The collapse of walls when students are present and the education authorities maintaining that as many as 74 academic institutes run the risk of crumbling down have made parents rethink sending their offspring to certain schools on the island.
The islanders were in a state of shock several days ago when they read about the death of a schoolgirl from Wellampitiya. The wall in her school collapsed on her and some of her friends; injuring a total of five, apart from the deceased. Parents can protect their children up to the point of the school’s main gate, but beyond that, the safety of children is at the school authorities. There is no escaping from this responsibility.
Like in the past, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has sprung to action only after tragedy has struck.
A full-length inquiry into the Wellampitiya incident has been demanded. The Minister wants certain National and Provincial School buildings reexamined to see whether they can guarantee the safety of users.
This news about there being unsafe structures at schools has been circulating for some time. But nothing of significance was done by the GoSL.
We think that this precarious situation regarding school buildings exists only in Sri Lanka. A deep study of what has been happening globally reveals that school buildings have also collapsed in countries like Nigeria, Portugal and England, the land of one of our colonial masters.
We cannot in any way feel unashamed because there are also schools in other more developed countries which have experienced this same heart-wrenching incidents.
Some who bat for this government might say “So what, buildings also collapse inside schools in England.”
We heard and read so much about a crumbling economy and to add to that now we hear about crumbling school buildings! Just for the record, in England, in 2018, as many as 300-400 schools needed new buildings because existing structures were unsafe. However, the British Treasury allocated funds to repair only 100 schools named in that list.
Britain has lately complained about the presence of unsafe school buildings. The British Government has published a list containing 147 schools which have structures comprising crumbling concrete.
In Nigeria, a school run inside a four-storey building collapsed killing eight. In Lagos, Portugal, a three-storey building where a school was operating collapsed; trapping over 100 individuals.
One needs individuals with very sharp minds and eternal vigilance present at schools to identify danger zones before peril strikes; certainly, not individuals who run behind horses after the stables are kept open.
Even the Southern and Central Province education authorities have in the past warned about the presence of unstable buildings; some of them at schools.
If the GoSL doesn’t take these warnings seriously, it must thoroughly browse through the latest statistics released by the Health Ministry regarding hospitalization figures.
According to the Health Ministry, as many as one million are hospitalized annually and 12,000 out of them succumb to injuries; all due to accidents.
It must be stated here that the dangers schoolchildren are exposed to these days are not confined to unsteady classrooms. We’ve heard of schoolchildren crossing on unsteady bridges, walking along dilapidated roads, going on the footboard on trains and even taking a journey on an unsafe ferry to get to school on time.
A few days ago we saw on television a motorcycle driven by a father -who was taking his daughter to school- falling into a waterlogged pit on the road.
And on the days when everything goes wrong, even after braving all challenges and getting to school on time, there are incidents of boys and girls being abused by teachers and Principals.
That ‘world’ when it collapses on a student leaves behind more mental scars than wounds that are physical; ones which can never be erased that easily.
We once worried about children wearing new shoes to school because they came home with shoe cuts. Now, we worry about old buildings and unsteady structures; the latter could serve as a new symbol for an economy that has already crashed!