In the terrible heat of Nepalganj, sweat-soaked students study under tin roofs in narrow rooms. The fanless rooms are so hot and crowded that students faint on occasion. As soon as the teacher leaves the room the students go and take shelter under trees or cluster around taps to cool off. Indeed, many schools simply teach under trees. Sarita Budathoki, teacher at Gyanodaya Upper Secondary School, explains: "Since the students refuse to stay in the rooms, we've had to conduct classes in the shade of trees." (see pic)
Last year, temperatures soared to nearly 43 Celsius, and this year has been no different. But the tin roofs of classrooms are not just unsuited to the hot days. They offer little insulation against the chilly winters, and it's well nigh impossible to hear teachers when it rains. Even so, three fourths of Banke District's 300 schools have tin roofs.
Ekdev Panthi, chairman of Nepal National Teacher's Association, explains this is a direct result of the Education† Department's bad planning. Incredibly, the department has decreed that all school buildings in the Tarai should be roofed with tin. This is not simply for homogeneity but, as Madhu Bali of the District Education Office says, "It's because of budgetary and technical shortfalls, and also to mitigate the risk from earthquakes."
It's not as if the Education Department is unaware of the problem. But it continues to build schools with the same design: this year 22 four-room and 27 two-room buildings are under construction, all with tin roofs. The government contributes 60 per cent of the costs, while 40 per cent is raised from local sources. Says Chief Engineer of Banke's Building Construction Division Office, Suroj Paudel, "Thirty per cent more funding would allow the building of proper schools with proper roofs."
There are alternatives. The group, BASE in cooperation with the Danish charity MS, has built dozens of schools in Banke and Bardiya using insulating mud architecture that keeps the classrooms warm in winter and cool in summer. See: 'Better climate for schools', #425.
Feeling words, SURESH RAJ NEUPANE