Education and disaster management leaders from eight Southeast Asian countries gathered in Phnom Penh yesterday in a bid to encourage schools in areas prone to natural catastrophes to make children safer.
The two-day ASEAN regional conference on school safety gave officials and educators the chance to discuss the various ways countries in the region protect the 250,000 children estimated at risk from cyclones, earthquakes and other disasters.
Most weather events that posed a risk to Cambodian children involve storms and floods, according to Ma Norith, a deputy secretary general of the National Committee on Disaster Management (NCDM), who said that this was therefore where most disaster education was focused.
“We at the NCDM and Ministry of Education have published guideline books for teachers to help them explain to students how to remain safe when they are caught up in a disaster,” he said. “Today, as a member of ASEAN, we are joining together to protect children at school, because you never know when a disaster will happen, so we have to teach children to be safe.”
The teaching guides, aimed at grades 4, 5 and 6, include easy-to-understand illustrations accompanied by either a tick or an “X”, showing students what they should and should not do in a disaster situation.
One picture shows children playing in water accompanied by their parents and wearing buoyancy aids, while the adjacent image, marked with the “X”, depicts the same youngsters playing unsupervised and without floats.
Other images and text warn kids to walk to school during bad weather accompanied by an adult, to avoid drinking flood water, urge families to stock up with food before bad weather, and to store documents and valuables in high places.
“My teacher has been giving me ideas about how to protect myself from floods and storms,” said 10-year-old Chen Da, a grade 5 student from Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town who attended the conference. “We do get quite scared about being drowned when there’s a flood and getting hurt when there’s a storm.”
According to development agency World Vision, about 14,500 schools in ASEAN countries were damaged during earthquakes, floods, fires and typhoons in the past five years. In Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, the annual swelling of the Mekong River causes more than half the schools in affected provinces to close.