Thank you Amir Khan for taking the time to comment on my opinion that safety and education are interdependent. Certainly, technical people with specific skills do draw building plans, do effect repairs and skills of engineers are very crucial to the construction of school buildings. That being said the focus of what they do is a living child and that is why safety must remain in the hands of the Ministry of Education. The builder/engineer can and does inform Education officials when buildings are finished. However, it is the right of the Ministry of Education to do a critical examination and confirm acceptance of the building as ready to be handed over. Was this done to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Education in the case of the Mahdia School so that the boxing of the students and ready access to keys and so on could be noticed?
An administrator who has an accident on his compound cannot say ‘I was told the building was safe.’ He has to know for himself and can request second opinions if doubts arise. Legalities follow someone who accepts safety as hearsay. The Ministry of Education as the ‘ruling’ body will undertake this confirmation of safety on behalf of schools. This is not an impossibility. My experience is that a nice looking school can have deficiencies. Safety is an hourly issue. According to OSH practice a principal is to know the potential of a threat. You are to know before it happens. The administrator is left with a building which must at all times be safe for students and s/he must ensure it is safe to satisfy the performance indicators of his employers. S/He must live the safety when the technical personnel have departed. There needs to be close co-operation between administrator and safety officers assigned to the school. Of course, I do not know if schools in Guyana have safety officers.
If the REOs gave the final go ahead (about safety?), as Amir Khan asserts, to whom do they report? Are they authorized to instruct Principals? Amir Khan’s last comment is an outstanding example of shooting oneself in one’s foot. Quote: ‘Before writing this nonsense, get informed on how the system works. There’s nothing wrong with how it works. Just that the teachers are complaining about it’. Amir Khan is right. If you flaunt ignorance you increase your chances of writing nonsense. I enjoyed that too bad. I believe, however, that by virtue of desiring to be free of ignorance, to protect myself and a whole lot of unlucky people who might be forced to listen to nonsense produced out of ignorance, I took the trouble to be informed about education and about factors which affect its delivery. So while I may not know the total Guyana scenario, I believe I am able to see outcomes as in the case of Mahdia despite differences of geographical location, and to understand what could have produced them, and to suggest changes. Thank you, anyway Mr Khan.
If the teachers are complaining then it is both ignorant and nonsensical to dismiss their complaints. The people who use the school buildings and the system are the ones who are best placed to identify and articulate complaints. Since we may presume that those employed as teachers are sound of mind, why would they waste their creative efforts on complaints built on air? Critical thought is essential for development of quality. Please therefore consult teachers on the design of school buildings. They can describe the deficiencies of the buildings they now use. I think that some foreign architects had begun to see the importance of their input in school design. The delivery of education has to be focussed on the student. That is why the concept of student centredness must direct the life’s work of an educator. That is why educators know that, ultimately, the safety of living children is the issue and that they must stay living. The Ministry of Education therefore protects lives. They may employ all kinds of experts.
In the day to day of school life it is the child who must survive. If another body external to the school is to ensure safety of the student in the school, then your belief is that that other system is perfect and will never fall short. Really? One of my commentators read just the first paragraph of what I wrote. Well, yes! You cudda read the second one and the last one! I do that when I am reading a book in shorthand! I am glad of your confidence in your established bodies. What I will say is, if you are a parent, watch your child’s safety yourself, especially when he/she is of school age. It will be no comfort to you to express your confidence in official bodies who have failed you if your child is hurt. Problem solving is fascinating! It does not require drama and vengeance so forget those two. Everybody is sorry right now I am sure. Using grief as a chance to strut is insensitive to all affected by this tragedy. Death by fire is horrific.
There are decisions to be taken and this involves all schools and all education personnel, all parents. The blame response blocks strategic thought and this thought is essential if the horror of death by fire or by any other accidental means is to be avoided. The question of the moment is, how is a safe system established and sustained? What supports such a system? All intelligent and caring thought need to be directed to these problems. Everyone, including students, needs to understand his own role in safety, specifically safety of schools. I understand from newspaper reports that a young person of fifteen is to be charged with 19 murders. Certainly, setting a fire in any building is wrong. The decision may have been made in a fit of pique for confiscation of a phone. Young people often react without due thought.
I am sure the reported perpetrator did not say to herself: I will kill my 19 friends tonight. I cannot believe that she both planned and expected such devastation. None of the following expected such devastation: the Fire Brigade who did not follow up when they advised on potential danger, the Fire Service who lent out a fire tender to another location, the multitude of adults who saw the boxing in of the students, the authorities who did not have safety checks in place (?) and the list goes on and on and would include those who did not understand the time bound nature of anything to do with safety especially as it affects minors. The young people who lived through this great loss, including the perpetrator, all need counselling. They all need time to grieve, to say how they feel, to face each other. Healing and forgiveness are their great needs right now.
And the Ministry of Education has to know how to deal with a minor, who despite her action, is still a minor with rights to an education. May God point the way! I have no doubt that this is a turning point in the quality of the educational effort in Guyana. Safety inspections need to be ordered forthwith. Teachers need to speak up. Even the smallest possible risk to safety needs to be known and addressed. And if this results in employment of the necessary personnel to produce a safe setting for children, this is good investment as children are the human resource which will lead the affluent future of the country. The population is so small right now that any loss of children is a serious loss. Do not underestimate the social and political value of schools. Protect and nurture them and avoid using them for political football. So I say.