Earthquake aftershocks extend university closures

Nepal’s academic calendar from the school to university level has been thrown into uncertainty by the devastating earthquake and the strong aftershocks that have shaken the Himalayan nation over the past three weeks.

All academic programmes postponed since the first April 25 quake have been put on hold for at least the next two weeks while examinations from higher secondary to masters level have been postponed for an indefinite period.

The devastating April earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale has so far caused 8,217 deaths, including 32 teachers, and injured over 21,000.

The government has mobilised a squad in every district, led by engineers and other technicians, to examine the condition of academic and administrative buildings and to evaluate the destruction.

A preliminary rough calculation by the Ministry of Education indicates that education-related buildings have seen damage worth Rs25 billion (approximately US$245 million) in the disaster.

Following the strong aftershock of a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale that rattled a number of districts in central Nepal on 12 May, the government has decided to close all schools until the end of the month. It previously said classes would resume from 15 May. However the further destruction and panic unleashed by Tuesday's strong aftershock compelled the government to extend the closure.

The government authorities agree the closures could have a long-term effect on the academic calendar and subsequently students’ career plans. "The mega disaster has crippled all sectors and education is no exception," said Lava Deo Awasthi, chief of the Division of Planning at the Ministry of Education. "This will definitely affect our academic calendar though we will try to adjust by reducing our festive vacations."

He said that students and teachers are still traumatised by the continued strong jolts, and aftershocks are posing a threat to buildings, therefore it is not safe to resume classes.

Tribhuvan University, the largest university in the world in terms of enrolment, said on Wednesday 13 May it was postponing all bachelors and masters examinations in addition to extending the shut down until 5 June.

Kathmandu University, the country’s second-largest university, which had resumed classes last Monday, extended the closure date until 13 June after the major 12 May jolt.

Similarly, grade 11 and 12 examinations for secondary students that would have been completed by now are still hanging in the air. The delay will also affect the release date of results. Students hoping to enrol in undergraduate courses overseas will suffer the most as they may have to wait for one more year.

"I am sure the delay is going to hamper my career plans," said Arjun Bhandari, a grade 12 student from Columbus Higher Secondary School in Kathmandu hoping to study for a bachelor degree in the United States.

The unprecedented disaster in the country has directly affected the study of more than 80% of the country’s 8.4 million school and university students, including some 541,000 studying at university level at academic institutions in 44 affected districts.

Ministry of Education records show some 15,003 classrooms at 5,800 public schools in 44 districts have been destroyed by the earthquake followed by strong jolts, in addition to 500 private school buildings.

Similarly, 16 departments of Tribhuvan University, including the offices of the vice-chancellor, rector, registrar, examinations controller and the deans, have now been reduced to rubble. Some 14 constituent colleges and 223 affiliated colleges have been fully or partially destroyed.

The ministry has directed all academic institutions across the country to provide psychological counselling to teachers before resuming classes. Teachers have been asked to allocate a week for similar counselling to their wards.

The ministry has also directed all private schools to carry out a survey of their buildings before resuming classes to ensure there is no risk to students from collapsing school buildings.