Safety Concerns of School Structures & Funding Shortage

Safety Concerns of School Structures & Funding ShortageSafety Concerns of School Structures & Funding Shortage

Children should study in classrooms where their safety is ensured. But a series of incidents that led to fatalities and injuries indicate that safety in schools needs greater attention. According to the Persian-language Iran newspaper, 3 million school kids around the country study in “unsafe educational facilities.” In the last three years, fire incidents occurred in six schools, mostly in remote areas, resulting in death of four students and burn injuries to 63.

The safety concerns are not limited to fire breakouts; dilapidated buildings-some of which date back to 50 years ago cannot even withstand a 4 magnitude earthquake.

The situation becomes all the more alarming in a country no stranger to earthquakes. On top of this some schools are located on city outskirts “exposing the school kids to all sorts of dangers,” the newspaper reports.

 Although the education department claims that kerosene heaters have been replaced by standard gas heaters, some media reports confirm that kerosene heaters continue to spark fire accidents. An incident which drew national attention was the tragedy in a girls’ school in Shin Abad village in West Azerbaijan Province that occurred in the final year of the previous administration. Twenty-nine school girls were severely burned after a kerosene heater exploded in the classroom. Two of the students succumbed to their injuries. A gas leak in a school in Kerman recently sent 59 students to hospital.

All this has woken up the authorities and the current administration has allocated a special budget to school renovation.  The safety of students cannot be trifled with.

 Educational Rights

As enshrined in the Civil Rights Charter, every citizen is ‘’entitled to live and work in an environment free from physical and mental harm.’’  Article 7 of Students Rights also affirms the same rights for school children, stating that “educational facilities must be suitable to the needs of students.’’ But these basic rights are ignored at times with children studying in makeshift schools and non-standard environment.

‘’Many schools either lack a standard heating system or have systems that are unsafe or in a poor condition which obviously makes it necessary for the ministry of education to make school renovation a top priority’’ says Qasem Jaffari, speaker of the Majlis Education Committee. He added that it would be “unrealistic to assume that all school heating systems could be fixed overnight and the issue has to be addressed by increasing the education budget.”

Jaffari emphasizes that the use of kerosene heaters and even gas heaters in schools is illegal and only radiators should be installed.

 Fund Shortage

One might think that the capital Tehran is ahead of small towns in school safety standards. But according to Esfandiar Chaharband, head of the Education Department of Tehran Province, the city has the highest number of neglected schools in the country. Chaharband says out of the 33,000 classrooms in Tehran, 7,000 need to be rebuilt and 10,000 others must be retrofitted. Only 15,000 schools meet the standards which mean 55% of Tehran schools have questionable safety.

The existing schools also do not have the capacity to hold all the students. “Classrooms only provide space for 60% of the school kids if educational standards are considered; 20% of schools are running two shifts - morning and afternoon.”

To address the challenge, Chaharband says there is need for a $1.2 billion funding but the current annual budget of the department is just $16 million. With the existing resources, “it will take decades to restore the capital’s educational infrastructure.” Authorities like the Tehran City Council, the governor’s office and MPs have been notified about the shortages.

 Massive Change

‘’A massive change should take place in educational funding so that a secure environment for students is provided and a catastrophe averted in case of a natural disaster,’’ he says.

A lawmaker recently weighed in on the issue saying that school renovations are moving at snail pace. Abodolvahid Fayyazi a member of the Majlis Education Committee told ICANA that even if 1,000 new educational facilities are built annually, the gap will not be filled. Fayyazi called for increased funding, referring to a $1.3 billion allocation in the past that was a big boost to school renovation programs.

‘’We should ratchet up our efforts to provide the education department with a decent budget and that is what we are trying to do in the parliamentary committee at a time when 98% of the department’s budget is used to pay staff salary,’’ Fayazzi said.