Atul Temurnikar, Co-founder and Chairman, Global Schools Foundation

Atul Temurnikar is a prominent member of the education industry in South East Asia, Middle East and India. He serves as a founding Trustee and Chairman of Singapore-based Global Schools Foundation (GSF), a not-for-profit organisation. Apart from educational and entrepreneurial initiatives, he has an extensive record of community service in Singapore, Japan and Malaysia. He has spearheaded social and educational initiatives in several countries, some of which he developed and launched in collaboration with governments. A strong advocate of accessible, high-quality education that transcends socio-economic boundaries, he is an eloquent speaker and delivered motivational speeches on leadership, entrepreneurship, life choices and the importance of education. He has been invited to speak at notable institutions like Singapore Management University (SMU) as well as several international conferences, including IFC World Bank (San Francisco) and the Global Convention of the Institute of Directors in London, among others.

The Australian Summer is the season of bush fires, and the Emergency Services of the country are quite prepared to manage the situation. But, in June 2019, despite warnings by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, the nation’s emergency teams were unable to control the spread of the fires that raged for months damaging 18.6 million hectares, killing 34 people, and affecting 3 billion vertebrates!

Natural disasters like tsunamis, heat waves, landslides, hurricanes, and forest fires are occurring more frequently than ever before in this era of climate change and overpopulation. While we are all aware of these disasters, a natural disaster like the Australian Bush Fires of 2019-2020 makes us realize the importance of disaster management at both micro and macro levels.

We need to remember; a disaster will disrupt the functioning of society by causing widespread environmental, human, and material loss. Children are more profoundly affected as they are young, innocent, and most of the time, unprepared or unaware of the dangers. Leaving them unprepared goes against the very nature of our education—to protect and prepare them for the real world. Hence, without question, top schools in India must integrate disaster preparedness and management into their curriculums.

What does disaster management cover?

It is the process of planning, managing, coordinating, and carrying out the necessary measures to prevent or mitigate a disaster and its effects. It includes:

  • Teaching preparedness on how to deal with a disaster
  • Prompt action in the face of a disaster
  • Critically assessing the situation, its severity and magnitude
  • Evacuation, rescue, relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction
  • Understanding the causes to be better prepared for the next disaster
  • Creating policies and plans to address other such disasters to minimize losses in the future

Why disaster management is essential in school curricula

While the first instinct of every parent and educator is to protect the children in their care, the fact remains that there is an inherent need to understand realities that come as a result of the natural disaster. Did you know that in Japan, an earthquake-prone country, children in kindergarten are taught the correct way to crouch in case of a tremor? Such basic information goes a long way in improving the chances of the child’s safety.

Let us look at some very specific reasons why disaster management is essential in Indian schools.

Addressing climate change 

Global warming and other effects of climate change are on the rise worldwide. The 2020 Global Climate Risk Index reports show how different countries were affected by climate-related disasters between 1999 and 2018. Japan and Germany were hardest hit by heatwaves and severe drought, while people in the Philippines experienced the worst typhoon ever recorded. India was listed as the fifth most vulnerable country due to climate change, with Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti recording the highest weather-related losses. It is obvious; the occurrences are not limited to one area of the globe.

Teaching children about the relationship between climate change and disasters will help them curtail wastefulness habits. It will help them focus on practising ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” – the mantra that is helping control global warming in whatever little way.

 As a way of implementing the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 

The UN declared 1990 to 2000 the international decade for natural disaster reduction to reduce the lives and property loss due to disasters and reduce the socio-economic damage caused through international action. However, the decade ended, and today there are more disasters taking place because of climate change. In 2015, the United Nations developed the SDGs as a call to action for all member counties to protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. One of the SDGs is climate action, where countries pledged to take urgent action to fight climate change. Any efforts to mitigate climate change go hand in hand with the integration of disaster risk management.

Programmes like Model UN help children become aware of the SDGs. However, all children from a young age need to realize the efforts that people are putting in collectively to manage disasters. Involving them will help them raise further awareness in their families and communities.

To reduce the trauma and tension  

Natural and human-made disasters affect children a lot more because they aren’t as resilient. Disasters, even those considered minor on a measuring scale, can cause physical and mental trauma that can affect students’ performance in school and general outlook towards life. Coupled with the destruction of school property, roads and other infrastructure negatively disrupt the learning process. With limited access to schooling facilities, children lose interest in school and drop out.

However, by learning disaster management techniques, learners can develop resilience, learn to anticipate, absorb, and bounce back. The curriculum should focus on assaying fears in children while encouraging them to take safety drills seriously.

To minimize losses

Disasters usually cause massive damage and losses. By integrating this into the curriculum, learners can help initiate a proactive movement towards disaster preparedness rather than most communities’ reactive nature. Instead of focusing valuable resources on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, the focus can shift to pre-disaster elements such as identification, prevention, mitigation, and preparedness.

Students also learn how to evaluate disasters, relief and rescue planning, sustainable and environmental development, and empower them to develop the requisite skills to survive disasters.

Way forward for educators

Schools and parents both need to agree that awareness for young and impressionable minds is a joint responsibility. Together, they ensure that the right message is sent to the children. You should not make the children fearful. They can learn how to behave and the actions they need to take without panicking.

Remember, disasters occur instantly, are swift and erratic; they can happen anywhere and at any time.

Let us sum up

Educators must systematically integrate disaster management through all grades in top schools. Even children as young as 3 or 4 can be taught drills and steps they need to follow to protect themselves and others around them. It will increase awareness among students, teachers, and the community. It also prepares children for any disasters that might occur. The curriculum must go beyond the basic science of hazards and safety measures to include ways to prevent, mitigate, reduce vulnerability, and build resilience.

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