How Alternative Education can Help Rebuild After a Natural Disaster

By Melvin Hayden 


Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm on September 3, 2019. The magnitude and severity of destruction prompted numerous outreach efforts at the community, national and global levels. The vertical displacement from the hurricane generated huge tsunami type surges that ultimately reached the shores of several islands identified as the Bahamas.


Research on the impact of disasters has been limited by a dearth of population-representative data that follows samples of enough size before and after the disaster. Constructing population-representative samples after an event that displaces a large fraction of the population is extremely difficult, and few studies have access to information on populations before a major disaster strikes. The studies that do are rarely well positioned to locate and interview the individuals who move from place to place in the disaster’s aftermath (Buttenheim 2010, Gray et al. 2011, Horton 2011). In the months that will follow the clean-up of Hurricane Dorian, residents of the communities that received heavy damage will struggle to cope with the magnitude of the event. And as assistance begins to arrive the significance of food, clothing and shelter takes precedence over everything now. To capture these dynamics, we focus on three dimensions: continuing academics, the built environment and psycho-social resources.

Image by Rachel
Image by Santi Vedrí


Education is measured by the highest grade attained. We interpret grade attained as a crude summary of the respondent’s school-related level of human capital, but fully recognize that human capital is a far broader concept that reflects a wide array of skills, personality traits, health and cognition. Because these variables focus on the relationship between education and each of the outcomes described above, we have carefully explored the shape of this relationship. This led to the description below in which alternative education can help rebuild the Bahamas. When I say alternative, I mean using educational methods that are non-traditional and thinking outside the box to keep our children engaged in learning.



The distribution of education in the Bahamas is based on several factors, however with the recent turn of events only one factor stands out: REBUILD. Let’s start with the education system itself. In the wake of a disaster, academics cannot be left up to chance. This is the prime opportunity to incorporate the skills that matter. High standards can be set with basic knowledge. Education has always gone beyond the basics of “reading, writing and arithmetic.” However, the “Three Rs” are tools with which a student can gain more knowledge in any subject. If a student can read and write, he or she can complete a research project and learn to type. If a student understands the basics of arithmetic, he or she can learn to program complex algorithms or study science.


When a school is displaced, we help continue the process of learning through everyday development of the Three Rs of education to improve quality of life. Below is a list of what we can do without a school building to help our children learn in the most difficult situations that maintain a balance for educational basics:

  • Read to and/or with your child each night.

  • Cook with your child, following a recipe.

  • Write your child handwritten notes and ask him or her to write one back to you

  • Encourage your child to use a dictionary to help him or her spell words and look up the meanings of words.

  • Build something with your child using a plan that defines the length and width of objects.

  • Ask your child to keep a journal of questions he or she has asked to which you do not know the answer. On the weekend, take your child to the library to discover the answers. Alternatively, show your child how to research the answer to such questions on the internet while avoiding dubious websites. All these actions can help reduce lagniappe and improve quality skills in reading, writing or arithmetic. Additionally, they teach our children during a crisis how useful they are in a real-world setting.

The mission is always to give our children a strong educational foundation to reach his or her full potential. The Three R’s coupled with our basic philosophy of helping students understand how to use their knowledge in a practical way keeps the young people we work with enthusiastic about growing their own education.

Image by Guilherme  Cunha
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The next phase is adding emphasis on vocational training. We all want to be a part of something. There is nothing more rewarding that having a hand in the reconstruction of your own country. I remember when I experienced Hurricane Katrina years ago. Helping with the rebuild was my most rewarding life experience ever. That is what the children of the Bahamas need to feel. The investment you make in rebuilding becomes an investment you make for life.


Vocational training is a phrase that is often used by education and training institutions. However, what exactly does it mean and how will it benefit the careers of young Bohemians? The answer is this: “training that emphasizes skills and knowledge required for a particular job function (such as typing or data entry) or a trade (such as carpentry or welding).” Using the school day to train young people to apprentice in carpentry, plumbing and electricity by way of a modified school day will open the door for companies to take advantage of young people being available to assist in the reconstruction of their country. With the right skill set, you develop workers of all kinds and create an economy within an economy. Vocational skills are more practical than theoretical skills. Individuals learn vocational skills from hands-on experience. Instruction in vocational skills offer hands-on training in a specific trade or job industry. The training takes place outside the traditional classroom setting. Students are placed in manual labor intern positions that coincide with their vocational choice. Students are exposed to hands-on activities through first-hand experience, and they acquire classroom knowledge. Training allows individuals to work in their areas of interest while obtaining first-hand knowledge and experience with the possibility of earning a paycheck. But more importantly, they are earning class credits towards graduation.


Because vocational training is often needed to enter a trade profession such as welding or electrical engineering, apprenticeships are often used to provide this kind of training. An apprenticeship is basically an opportunity to learn a trade by working alongside a skilled professional in an actual work environment. Apprenticeships can also come in the form of learnerships. A learnership forms part of your diploma to work in conjunction with a trade qualification. Your learnership will essentially form the work-based portion of your course and will give you practical experience to complement the theoretical coursework.


Vocational training can also happen on the job at the behest of your school. In this context, training is provided either directly by your school or by a third-party training provider sourced by the school or state designated company.

On-the-job training works when everyone is involved in assisting the student in the best way to contribute. Students, parents, staff and administrators should be actively involved in helping to enroll students in relevant training programs, as it holds tax benefits for them if they are liable for skills development levies. What we want to create is a process of continuous development were qualified professionals for several reasons can also undertake vocational training such as:

  • Fulfilling the membership requirements of professional organizations

  • Updating outdated skills

  • Expanding skill sets

  • Learning an additional trade

  • Continuous development is easiest to do through online learning or distance learning if you do not want to take time off from your current job to complete your program. In today’s labor market, continuous development has become very important for professionals who want to succeed.

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Lastly, and the third phase is to make sure that all students are being served in some capacity with psychosocial resources. It is important to the development of the other two phases. As I mentioned earlier, a modified school day can assist in making sure all students are receiving some type of resource with the current. An easy way to break the ice with students that all experience the same trauma is group counseling. It is doubly effect when the staff has also experienced some relevance of the same trauma. Group counseling is an integral part of a comprehensive school counseling program and should be included in comprehensive school counseling programs and supported by school administrators and school districts. The school counselor training in-group process benefits students, families, school staff and administration. Group counseling has a positive effect on academic achievement and personal growth. Groups are healing pods. It is an efficient and effective way to meet students’ academic, career, social/emotional development and situational needs. Group counseling makes it possible for students to achieve healthier academic and personal growth in a rapidly changing global society.