The horror of school fires appears to be rearing its ugly head again. Early on Saturday morning, an inferno the Education CS says was started by an arsonist razed a dormitory in Moi Girls High School Nairobi, so far claiming the lives of 9 students and two guards. This was followed by reports of fire incidents in various schools across the country.
These incidents have sparked a serious debate on schools’ disaster preparedness. A raging online exchange has seen the school’s alumni (Moi Girls) react over the harsh conditions under which they lived. Here are some areas of concern, common in most boarding schools, that need attention from the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders.
Most schools have metal grills welded onto windows. This makes it near impossible for students to use them to escape in case of emergencies. School heads site security of students as the major reason for the grills. However, stakeholders note that schools have guards, some with guard dogs, that patrol the school compound all night long, hence doing away with the grills does not pose a justifiable security risk.
The practice of locking doors from outside has also fallen under heavy criticism since it makes it impossible for students to exit should there be an emergency. The Ministry of Education’s safety guidelines for disaster and risk management require dormitory doors to open outwards and be locked from inside. Violation of this requirement is rampant and first came under the spotlight in the 2012 Asumbi Girls Primary School fire that claimed 8 lives. It is reported that students were trapped in the dorm since it was locked from outside, a practice is a norm in girls’ schools.
High student population is yet another issue that leads to more fatalities in cases of an emergencies. Most schools admit more students than they can adequately accommodate, stretching already limited resources to catastrophic limits. Often times, the administrations in such school are forced to adopt shortcuts that in the long run put lives of students at risk. Case in point is Moi Girls where it is said students sleep in triple decker beds that are squeezed so closely that students are forced to jump from one bed to another to move around.
Buildings in most schools are not up to the legally stipulated codes for learning institutions. While limited resources play a role in this, major blame falls on nefarious school heads’ shoulders. Most ensure substandard contractors land construction tenders because of their relatively cheaper quotations. They then charge the full amount on school accounts and pocket the remaining. Parents have often sited animosity from school administrations, especially when they want to inspect facilities where their children learn.
Other causes that cannot be discounted include political motivation, exam fever, and isolated cases of individual student behavioural problems. Most of these causes are manageable and need concerted efforts and cooperation between relevant government ministries, schools’ administration, parents and the immediate community.