By Carlos Vasquez
Architect, Child Friendly School Designer, UNICEF
NEW YORK, USA, 7 February 2014 – As we publish the 2013 edition of the Compendium of Transitional Learning Spaces (TLS), over 2 million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, making this one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history, with no foreseeable end. The refugee population in the region could reach over 4 million by the end of 2014. Children must endure far-reaching hardships and danger to escape and seek refuge across neighboring countries. This disrupts their schooling and moreover, the most vulnerable children are often disproportionally affected.
Eager to respond to their teacher, children raise their hands during an Arabic lesson at a UNICEF-supported kindergarten in Homs in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Similar conflicts and natural disasters are affecting local communities and marginalized children in many parts of the world today: escalating violence in the Central African Republic is posing a threat to children, where thousands are being recruited into armed groups instead of going to school; the Arab Spring has disrupted access to education for millions of children; and in areas of the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan, about 90 per cent of school buildings were damaged – more than 3,200 schools in all – leaving over a million pupils and 34,000 teachers with no place for learning.
Less than a month after the Typhoon, I was very happy to hear that the Ministry of Education in the Philippines was using the TLS 2011 to budget, program and plan a back-to-school campaign for the hardest-hit children in Tacloban. The TLS Compendium has helped drive the emergency response and enabled partners to rebound quickly and start designing appropriate and cost-effective learning spaces for children and families impacted by the Typhoon.
There is a critical difference between spending money versus investing in education. In Jordan’s Zaatari camp, which hosts nearly 130,000 Syrian refugees, we convinced donors of the long-term benefits of healthy learning environments in emergencies. A TLS is not a stand-alone structure ‘classroom,’ but a holistic learning environment with a set of facilities, including WASH services, areas for external play, internal learning spaces, teacher and staff space and perimeter fencing. In the Zaatari refugee camp, we designed and built three schools to serve more than 15,000 students in two shifts.
The TLS Compendium is predicated on the principles of Child Friendly Schooling, the minimal components to activate healthy learning environments for children. The profound social benefits of this programming are far-reaching. The second edition of the TLS compendium follows the same initiative of the 2011 edition: collect and centralize technical information, develop basic architectural drawings and provide cost-effective recommendations to improve the quality of these spaces in the context of emergencies.