China: Restoring and Improving Education in Earthquake-struck Areas

April 10, 2012

  • The earthquake that hit southwestern China in 2008 affected 47 million people and set back local education --which had already been weak.
  • In Longnan, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake, a Bank-financed project helped reconstruct school facilities and improve education quality as a whole.
  • With the project support, local school principals and teachers got trained on disaster management and on developing innovative teaching methods.

Zhang Jingwen, a primary school teacher from Longnan Municipality of Gansu Province, will never forget the 8-magnitude Wenchuan Earthquake, which struck the region on May 12, 2008 and affected 47 million people in southwestern China – Ms. Zhang was one of them.

When our school building first began to shake, I just looked at the roof and did nothing else. I didn’t know it was the big earthquake until very later,” she said, “this shows that we do lack the awareness of how to respond to disasters.”

The consequences of earthquakes are too dire to be left to instinct, experts say. In this sense, awareness training in earthquake-prone areas could greatly enhance the chances of survival of those affected.

The World Bank, with a grant from Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, recently held a series of training events to improve disaster management for school administrators, principals and teachers from Longnan, including Ms. Zhang. Together, they joined in a drill that simulated a disaster and on-site rescue at the China National Training Base for Urban Search and Rescue.

In addition to disaster management, the same group also participated in workshops on developing innovative teaching methods, including visiting an international school in Beijing to observe best practices.

It is the first time I heard about running dictation and tried it,” she said of a new teaching method she just learned, “it is very playful and creative, which I feel can be definitely put into my class.”

Education High on the Reconstruction Agenda

This program is part of the Wenchuan Earthquake Recovery Project, launched in early 2009 and financed by a USD 710 million emergency loan from the World Bank that aims to restore and improve essential infrastructure and health and education facilities in the earthquake-struck areas, while reducing their vulnerability to seismic and flood hazards.

Longnan of Gansu Province, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake, received US$200- million out of the total loan to “restore production and livelihood of 5,264,800 people affected by the earthquake,” as Vice Governor Feng Jianshen of Gansu Province put it.

In Longnan, most people are living deep in the mountains and even the cities and towns there are remote, isolated and underdeveloped. Education, a key component of the reconstruction effort, had long been slow in development: especially lagged were the local school facilities and equipment.

Damaging over 2,600 schools in the Longnan area, the earthquake four years ago set back an education infrastructure already in need of help. In the aftermath of the quake, a safety assessment rated more than 62% of Longnan’s school buildings as “in need of repair or worse”. The half million students and over 26,000 teachers had to make do with classes in prefab shelters or temporary camps.

To ameliorate this situation, the earthquake recovery project in Longnan supported the reconstruction and expansion of school facilities and equipment, including class buildings, laboratories, dormitories, dining halls, sport fields, and bath houses.

Among the five secondary schools and two vocational and technical schools financed by the World Bank, two have completed reconstruction. The rest are also expected to finish this year.

Before, a lot of the schools in my county were make-shift adapted from dilapidated temples. Now, the most magnificent buildings you spot in the county are school buildings!” said Mi Wanming, party secretary of a village in Wen County, Longnan.

" It is the first time I heard about running dictation and tried it. It is very playful and creative, which I feel can be definitely put into my class. "

Zhang Jingwen

Primary school teacher

Beyond Reconstructing School Buildings

Rebuilding damaged and destroyed schools is important, but just as important is re-establishing and improving education as a whole, in order to lay a foundation for sound, sustainable social development for the local communities, noted the World Bank experts.

The key factor of a good school is the quality of teachers and principals, not just good buildings.” said Liping Xiao, a senior education specialist at the World Bank.

So, besides financing new school buildings, the World Bank also provided the training program that Ms. Zhang and other school principals and teachers attended.

It also brought in a team of staff from Longnan Teachers College, preparing them to be trainers that would conduct similar trainings back in their local communities, so that the benefit of this program could be spread wider.

In this way, the program has been extended into two stages: a first stage in Beijing (watch a video that records the training sessions in Beijing) and a second in Longnan – some of the trainees from the first stage worked as the trainers of the second stage.

The training program addresses the most imposing tasks in the education sector, such as

  • building up school vision and culture
  • improving education equality and quality
  • managing school safety
  • developing student-centered concepts and teaching techniques
  • making classroom teaching and students’ evaluation more effective

Trainees were encouraged to engage actively in the program to bring in their own experiences and reflections. Li Jianzhong, a primary school math teacher from Cheng County, Longnan, said he found what he learned very useful, and what’s more, “I will adapt my own teaching style with these new teaching methods.”

Teachers should be learning continuously. As the society develops, students’ needs are also changing. A good teacher never rests on his laurels,” he added.