Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who thinks and talks about the children?

Every time, I witness a disaster or its emergencies, I wonder what has happened to schools and the students and teachers who occupy them. The inundation of Memphis and areas within the flood plains of the Mississippi jolts this wonder. Where are the students? It is a question no one asks.

Recently, I attending a workshop on Dominica's earthquake readiness designed to produce an action plan to improve readiness. One of the facilitators presented a scenario in which a 7.9 earthquake jolts Dominica at 11:30 am on a Tuesday morning with a cruise ship in port. I listened as the lone Ministry of Education representative at the workshop as participants described the grim outlook - buildings damaged, evacuation issues in Roseau, loss of power, water, lives and the long and hard response and recovery processes.

I interjected, (until then no one mentioned the children in school. Most of those in the room were parents) that at that time of the morning about 14,000 children and their teachers would be in schools - schools that were not designed along standards for seismic risk and impact reduction, teachers and schools that were untrained in disaster or earthquake response through drills and exercise and unprepared for response; schools without guidelines on what to do and where to assemble in the event of earthquakes. Basically, they would not know how to protect themselves and the students under their charges. Such a dilemma arose in 2008 during the Schuchan earthquake in China in which 10,000 students died, trapped in schools that simply collapsed and probably following the now common practice duck, cover and hold or go under the desk. In the midst of that mayhem, a geography teacher, quietly led his class outside in the open, saving everyone of them because as a Geography teacher, he knew and understood that the orderly evacuation of classrooms is the first and essential step for saving lives during earthquakes.

Floods are less dramatic, more predictive and liek hurricanes can be monitored with updates to threatened areas. The Mississippi Flood are recurrent, not with the degree of frequency with which hurricanes traverse the East Caribbean but certainly with sufficient regularity to know to take pre-emptive action, to have in place frameworks and procedures for dealing with children's education during emergencies of this nature. As in the case of Dominica and earthquake readiness, no one it seems but educators thinks about the children. We ought to be thinking about them because our future security depends on the security of our children.

Recently, I posed the question to my academic advisor, why it is that no one thinks and talks about the children? "Selfishness," she said. We think more of ourselves, preoccupied with us and busy looking after us that we miss the children, we overlook them, we do not think about them and so they are placed at risk. I keep searching for the Mississippi children in the literature and reports on the 2011 floods and they are not there. No one is thinking or talking about the children, it seems. Are we indeed selfishness?

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