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Vicki Francis/Department for International Development;

Chapter 10 Communications, information, education

Schools, disaster education and school safety

Photo: Vicki Francis/Department for International Development;

10.7.1 DRR education in schools

In many countries issues around health, safety, hazards, risk and the environment are incorporated into the formal education curriculum as a way of increasing children’s understanding of risk and teaching them how to prepare for hazardous events and react when they occur. Individual teachers may choose to introduce particular aspects that are relevant to their community. Schools also arrange educational visits to or by local emergency services. The potential value of the school-based approach is obvious. It can reach large numbers of people who are already gathered to learn and are essentially teachable. Children are believed to be more receptive to new ideas than adults and they can influence their peers and parents (see Chapter 5).

Nevertheless, projects working with schools should be realistic about what they can achieve. Ideally, DRR should be presented as a total package equipping children to deal with all hazard and emergency situations, which could be carried into a range of core curriculum subjects, such as science, geography and citizenship. However, this depends on being able to adapt the formal education system to incorporate a broad range of perspectives on disasters, such as adding an understanding of socio-economic vulnerability to conventional teaching about natural hazards. Where the curriculum is rigid and centrally imposed, this may be difficult to change without sustained advocacy.

In many low-income countries, where class sizes are large and teaching resources are limited, teachers may be reluctant or unable to do much to adapt the basic curriculum. The outreach of the formal education system itself may be restricted in places where there is a shortage of schools and trained teachers, attainment and attendance rates are low and certain groups, such as girls and children from poor families, are likely to drop out at an early age.

Emergency managers and national and local NGOs working on disaster reduction could probably be more active in visiting schools, talking to staff and pupils, developing educational materials, running workshops and giving technical advice and support to school preparedness initiatives. This could be through extra-curricular activities such as school assemblies, after-school clubs and competitions (see Case Study 10.4: DRR clubs). A more strategic approach would be to work with teacher training institutions to raise teachers’ awareness of the issues and ways of teaching them. Independent or small-scale initiatives may be adopted at higher level.

Case Study 10.4 DRR clubs

A World Vision project in Ethiopia seeking to integrate DRR into schools found that teachers had little knowledge of the subject, which was not well covered by the formal curriculum. Initially, the project concentrated on training more than 150 teachers and school leaders who then shared their knowledge with other staff in their schools. The second phase of the work focused on children’s empowerment by establishing and supporting extra-curricular DRR clubs comprising children of both sexes, aged from ten to 18. The objectives were to raise awareness among club members, encourage them and support them in becoming peer educators and advocates for DRR education in schools. The club members took part in first aid training, risk assessments, response drills and environmental projects, and they were taught about wider disaster risk issues. After this, they held weekly meetings to discuss these ideas and develop activities for promoting DRR. The project began as a pilot initiative in ten schools, but it then expanded, with clubs and complementary activities reaching an estimated 24,000 teachers, and DRR training becoming a regular part of schools’ extra-curricular activities.

World Vision International, Disaster Risk Reduction and Community Resilience Case Study Series, 2011.

Although there is widespread agreement on the potential value of schools initiatives, there has been little systematic evaluation of their impact. It seems that risk/hazards education at school does lead to more accurate perceptions of risk and better understanding of protective measures. It can also reduce fear of hazards (children appear to be worried about not knowing how to respond to an event). But it is much harder to evaluate children’s subsequent behaviour with regard to risk and risk reduction – still less, whether they have influenced the attitudes and behaviour of their families. It is difficult for educators and disaster planners to judge which approaches are most likely to work well in particular circumstances.

10.7.2 School safety

Disaster preparedness and response can be managed relatively efficiently in the controlled school environment. Teaching and practicing emergency evacuation drills in school does improve the speed and effectiveness of response. All schools should have their own risk and emergency management plans and procedures, including evacuation drills, and should test these regularly.

Sudden-onset hazards can be very dangerous where large numbers of students are collected together. Many school buildings are vulnerable because they are poorly constructed or located in hazardous areas. In 2008, more than 2,000 schools in Myanmar were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis, and in the same year an estimated 10,000 school students in China were killed by the collapse of school buildings in an earthquake.+M. Petal, Disaster Prevention for Schools: Guidance for Education Sector Decision Makers (Geneva: UNISDR, 2008), Fire is a common hazard in schools, requiring safety precautions such as smoke detectors, sprinklers and evacuation planning and drills. As well as improving and expanding teaching and learning on DRR, therefore, safer buildings and school environments are needed. Every school should have an emergency plan and practice it regularly. Some countries hold regular regional or national practices: in Iran, for example, there is an annual earthquake safety drill for all schools.

Ensuring continuity of education in schools after disasters is a major challenge. Buildings may be destroyed or unsafe, teachers dead or injured, and text books, teaching materials and school records lost. Seasonal flooding in many countries forces schools to close down for weeks or even months, disrupting education. School disaster preparedness planning should seek to resume teaching as soon as possible after an emergency. This includes making sure that reserve sets of books and other essential items are kept in safe places.

DRR education and school safety planning should be connected as part of a coherent approach to reducing risk. School governors and managers should take a holistic view of school safety that covers teaching and learning on the subject of risk and disasters; relevant school policies, plans and procedures; the human, material, information and financial resources required; the siting and construction of school buildings; school events and activities; and the local environment (such as the safety of routes children use to get to and from school). They should also work with pupils’ families to promote awareness of safety issues and good practice.+J. Twigg, ‘Staying Safe’: A Conceptual Framework for School Safety (London: UCL Hazard Centre, 2011), In many communities, schools serve more than one purpose. In parts of Bangladesh and India, for example, cyclone shelters double as schools or community centres during normal times. Children’s nurseries or kindergartens may grow food to supplement poor children’s diets, and their capacity to do so can be supported during times of food shortage or crisis.

Box 10.6 Organisations, initiatives and networks for school safety and DRR education

Coalition for Global School Safety and Disaster Prevention Education:

Edu4drr: Effective Education for Disaster Risk Reduction:

INEE: International Network for Education in Emergencies:

Risk RED: Risk Reduction Education for Disasters: