By Angela B. Thaung
YANGON, Myanmar, 3 June 2008 – A new school year has begun as children head back to classes, just one month after Cyclone Nargis damaged or destroyed more than 4,000 schools in Myanmar.
UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and local communities have been working together to distribute building materials to schools that were damaged or destroyed by the cyclone. Essential school supplies, learning materials and recreation kits for primary schools also have been distributed.
Dressed in school uniforms, the children – some accompanied by their parents – strolled into the lane leading towards Post Primary School No. 32 in Hlaingtharyar township, one of the worst affected areas in Yangon division. The children, excited by this return to normalcy, began to arrive at six in the morning, an hour before classes were scheduled to start.
‘Thankful to UNICEF’ for materials
Some students and parents helped the school to reopen by carrying benches into the classrooms. As some were still registering, other children looked for their friends or sat on the benches awaiting their lessons.
“I am very thankful to UNICEF,” said school principal Daw Khin Thandar Aung. “UNICEF provided us with 200 roofing sheets, two sets of School-in-a-Box, and a recreation kit. We also received 5 roofing sheets for building an extra latrine.
“These supplies have allowed us to repair the roof in time, and today I am glad to know that 95 per cent of the registered students are attending school,” the principal added.
First-grade students on the first day of the reopening of State Primary School No.11, Yangon, where there are over 120 students in the classroom with just one teacher.
Sense of security
In any disaster, the opening of local schools is an important recovery measure. Children in particular rely on their daily routines for a sense of security, including the routine of attending school.
“Getting children back to school is an essential step in helping children recover from distress and improve their quality of life,” said UNICEF Representative in Myanmar Ramesh Shrestha.
“I am very happy to be back to school as I can meet my friends and teachers, and I can study again now,” said Kyaw Myo Khine, a fourth-grader at State Primary School No. 11, also in Hlaing Tharyar township.
Not all children in Myanmar can head back to school just yet. Due to the extent of damage in the hardest-hit areas, the Ministry of Education has delayed the opening of schools in seven townships in the Irrawaddy division and in one township in Yangon division.
Parents face new challenges
Parents in Myanmar traditionally place a high value on education. The estimated national net primary school enrolment rate is 80 per cent for boys and 92 per cent for girls. Education is considered a priority across different socio-economic, ethnic and political groupings, and amongst all levels of society.
Unfortunately, the disaster that lashed some parts of Myanmar on 2 May posed new challenges for many parents. In the midst of dire hardship, some children from poor backgrounds will likely drop out of school in order to help their families cope.
As a single mother who came to enrol her two daughters in school put it: “My elder daughter, who wants to go to the ninth grade and dreams of becoming a lawyer, will have to quit schooling this year. She needs to find a job and help our family overcome the hardship.”
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