The New Vision offers a chance to its online readers to discuss topical issues via the Discussion Board. This weekâ€™s topic is the recent inferno at Budo Junior School, in which 20 pupils lost their lives. Below are some of the opinion articles posted on the Board.
I was a student at Budo Junior School, Kabinja, in the 60â€™s, when the school had not more than 300 students. Now, the school has over 1,300 students without similar increases in facilities. Parents share blame because they send their children to schools with overcrowded classrooms and dormitories. The schools also share blame. Why do head masters agree to take on more students than they can accommodate? The Church too shares blame.
Some parents choose faith-managed institutions because of their association with a particular faith. Teachers had not been paid salaries for over six months but what did Namirembe Diocese do about it? Ultimately, the Government takes all the blame. What has been done given the many incidents of fire at schools over the past years? What policies has the Government formulated and implemented regarding safety in schools? Do schools have fire drills? Is there a dedicated schools inspectorate that visits regularly to ensure that any policies set by the Government are observed?
Construction standards in question
The fire at Budo Junior and many other schools highlights the appaling building standards. Many Ugandans have lost lives because of poorly built structures. What steps is the Government taking to ensure that such tragedies do not reoccur? It is not enough for government ministers to turn up and console those who have suffered tragic losses because they did not do their job.
Regulate building standards
The Government should regulate building standards in schools through regular inspection. It should also enforce enrolment ceilings per school. Parents-Teachers Associations (PTAs) should also take interest in the conditions of the building. Many times PTA officials are in league with school administrators and turn a blind eye to such issues. Workers should be paid handsomely and timely so that they are motivated to work efficiently.
Finally, head teachers should not be allowed to stay at a school for a long time.
Enact fire law
A strict new law should be passed for all institutions to have emergency fire evacuation plans. Fire equipment should be installed in office buildings, dormitories and wards. There should be mandatory training for staff, students and health care workers on fire prevention and evacuation. The Government should invest more in recruiting and training more fire-fighters and open extra fire offices countrywide. Tight security should also be provided in schools.
The inspector for schools has to be blamed because this is part of his work. Parents should be responsible for their childrensâ€™ safety. An overcrowded school is not good for the health of children. It is a shame that some MPs send their children to Budo Junior School but they did not question this. Much as we want our children to have the best education, we should reconsider. Parents pay a lot of money but nothing improves. Schools should only admit students that they can accommodate. They should think about life first because money does not buy life.
Violence not the solution
I was at Kibuli Secondary School during the time of the fire sagas, but at least in our case, no one died, although one was terribly injured. There several causes for fires. But violence cannot be the solution to problems. If there in issues in a school, the students and the authorities should find a way of dealing with them.
Install fire equipment
All schools in the country have enough funds to install fire alarm systems, extinguishers, exit doors and hire sensible guards. They should also carry out fire drills periodically to train students, and employees on safety. This should be made law.
The Government should deploy inspectors to ensure that such standards are met. The citizens must be vigilant because the Government cannot work alone.
The culprits must be hanged if found. The entire school staff must give their statement behind bars. So far, all indications point to an intentional act. Could this be because of the outstanding arrears?
The PTA should act
The PTAs in boarding schools must convene with safety as the agenda item. They must form sub-committees charged with enacting with safety guidelines or enforcing those from the Ministry of Education. These sub-committees must report to the PTAs at the general meetings. The sub-committees must ensure that they inspect the school safety compliance on every visitation and write reports which should be signed by the PTA chairpersons and head teachers and be distributed to parents during visitation. In addition the PTA sub-committee must submit the report to the PTA plenary. If the safety standards are flouted, the PTA must devise appropriate sanctions.
Enact safety regulation
The Government should enact legislation on a health and safety and associated regulations enforced an executive which would ensure that they are implemented by schools.
Head teachers should also ensure that the safety policies and procedures are implemented.
Learn from Europe
We need to build a foundation to lay structures that promote safe and secure environments. Will the leadership start setting the right environment for proper policies? A comparative study of some development models like Europe or oriental countries could be considered.
Install smoke alarms
In developed countries, every building has a smoke alarm which alerts people in sense of any smoke, so this makes quick rescue. The Police should work hard to get the culprits.
Conduct thorough investigations
The Government needs to ensure that the investigation is thoroughly done and acted upon, not just by arresting the matron but by focusing on the real issue. What are the safety and occupancy standards for schools?
Demand better services
Ugandans should demand better services from their Government. We should build a National Memorial Residence at Budo Junior in honour of these brave souls.
What should be done to control fires in schools?