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Schools yet to put in place safety features

By Patrick Kibet | Mar 1st 2021 | 3 min read

A member of Masara Mixed Secondary School board Bismark Onyando assesses the damage to one of the dormitories in the school after a fire gutted it last year. [File, Standard]

A special audit conducted by the office of the auditor general has lifted the lid on the lack of fire preparedness in secondary schools.

The report, which was commissioned in 2019 following increased fires in schools, identified a lack of implementation of the Ministry of Education policies aimed at preventing school fires.

However, the report by Auditor General Nancy Gathungu also noted that when the Ministry of Education was given the audit to respond to the issues, no response was forthcoming.

“After completion of the audit, the Ministry of Education was sent the draft report for their information and comments. Despite follow-ups with the auditee, they did not provide their comments. In the absence of the response, it is assumed the client agrees with our findings and therefore wishes the report finalised,” the audit notes.

The audit shows that despite the Ministry of Education having developed measures to ensure fire safety in schools, secondary schools were not adequately prepared to handle incidences.

“Most school fires are attributed to indiscipline and the ministry has identified guidance and counselling as a key area with regard to the management of discipline in secondary schools.

However, guidance and counselling were not working as intended. This was attributed to the fact that the ministry has to set up a functional system at the headquarters, county levels as well as in schools. Consequently, most schools were not offering services effectively,” the report notes.

The audit also noted that some schools were yet to engage the respective local fire stations for training on fire-safety preparedness activities, leaving them ill-prepared to handle fire incidences.

The audit sampled 42 secondary schools from Machakos, Siaya, Uasin Gishu, Kajiado and Kiambu counties as case studies based on fire incidences between 2015 and 2019.

The audit reveals that physical verification of 42 sampled schools indicated that none of the institutions had posted an evacuation map on buildings as required.

The schools were also found to have failed to acquire firefighting equipment due to a lack of sub-committees to prioritise fire safety preparedness in schools.

It singled out a memo to schools in January 2019, where the ministry directed schools not to use maintenance funds to acquire firefighting equipment.

A visit to the schools during the audit also found out of the 42 schools, only 25 had fire assembly points that were large enough to accommodate the school's population. Three were, however, not easily accessible as they were enclosed with barbed wire or a fence.

“Physical verification revealed 22 out of 42 sampled schools had their doors opening inwards in the dormitory. In the event of a fire, students are likely to lock themselves inside the building as they struggle to get out given the population of the school,” the report concludes.

Some of the schools sampled were found to have installed triple-decker beds, while others did not have the required spacing to facilitate movement in case of a fire outbreak.

“The audit revealed that six schools had triple-decker beds while 34 boarding schools had double-decker beds without the required spacing. Most of the dormitories were congested, which was attributed to the introduction of 100 per cent transition of students to secondary schools in 2017,” the audit revealed.

The ministry's policy stipulates that beds should either be single or double-decker and the spacing between them should be at least 1.2 metres with a pathway space of not less than two metres.

By the time of the audit, St Francis Rangala Girls Secondary School had a population of 2,134 against a required number of 1,620 students.

Form One and Two classrooms had a minimum of 60 students and their dormitories were packed with triple-decker beds.

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