There is growing recognition within the disaster response community that education and the restoration of education services following a crisis is a critical component of any response plan. Safe educational opportunities and child-friendly spaces can be life sustaining and provide physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection to children.

  • In fall 2019, about 56.6 million students will attend elementary and secondary schools, including 50.8 million students in public schools and 5.8 million in private schools.
  • Schools are safe spaces for children during and following a disaster event, and provide:
    • A sense of normalcy and protection against harm;
    • A place for the delivery of other vital services to children and their families;
    • A venue for coordination between multiple sectors to reach medium and long-term recovery goals;
  • Recent experiences with natural disasters, in-school violence, acts of terrorism, and the threat of pandemic flu and diseases demonstrate the need for schools to be prepared for all-hazard crisis events;
  • Children often spread learning to their families and communities about preventing disasters and managing risks – educating a child is also educating a family;
  • The time after a disaster provides a unique opportunity for communities to assess infrastructure risks and rebuild schools in a better way;
  • It is important to recognize that teachers may also be experiencing complex practical, social and emotional challenges in the wake of a disaster;
  • Disasters may interrupt, preclude or create extensive challenges for students with regard to end of term exams or other major testing;
  • Many school districts do not have the capacity to access grant funds or effectively use available monies along with balancing the need to plan, acquire emergency equipment and staff training.

Watch the UNESCO Education for Disaster Preparedness video.

Innovative Practices

Philanthropic organizations can support education restoration by:

  • Fully assessing infrastructure risks and rebuilding schools to be disaster resistant and safe for students and community members in future disasters.
  • Providing support for students and teachers to complete end of term exams or other major testing.
  • Training teachers in psychosocial support for children to make classroom environments as supportive as possible.
  • Funders should support school access to national, state and local grants for emergency-management planning.

What Funders Are Doing

The following are examples of innovative practices and grants that philanthropic organizations have supported, developed and/or implemented regarding education.

As part of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the following grants have been distributed in support of education:

  • $105,000 to the Agape Community Center in Atlanta, Georgia to support “Camp in the Box” for students enrolled in Camp Jump Smart (K-2). Participants in this program will receive a new box every two weeks that will allow them to enjoy the education and fun of Camp Jump Start at home during COVID-19.
  • $50,000 to Baton Rouge Community College Foundation to provide technology to support remote student services — laptops, software, remote meeting capacity (i.e. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) — for faculty and staff, along with training for all constituents to help fulfill the mission of Baton Rouge Community College.
  • $50,000 to George’s Scholar Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, to provide summer and fall programming to minority students, including the Reading Rocket program for grades 1 through 8, and Project Ready for college and career prep.
  • $250,000 to Project HOPE to support the implementation of their next phase of Project HOPE’s COVID-19 Healthcare Preparedness and Response training program. To expand the reach of the program, Project HOPE will set up virtual training teams to meet the increased demand from the global health care community and convert the training into eLearning modules, allowing frontline health care workers and public health professionals to access the content on their own time.
  • $110,000 to Public Broadcasting Atlanta to ensure people are informed and equipped to safely return to work and social activities, covering emerging hotspots and focusing on public policies that address economic and health equity. Additionally, the project will provide vital academic support by sustaining free tutoring for students most impacted by remote learning and other disruptions.

StartSmall LLC donated $725,000 to the Kakenya Center for Excellence to support distance learning and supplies for girls in Kenya while schools are closed due to COVID-19. Kakenya’s Dream invests in girls from rural communities in Kenya through educational, health and leadership initiatives to create agents of change. Their mission is to create a world where African women and girls are valued and respected as leaders and equal in every way.

In 2019, the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation donated $75,000 to the Coral Bay/Gifft Hill School in St. John on the U.S. Virgin Islands. This grant allowed Gifft Hill to expand their tuition assistance support to more of its students and to increase their enrolment by over 80 new students. This additional tuition assistance allowed the students’ families to focus on rebuilding after a devastating 2017 hurricane season.

The Bea & David Zack Memorial Foundation provided a $2,500 grant in 2018 to the Karam Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois to develop innovative education programs for Syrian refugee youth. Many of the young people who have fled Syria and other complex humanitarian emergencies have not had stable educational opportunities for most, if not all, of their lives.

The California Community Foundation provided a $13,985 grant to Park Century School in Culver City, California to provide disaster response education. Educating students about disasters early in life helps them to be more resilient and better prepared for them. A recent survey in Australia found that 88% of Australians between the ages of 10 and 24 thought they were not taught enough about relevant hazards and disasters. “Brigid Little, a senior project officer at the Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience which led the survey alongside World Vision, said formal education did not yet link the study of natural hazards to local environments or building community resilience. ‘We have a responsibility to support young Australians to develop the skills and knowledge to take protective action before, during and after an emergency or disaster,’ she said.”

Key Takeaways

  1. Schools are considered safe havens for children.
  2. Children spend a large part of their time in school, so whether a disaster occurs before, during or after school hours, the school district plays an important role in the response and unfolding of events following a disaster.
  3. Schools play a central role in disaster management by teaching children risk reduction and preparedness.
  4. Pay attention to the needs of teachers as education services are restored as they will likely be experiencing both personal and professional challenges following a disaster.

Further Reading

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