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School Safety

© UNESCO/ Jair Torres
Primary School in Bolikhamsai, Laos

UNESCO is truly engaged in empowering schools and their communities in the identification of the hazards and risks they are the most exposed to, their vulnerabilities and their capacity to manage them.

Disasters have a major impact on children, youth and education systems. Studies of disaster trends and the likely consequences of climate change suggest that each year 175 million children are likely to be affected by natural hazard related disasters alone. In January 2010, some 38,000 students and 1,300 teachers and education personnel died in Haiti. The Ministry of Education offices were destroyed along with 4,000 schools – close to 80 % of educational establishments in the Port-au-Prince area. During the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, approximately 10,000 students were crushed in their classrooms and more than 7,000 school rooms collapsed.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, adopted on 18 March 2015 at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, calls for the strengthening of disaster resilient public and private investments, particularly through structural, non-structural and functional disaster risk prevention and reduction measures in critical facilities, in particular schools and hospitals and physical infrastructure.

Moreover, the United Nations General Assembly, adopted on 25 September 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda, which comprises the Sustainable Development Goals and targets calls Members States and International Organization to “upgrade education facilities in order to provide a safe and effective learning environment” (Goal 4.a) as a way to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

© UNESCO / Jair Torres
Capture of an interactive map showing the results of school assessments using the VISUS methodology in El Salvador.

In order to support different countries in the development and implementation of concrete action plans for safer schools, UNESCO, other major UN agencies and non-governmental organizations committed to disaster risk reduction joined the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES). The Alliance, which UNESCO co-chairs while hosting the secretariat, promotes a comprehensive approach to DRR education based on three overlapping areas of focus (pillars):

  • Safe School Facilities
  • School Disaster Management
  • Risk Reduction Education

The goals of this Comprehensive School Safety (CSS) framework are:

  • to protect children and education workers from death and injury in schools;
  • to plan for educational continuity in the face of expected hazards;
  • to strengthen a disaster resilient citizenry through education;
  • to safeguard education sector investment.

Moreover, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) is facilitating action with GADRRRES members to promote coherent and coordinated action on school safety globally. In this spirit, the UNISDR has coordinated the development of a Worldwide Initiative for Safe Schools (WISS) as a global umbrella partnership programme for school safety implementation that encompasses key safe school initiatives in support of resilient educational facilities, school disaster management and disaster risk reduction and resilience education. The WISS which was launched in the framework of the Sendai Conference; it has been endorsed by GADRRRES members and has resulted in the political commitment of 21 “Safe School Leader” countries to implement school safety on the ground. It is expected that more countries will commit to WISS in the coming months. WISS focuses on motivating and supporting Governments to develop national strategies and implement school safety. The Initiative builds on the Comprehensive School Safety Framework mentioned previously.

Science for School Safety

©UNESCO\Jair Torres.
A team of lecturers, researchers, practitioners and student are conducting school safety assessment by field survey as part of their training in the VISUS methodology for school safety. Bandung, Indonesia (2015).

UNESCO’s Unit on Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience is working in the design of an International Programme for Assessing Safe School Facilities. The programme aim to provide decision makers and the educational community with practical information concerning the risks affecting educational infrastructure (multi-hazard approach) as well as, practical information that allows decisions to be made on the investment needs and areas of concern where this investment should be prioritized.

In close collaboration with UNESCO, SPRINT-Lab researchers at the University of Udine in Italy developed a specific technical-triage methodology named VISUS. This safety assessment methodology facilitates the decision-making process in the definition of rational and effective safety-upgrading strategies, and allows decision makers to take science based decisions on where and how they may invest their available resources for strengthening the safety of schools, their students and teaching staff in an efficient and economical manner. Due to the specificities of the VISUS methodology, the methodology has been recently adopted by UNESCO and has been positively tested in prototype projects in El Salvador, Laos and Indonesia.

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