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10% of a population affected by a disaster will develop serious psychological trauma (WHO)
Read about CBM's Inclusive Emergency Response

When back to school is not so easy – inclusive education in emergency settings

Landslide in the southern Leyte province / Philippines, 17th February 2006, Distribution of relief goods in a classroom of the central school.
As children in many parts of the world returned to school for a new year of learning this September, children living in countries where conflict is on-going or where natural disasters have destroyed schools faced additional barriers. From the perspective of conflict zones, UNESCO estimates that 28.5 million children were out of primary school 2013, including children with disabilities. In a conflict zone, children, including children with disabilities face unnerving barriers to education every day preventing them from reaching their true potential. Attacks on schools, teachers, and students force children to leave the school or just attend sporadically, oblige schools to cut their hours, and often destroy school buildings and materials. In many cases schools can be turned into shelters leaving no space for education. Learning in this environment becomes severely diminished.

Similarly, a natural disaster can result in learning environment for children being affected. Loss of lives, loss of school buildings and the use of schools as emergency shelters in times of emergency response all impact negatively on children’s access to education which has longer term socio-economic impacts. For example, Cambodia which was hit by floods in 2001 and 2002 estimated a loss of $US 161 million with schools severely damaged and loss of life of children [1]

Why education is important in emergency and humanitarian contexts

The International Network for Education in Emergencies asserts that education is critical for all children, but it is especially urgent for the tens of millions of children affected by emergencies, be they man-made or natural disasters. As conflicts now last an average of 12 years and natural disasters and their frequency impact on education, education is no longer just seen as a priority for long-term development but also important in humanitarian settings. Education is known to mitigate the psychosocial impact of conflict and disasters by giving a sense of normalcy, stability, structure and hope for the future [2].

What about children with disabilities educational needs in humanitarian settings

Children with disabilities have the same educational needs as other children in humanitarian settings. They require some sense of stability and normality however their inclusion in humanitarian responses in general can be overlooked and this is also true for education. The access barriers that children with disabilities face to education become even more intensified in times of humanitarian emergencies. Structural damage to schools, transportation, roads and paths, adapted learning materials destroyed, loss of supportive teachers and family members all impact negatively on access to education for children with disabilities.

What can be done to improve access for children with disabilities to education?

1.    Work with the local disability organisation to identify children with disabilities in the area
2.    Ensure that the temporary place for education is accessible to children with disabilities and support secure transportation needs
3.    Adapt teaching methods to ensure that children with disabilities can participate
4.    Be open to children with disabilities having a family member or friend present to support them when required
5.    When reconstruction starts, make sure the school building is accessible to all children with disabilities (see short case study below)
6.    Make sure that children with disabilities have equal access to safe spaces and recreation facilities in emergency shelters

Working together to rebuild inclusive and accessible education

Once the immediate needs after the Typhoon were addressed, CBM and its partners started with the recovery and reconstruction initiatives, this included rebuilding schools and houses with an emphasis on ensuring strength, permanence and accessibility. One such example is the rebuilding of the Carles School, which was run by a partner of CBM, RBI (Resources for the Blind) and was destroyed by the Typhoon. The school has recently been rebuilt and is ready to be furnished. The children (and their families) are excited about it. Most have a difficult journey just to get to school. They walk (or are carried) across rice fields, then, once they reach the road, travel on small motorbikes.

CBM and RBI are rebuilding 11 more resource centres like this one. They will provide the opportunity for individual specialised education, and facilitate mainstreaming into regular classes.

[1] ADPC (2008) A Study on Impact of Disasters on the Education Sector in Cambodia
[2] International network for emergencies in education 

More reading

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Hashem Ghazal and his 2 children talk about their experience as deaf persons during the Gaza crisis.


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