of disruption in schooling. However, the expectations from children, as far as their learning outcomes are concerned remain the same and the examination system is also well-regimented.

Disaster Education | Identifying children in various zones of exclusion

The Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE), a Research Programme Consortium supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), has developed a model of zones of exclusion from education (Lewin, 2007). The zones are described in the table 2.

This framework can be used as a tool for policy dialogue. The largest numbers of out of school children in many countries including India lie in zone 2. But many children in disaster prone areas in India also belong to zone 3, 4, 5 and 6 as per the situation they face. Educational policy makers must consider a way of identifying these vulnerable children who belong to various zones of exclusion as mentioned in this CREATE recommended framework.


CBC News, 2017. Searchers keep digging as Mexico City reopens just 1 per cent of schools after earthquake. September, 25.

Greubel, L., Ackerman, X., and Winthrop, R., 2012. Prioritizing Education in the Face of Natural Disasters. Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2012/10/31/prioritizing-education-in-the-face-of-natural-disasters/

Lewin, K.M., 2007. Improving Access, Equity and Transitions in Education: Creating a Research Agenda. Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE), University of Sussex, United Kingdom.

Mexico News Daily, 2017. 4 million students are without classrooms. October, 25.

MHA. 2011. Disaster Management in India. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. New Delhi.

MHRD. 2016. Educational statistics at a glance. Ministry of Human Resource Development

Department of School Education & Literacy, Government of India. New Delhi.

Orsi, P., Verza, M., and Salomon, G., 2017. New Earthquake Shakes Mexico City as Death Toll Climbs to 305. Time, September, 23.

Pal, I., and Shaw, R., (eds.), 2017. Disaster Risk Governance in India and Cross Cutting Issues. Springer, Singapore.

Smith, L., 2017. South Asia floods: Two million children shut out of schools by disaster. Independent, August, 31.

The author is Faculty, School of Education, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. saswati@apu.edu.in

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