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Friday, October 24th, 2014 - 6:42 PM
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Securing our schools

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In the coming academic year, some school buildings across the country could end up either being demolished or made stronger.

This is part of the education ministry’s national contingency plan to improve safety in schools, particularly against earthquakes.

Such a priority in the contingency plan emerges from the aftermath of the 2009 and 2011 quakes that affected a number of primary school buildings built by the local community.  A few schools were without basic infrastructure for almost a year.

This has left policy makers concerned about the resilience of other community built school infrastructure in particular, and school infrastructure in general, should another quake strike.

In the past, the priority was to get as many children enrolled in school.  Gewogs and villages would literally fight over the school location, because it meant shorter or longer walking distances for their children to attend school.

Since long walking distances were often cited by parents as one reason why they were reluctant to send their children to school, efforts were directed to reduce walking distance to every school to an hour.

Most communities contributed labour to build the school infrastructure, using local material and basic design.  This made it cost effective, and ensured as many schools all over, and upped enrollment.

Infrastructure of some schools that were built later has seismic resistance incorporated in the structure, but this is not the case everywhere.

The question is whether the priority on safety will impact on overall enrollment, if school buildings have to be demolished because they lack resilience to quakes.

This will require relocating students to another school in the gewog and, in the process, result in children having to walk longer distances to get to school.

But the ministry says that enrollment across the country has now stabilized, meaning they know quite clearly how many children will be joining schools, leaving schools, and which schools they can do away with, because of low enrollment.

Still, there will be cases, where a school building might have to be demolished, where strengthening it may not work, and an entirely new one has to be built, because the need is there. This might require soliciting funds that usually takes time, and may not be readily available.

Whatever the case, making schools a safe place cannot be ignored, considering that the country is located in an active seismic zone, and almost a fourth of the population are students.

So, while it is the right of every child to be in school, it is also the right of every child to be in a school that is safe.

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