Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE)

Rebuilding schools after New Zealand earthquakes


By Alastair Blyth, OECD/CELE


Despite the high death toll brought about by the recent earthquake in the Canterbury region, there were no deaths or major injuries to any students when the quake struck. The Ministry believes its school buildings generally did their job well in preserving student safety.

New Zealand, sometimes nicknamed the Shaky Isles, is on the boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates. Although it was considerably less devastating than the Japanese quake, the one that shook Christchurch on 22 February is the second worst in New Zealand’s history in terms of loss of life and property damage. So far, there are 165 confirmed dead and this figure expected to rise to 182. This 6.3-magnitude quake was the second to hit Christchurch in six months and one of some 5 200 aftershocks of various intensities (see the interactive map) in the region since the September 2010 quake.


Colleagues in the New Zealand Ministry of Education report that although there has been significant damage to many school buildings, there were no deaths or major injuries to any students in its schools when the quake struck. The Ministry believes its school buildings generally did their job well in preserving student safety. This may in part be to the lightweight timber construction used in many school buildings, as well as the extensive programme – undertaken from the 1970s to 1990s – to strengthen the structure of the country’s earthquake-prone schools.


Needless to say, New Zealand faces a number of challenges in the aftermath of this quake as it tackles the replacement of services and repairs its infrastructure.


Getting schools operational is one such issue. The question is how to re-establish schooling in the days, weeks and months after a damaging earthquake, when schools have to be demolished, relocated and rebuilt. Not only was there damage to the school buildings themselves, but also – in some cases –access to schools has been disrupted because roads are impassable, and vital services such as water and energy have been destroyed. In other cases, where there is no physical damage, staff are not available because their own homes have been destroyed.


Currently the Ministry is considering a range of initiatives for making its schools operational again. These include creating temporary facilities, relocating classrooms on undamaged school sites, as well as using flat-pack factory construction units shipped down from the North Island. Another possibility is site sharing, with one school using facilities in the morning and one school in the afternoon. The government is also looking at delivering education to communities and neighbourhoods through television, the Internet and visiting teachers.


The impact on schooling has been far wider than just in the region around Christchurch, it has affected the whole country in one way or another as students and their families move to other parts of the country, leading to changes in enrolments.


Thankfully, this cloud has something of a silver lining in the form of the Student Volunteer Army. A group of university students organised themselves via Facebook to help clean up after the September earthquake. It has now grown into an estimated 18 000 people, mostly students, who are out there every day helping, reflecting a spirit of community in young people that is hugely appreciated in Christchurch.


Our New Zealand colleagues have asked us to express their heartfelt thanks for all the expressions of sympathy they have received from around the world and particularly to all those countries that have provided, or offered, disaster rescue teams, police and other forms of assistance to their country in its time of need. Kia Kaha.


For more information, contact:
Bruce Sheerin
Senior Policy Analyst (Property)
Ministry of Education
45-47 Pipitea Street, Thorndon
Wellington 6140
New Zealand


Related Documents