No student should have to fear death, or even injury, while at school. It is almost inconceivable for the parents to think that the place they are sending their children to for education would turn out to be fatal. The death of nine-year-old Mansura in Barguna's Taltali Upazila on Saturday is tragic and was completely avoidable. Mansura died when chunks of ceiling plaster fell on her; 10 other students of the class were injured. Was this accident, if it even can be called one, not foreseeable?
It is good that the High Court has issued a rule asking why compensation should not be paid to the families and why the failure to ensure safety should not be declared illegal. But a fundamental question here is: why should we react only after such incidents occur? The petition which prompted the rule also asked that a survey be conducted to identify vulnerable structures of government and non-government schools across the country. The Upazila Education Officer says that he had sent a list of risky buildings in the area—which included the school building in question—in 2018 to the higher authorities. If that is indeed the case, then it is wilful negligence that is to blame for this death; not only was action not taken to fix the building, but classes were allowed to continue as if there was no danger at all.
All the action being taken now, from the surveys to the probe reports, are welcome. But the problem goes much deeper. We witnessed its consequences in the fires at FR Tower and DCC Market leading to deaths and losses. The risks and safety concerns were not unknown in any of the cases—it was our complete disregard for preventive action that led to such terrible consequences. We hope that beyond the post-incident efforts that we always see, the authorities will start prioritising preventive measures. Children should never have to fear that they could come to any harm in the place where they are supposed to go to acquire knowledge—not for lack of oversight, and not for lack of funding for repairs.