Uganda: Rakai School Fire - Education Authorities On Blame Game

19 November 2018

Rakai — Education authorities in Rakai District have broken the silence on why they did not exercise their mandate to prevent an inferno at St Bernard's Secondary School, Mannya, which left 11 students dead on November 12.

According to Mr John Baptist Kimbowa, his department is understaffed and ill-equipped-something he said has crippled down their operations.

Daily Monitor has learnt the entire department has only one car and the six school inspectors who usually make impromptu visits to schools hire boda-bodas.

The district has 150 primary schools and 22 secondary schools spread in 10 sub-counties and one town council.

"Even the car we are using, we got it recently. We are trying to execute our mandate, but under difficult conditions," Mr John Baptist Kimbowa, said during an interview on Saturday.

According to the ministry guidelines, each school is supposed to be inspected at least once a term by district inspectors.

However, school inspectors blame it on increasing workload and insufficient resources.

The inspector to school ratio in Uganda currently stands at 1:90 schools which is far below the internationally recommended ratio of 1:40.

Due to limited resources, Mr Kimbowa revealed he instead meets head teachers in the district twice (at the beginning and end of school term) and reminds them about the set minimum operational, safety and security standards as stipulated in the Education Act, 2008.

"After realising that some schools have not complied with the guidelines we gave them, we usually go back and close them. However, they re-open soon after our team has left".

This implies that Mr Kimbowa's team last visited St Bernard's SS, Mannya SS at the beginning of this term in mid-September.

"It is true, due to lack of funds, we cannot visit the all schools regularly as required. I have just met head teachers in Kifamba Sub-county for second time this term about the required standards," he said.

Hours after the inferno, Mr Hillary Tuyambaze, the Police Fire Brigade officer in southern region, revealed to this newspaper that his team inspected St, Bernard's SS, Mannya in July, this year, and made safety recommendations, which management failed to implement.

The fire, which killed 11 students at the school, also left at least 49 other students with various degrees of injuries.

According to Mr Alex Ssemwogerere, the chairperson Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) Rakai District, unlike primary schools, inspection of secondary schools is centralised and inspectors come from the directorate of education standards in the Ministry of Education.

Rakai District Woman MP, Ms Juliet Ssuubi Kinyamatama, said despite the challenges at hand, district inspectors ought to be seen doing their work.

"I really wonder whether those people are doing their work and if so, how come dormitories in many schools still have outlawed burglar proofs windows?" She asked.

Ms Frances Atima, the DES's principal inspector, said inspectors are facilitated to inspect all schools.

Recently, Ms Kedrace Turyagenda, the director DES, said her department is poorly funded and only gets Shs4.5b out of the Shs14b required annually. Some Shs2.5b, according to Ms Turyagenda is sent to the district, while Shs2b is used by DES to facilitate its activities.

A Daily Monitor snap survey in 15 schools in Rakai and Kyotera Districts last week showed that although standards require every dormitory to have an emergency exit door, many schools visited have only single entry-exits, some of which are locked from the outside at night.

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