Schools need to be safer for learners

What you need to know:

  • The schools need to include fire safety education on the curriculum so that the teachers, students and non-teaching staff can acquire the knowledge and skills on how to respond to such incidents.

In January, Kibedi Day and Boarding Primary School in Kawempe registered the newest case of fire outbreak in the girls’ dormitories.  This incident happened immediately after five days of the school re-opening, and it left four pupils dead, three seriously injured and many others in fear of their lives, traumatised and in despair.

Further, this kind of news was a shock and heart breaking to parents who had just taken their children back to school after the two good years of closure due to Covid-19 outbreak leaving Uganda a world record holder of keeping the schools closed for that long.  Parents took legal action and sued the school administrators for not responding, according to the law, by using the local means instead of involving the nearby police that would have given them a hand in managing and controlling such a hazardous situation.  Important to note, it is not the first time such a case has occurred; this happens every year. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) clearly indicates that around 5,000 fires occur in the institutions of learning yearly. In September 2020, the historical Ivory Tower at Makerere University also gutted fire in the eyes of the police patrol before the administrators were alerted to prevent and manage the fire, the building was already damaged.

It is high time we take the lives and learning conditions of students with the seriousness it deserves.  When these fires break out, many lives are lost, property is damaged and academic documents are equally lost.  In addition, the entire school is left under disruption, the teachers and students come to be disorganised and traumatised well knowing that the incident may occur again hence operating in fear and worries.

Therefore, I urge the government to start paying attention to ensure that once students are at school, they are not studying from a toxic area but in a safe and protected environment. This will not only save lives and psychological trauma but also both the schools and the government will stop spending billions of monies on restoring the damaged and destroyed building. 

Money that could have been used to improve the studying environment of all students, scholarships and top-up fees for students who usually miss papers because of failure to complete fees. The money could equally be used to improve the lives of the disadvantaged students in the institutions of learning like installing lifts for the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) so that they can easily access classrooms and others.  I advise the government, that to save money spent on such incidents, it needs to include certain amount of money on the education budget to cater for the installation of the fire fighting equipment for both ordinally and elite schools. This should be accompanied with strict restrictions and regular inspections so that all schools adhere to the policy.  More so, the schools need to include fire safety education on the curriculum so that the teachers, students and non-teaching staff can acquire the knowledge and skills on how to respond to such incidents or emergencies before they happen since most of them do not know how to use the fire fighting equipments. The escapes and exits should be as well identified for easy evacuation.

Last but not least, the detection systems such as heat detectors, smoke detectors, alarm systems must be installed on all windows, doors, roof openings and ventilations to emit different tones for different emergencies.

Finally, I urge schools to collaborate with the communities since it is every one’s responsibility to ensure that the students learn from a safe and protected environment. The community members can always be there to alert the school in case they realise or sense something suspicious. Let’s all work together to ensure a safer right of education for all. 

 Hildah Nsimiire, Research Fellow, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies.