Thousands of children across typhoon-hit Mindanao island in the southern Philippines will return to school on 14 January, more than a week later than schools elsewhere in the country, as officials struggle to get education back on its feet.
“Never before have we had to deal with devastation of this magnitude. But we need to establish some kind of normalcy for the children,” Dodong Atillo, a communications officer with the Department of Education, told IRIN.
A state of national calamity was declared by President Benigno Aquino on 7 December. The opening of schools after Christmas was delayed as many schools were being used as evacuation centres.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 569 schools, both primary and secondary, were damaged or destroyed by the storm, resulting in US$24.5 million worth of damage; 231,681 students were affected.
While classes will resume in schools that were partially damaged, children whose schools were totally destroyed will be taught in tents erected outside, UNICEF said.
“What we see is the devastation of the entire education system, not just damage to classrooms,” said Yul Olaya, a UNICEF emergency education officer from Davao.
In the municipalities of Boston, Cateel and Baganga in Davao Oriental, there are only two schools left.
“There are some areas where schools are now totally gone. This sends a signal to children that they can’t [ever] go back to school again,” Olaya said.
In response, aid agencies and development groups have set up tents as temporary learning spaces for informal children’s play sessions. Using drama, song and dance, children are encouraged to talk about their experiences. Gathering the children in temporary learning spaces is also a way for education officials to track and count the children as well as check on their health.
Typhoon Bopha (local name Pablo), struck Mindanao on 4 December, affecting more than 6.3 million people and leaving an estimated 2,000 dead or missing. More than 200,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
According to the latest information from the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 13,940 people were still in 87 evacuation centres, as of 25 December, while more than 900,000 were living in the ruins of their homes or staying with host families.