Measures being implemented to make schools, dorms safer – Manickchand


Following the devastating fire at the female dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School that claimed 20 lives last month, the government is now moving to implement several measures across all schools and dorms to make them safer.

This is according to the Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, who reminded reporters on Wednesday that there is provision in the 2023 budget for five dorms in Regions 1, 7, and 9 to be fixed, “and the procurement process is happening as we speak.”

“I can tell you that certain measures are being taken across dorms and schools right now that should make them a little bit safer, including personnel…at the end of the day, you have human beings manning a system…

“So, you can have a perfect system with a human being who doesn’t execute perfectly…and you could still end up with all kinds of issues,” the Education Minister told reporters while answering questions at a contract signing ceremony.

She did not provide details on exactly what these measures are. A total of 20 children – 19 girls and a five-year-old boy – died in the horrific fire which occurred on May 21 in the remote Region Eight community; 19 of them were burnt to death while the 20th victim succumbed to her injuries at the Georgetown Public Hospital.

Education Minister, Priya Manickchand

Several girls are still nursing injuries. The children were trapped inside the heavily grilled dormitory and the doors were keyed; the ‘house mother’ could not locate the keys in time as the fire quickly ripped through the building.

Even though the fire was deliberately set by another student, the government came in for heavy criticism for not having any safety measures in place at the dorms.

It was subsequently revealed by the Stabroek News that a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) assessment of all 24 school dormitories across the country last year highlighted a series of deficiencies to the Ministry of Education.

According to the Stabroek News, the report of recommendations ‘Gender Sensitive Standards for Dormitory Schools in Guyana’ had a section dedicated to fire protection systems, including that smoke detectors be installed and drills conducted regularly.

When asked on Wednesday why the plethora of recommendations by UNICEF were not implemented, the Education Minister highlighted that the report was given to the “relevant authorities” since schools and dorms outside of Georgetown are not within her jurisdiction.

Manickchand clarified that the assessment by UNICEF was commissioned by the Education Ministry when she assumed office because she wanted to have a clear understanding of the weaknesses and gaps in the various learning institutions across the country.

She also reminded reporters that these dorms are managed by the local government organs and not the ministry.

“If we commissioned that report knowing fully well that we have no responsibility or jurisdiction in local governance structure or in those facilities, then I think you can surmise two clear things: that we wanted to learn what were some of the weaknesses and gaps in the various facilities that existed forever…we wanted to learn what those problems were so that we could fix them…and 2 , that if I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t fix them, that I would have shared it with whoever it needed to go to and we are maintaining that we did…,” Manickchand contended.

No consideration for closure of schools/dorms

She explained that consideration was not given to closing dorms or schools in order to fix the issues identified because of the major learning loss and dropouts Guyana was grappling with as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the issues we face in the world…you take children out of school, especially in those communities, communities that have homes that are far from each other and far from a centre, getting them back into school is a really hard thing. So, the world said after the 2020 closure…that one of the things we would suffer…early school leaving and learning loss.

“Having come out of that period where we are experiencing both as a country…to say ‘close as we fix’ is a hard thing for us educationally, because we will lose students to the system, to education.”

The Education Minister cited reports on this that were issued by the World Bank and the United Nations.

She believes that a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the causes and circumstances of the fire and to inquire into related issues is the best way to move forward.

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