Vanuatu: Tackling the impact of natural disasters by building a resilient education system
- Tropical cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu in 2020, destroying hundreds of schools and disrupting learning for thousands of students.
- The cyclone’s widespread destruction combined with the effects of COVID-19 are greatly affecting the country’s education system.
- With support from GPE, Vanuatu is making strides in increasing its resilience to natural disasters so that children can continue to learn during future crises.
“The cyclone came and broke parts of the school, at the kindergarten and class 1 and 2. It broke some of the double-story classrooms, and took out some of the roofing from class 4B,” explains 11-year-old Paolo, a student at Santo East School.
Paolo’s school was among the approximately 885 schools that were partly or entirely destroyed on April 6, 2020, when tropical cyclone Harold, the second most powerful cyclone on record to hit Vanuatu, made landfall. The cyclone caused widespread damage of infrastructure and livelihoods, and nearly 51,000 students and 2,400 teachers were directly affected.
Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Vanuatu faces frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The annual cyclone season, regular droughts and floods also make this country one of the world’s most vulnerable to natural hazards, which pose a constant threat to the continuity of education.
As well as the aftermath of the cyclone, Vanuatu has been dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the country had experienced only a handful of reported cases of infection, the government temporarily closed schools in 2020 to protect vulnerable populations and avoid a possible spread, which would compound the already significant challenges posed by the cyclone.
Strengthening the education system
These recent crises have underscored the importance of better preparation for similar emergencies and potential school closures.
In 2020, GPE allocated two grants to Vanuatu: the country received just under US$500,000 in accelerated funding to support the education system’s recovery from the cyclone and $750,000 in accelerated funding to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as preparedness for future crises that might necessitate school closures.
In 2021, Vanuatu received a further $3 million from GPE to consolidate its efforts to support education continuity during and after disasters.
The programs supported by GPE’s accelerated funding aligned with the Tropical Cyclone Harold Education Emergency Response Action Plan, developed by Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education and Training in collaboration with the Education Cluster, and were designed to be complementary.
Coordinating the program initiatives with national and international responses also ensured that efforts were not duplicated.
With GPE’s support, more than 7,600 teaching and learning materials have been distributed to preschools damaged by the cyclone so that the early education curriculum can continue to be taught.
These materials include posters, teacher resources, story books and learning games for at least 70 early childhood education centers. To promote equity, children with disabilities have been provided with adapted versions of these materials.
Furthermore, 87 primary schools affected by the cyclone have been provided with water tanks, ensuring hygienic practices, and helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard the health of students. Thanks to GPE’s support, an estimated 13,800 students and 560 teachers have benefitted from clean drinking water and handwashing facilities.
A focus on bolstering at-home learning and inclusive education
When children and caregivers have access to home-schooling materials and proper guidance, they are more likely to continue learning during school closures. They are also better prepared to come back to school once facilities reopen.
With this in mind, the GPE COVID-19 grant complemented the ministry and UNICEF’s efforts to create home-school packages: 930 play-based packages were printed for preschool students and 15,960 packages were printed for primary school students in the three national languages.
To support some of the most vulnerable students, 720 large-print versions were produced for children with visual disabilities.
GPE funding supported the production of radio and SMS lessons to accompany the home-schooling packages, promoting inclusive and effective home learning practices.
Broadcast lessons emphasize inclusion, psychosocial support and child protection and allow for quick adapting to changing response messages. These have been uploaded to the ministry’s website for rapid use in future emergencies.
Parents play a key role in supporting their children’s learning, and GPE supported the production of home-school guidelines for caregivers. These guidelines are designed to be easily understood by caregivers with low literacy levels, and include messages on how to support effective home schooling for children.
The GPE COVID-19 grant has also funded emergency replenishment to primary schools that exhausted their annual school grant due to emergency measures taken during the school closures. Over 400 primary schools have benefitted from the GPE grants, helping the schools to reopen safely and continue operating.
Ensuring education continuity
In addition to the two emergency grants, Vanuatu has received US$3 million to consolidate its efforts to support education continuity during and after disasters. This grant supports the country to ensure that schools continue to provide a safe learning environment, operate effectively, and are prepared to support students in the event of further closures.
The GPE-funded program runs until 2023 and is ensuring that:
- Pre-primary and primary students have improved access to appropriate reading books
- Pre-primary and primary students with disabilities have improved access to inclusive education
- Pre-service support for teachers is strengthened.
GPE’s support to Vanuatu is helping the government mitigate the risks of school closures due to emergencies such as natural disasters or pandemics. By building a resilient education system, Vanuatu will be better prepared to ensure its children do not stop learning.