Death at school: let safety measures be observed

Monday August 19 2019

Students of Namirembe Hillside sit outside their

Students of Namirembe Hillside sit outside their dormitory hours after it had caught fire destroying millions in property last month. The Education ministry has guidelines on how dormitories should be set up to mitigate effects of some disasters such as fire. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By Desire Mbabaali

When you take your child to school, you believe they are going to learn in a safe and secure environment return home healthy and most importantly alive. But a number of past incidents have proved this may not always be the case.

Police have for example launched an investigation into circumstances under which six-year-old Abigail Najuana, a pupil of Fairways Primary School, Kireka lost her life recently when she was found too weak and vomiting at school, in a room where she and other children had gone to sleep. Najuana who was then taken to a medical facility by the school was pronounced dead on arrival.

This came only a week after Five-year-old Imran Ssentamu, a pupil of Sir Apollo Kaggwa Primary School, Nakasero, died at Case Hospital where school authorities rushed him to in critical condition after a suspected fall at the school.

The matter however, only came to the knowledge of police after the deceased’s parents lodged a case with them following conflicting accounts of the events that resulted in the death of the child from the school authorities.

Though the school administration told the parents that Ssentamu had been hit by a table which he knocked, the deceased’s father shared that five of seven children, who witnessed the incident, told the detectives that someone had pushed a three-legged table that hit the Top class pupil. Yet, the deceased’s brother, who is in Middle Class at the same school, told their mother that his elder brother was pushed and tumbled down the stairs of the storeyed building.

Pupils are sometimes bullied to death, fall off storeyed school buildings and stairs, drown, get electrocuted, die in fires or are subjected to severe corporal punishment, among others.

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In July, Pic Hill Primary School in Gayaza, was on the spot over reportedly covering up the actual cause of death of their pupil, Hirah Namubiru, after her parents alleged she had been electrocuted at the Gayaza-based school.

While the school reported that the child died after falling off a balcony, the deceased’s sister who also goes to the same school and had witnessed the incident, together with the postmortem report identified cause of death as electrocution.
These should not be mere statistics but rather a wakeup call to schools to tighten their grip on the safety of the young lives entrusted in their care. Schools can ensure such incidences never happen.

Reign over bullies
One area that jeopardises safety of children at school is being bullied by fellow pupils. Rodgers Muhwezi, a parent, shares that bullying should never be tolerated.

“While he was in Primary One, my six-year-old son, broke his hand at the hands of a bully. He used to complain about a boy in his class who would force him to give him eats during break time. I went to the school and talked to the class teacher who said they would talk to the boy about it. After about two weeks, the bully did the same thing, and when my son tried defending himself, he pushed him down the stairs, and he broke his left hand. It was then that the school took some real action,” he shares.

Similarly Irene Ndagire, a counsellor, says schools need to have a zero-tolerance policy to bullies.
“Usually, we take these issues lightly and imagine the children are innocent, but bullying causes real harm emotionally, especially to the child being bullied. It makes them fear and hate going to school, limits them from freely interacting and make meaningful friendships with other children,” she adds.

But parents should also encourage their children to be vocal about any cases of bullying at school, and not just shrug them off when they report.

Safety expert’s take
Safety expert Joseph Musinguzi, a fleet administrator with Uganda Electricity Distribution Company and proprietor JoeHeights Services, gives a number of measures schools can take to ensure safety of their learners.

Safe structures
Musinguzi says most schools in Uganda have substandard structures that jeopardise learners’ safety. We have heard cases of roofs caving in on children in classes, or walls collapsing on them.

Additionally, the staircases should not be narrow, but fairly wide because vices such as bullying happen a lot along staircases. Architectural designs should be changed so that there are also platforms that weak, overweight and physically challenged children use so that they do not move on the stairs with difficulty.

Guard rails on windows and balconies should not be permanent but bolted, so that they can be opened in case of emergencies. Avoid open electric wires or any easy to reach electric wires anywhere in the school. If possible, there should not be electric wires passing over school buildings or over the school compound, because these are deadly in the event of falling.

Emergency measures
Installing alarms and sensitising children about the different meanings of alarms and how they should respond to each is important.
I recommend that all schools display emergency numbers around the school. Emergency numbers are those one can call to get help in cases of sickness and fires among others. There should be numbers of institutions such as AAR, Mulago National Referral Hospital, Uganda Police, Fire brigade, among others on display in schools. I have seen this in a few schools only. But some teachers do not even know those numbers so that they can use them to get quick help in case there is any problem.

Foods
Students have their rights at school. For example, in the safety policy, students are supposed to be given free safe drinking water. But you will be shocked to find that only a handful of schools provide this. These children end up on taps drinking unboiled water.

In boarding school, there is usually no audit made of the food students eat. Once the school procures food and stores it, they expect a meal. The hygiene of the person who prepares and serves the food is not the issue. Whether the food is contaminated or not, have the students eaten is the only question. Yet, food is capable of causing a disaster in the school if not handled carefully.

Professionals
Sometimes, there are no nurses in schools or sick bays and even when they are there, they are not equipped enough to handle basic first aid in case of an emergency. Yet, with the numbers, any emergency is possible all they should do is be ready to tackle it positively.

Clocking in
To avoid disappearance of children, schools need to put in place a system that allows them to track where the child could have got lost from. For instance a clock in or signing in system where learners register when they reach school and when they leave. This can be a good safety measure to man attendance of the students, taking into account who has come to school/class for follow up.
“Safety has been overlooked. A few schools appreciate it. Although it is expensive, it is very necessary,” Musinguzi concludes.

Who accesses learners?
In addition, safety of children is compromised when the school does not have a stringent protocol on who can access the child while they are at school.

“To guard against any cases of children being accessed by wrong elements from school, not everyone can access the child, unless they have a permit to do so, which is only given by the parent. When someone comes at school to visit or pick up a child and they are not on the list of people that the parent submitted that can access the child, and if they do not have a permit, then the parent is called, to ascertain that they know the person, and permission is sought from the parent to access the child. That way, we guard against cases of kidnaps, poisoning, or any such things while the child is in our care,” Grace Kakooza, deputy head teacher, St. Peter’s Nursery and Primary School, Mutungo shares.

The case of boarding schools
•The location of the dormitories. Some are located next to bushes or forests where dangerous insects, reptiles and animals may come and harm the students. Bushes next to the dormitories should be cleared, trenches and gutters around regularly cleared and constant fumigation carried out.
•Schools should also have perimeter wall around them to guard against entry and exit of students and other people into the school.
•Schools should be able to either provide each student with a mosquito net or ensure that every child brings one from home and sleep under it to reduce cases of malaria.
•The kind of beds that students sleep on in the dormitories. The ministry, in its safety guidelines advised school to change from triple to double decker. Also, these should have ladders onto which a child can step to climb up or down the bed to avoid any falls and injuries that may come after.

Occupation Safety and Health Act
•Matrons must have a minimum academic qualification of primary seven and not below 30 years.
•Matrons must be examined medically every six months -School cooks must undergo medical examination every after six months.
•School guards must be on surveillance of premises 24 hours and must have basic security knowledge.
•Separate dormitories for each sex and age group.
•Put two emergency exits in each dormitory.
•Erect secure fence and installing fire protection systems.
•Provide dustbins and incinerators as well as erecting appropriate kitchens with utensils drying racks.

dmbabaali@ug.nationmedia.com

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