The death of a girl due to snakebite in a Wayanad school shook Kerala last week and turned the focus on education infrastructure in the highly literate state.
The government and its officials are as much responsible for the loss of a young life as the school staff whose alleged negligence resulted in nine-year-old Shehla Sherin not getting medical attention in time.
A teacher whose reaction in an emergency situation has been severely criticised and three others, including the principal, have been arraigned as accused and charged with causing death due to negligence, but there has been no action against officials who allowed the government-run school to function under unsafe conditions. It was through a hole on the classroom floor that the snake bit the girl.
A team comprising two judges who inspected the school was shocked by the unhygienic conditions there.
The state education minister, who also visited the school, sanctioned Rs 2 crore to repair the building, but the sad fact is that these actions won’t bring back the girl, who paid with her life for studying in a badly maintained school.
Kerala is often cited as an example in matters concerning school education, but here too many schools operate out of unsafe buildings.
Though it is mandatory for schools to obtain fitness certificates before every academic year, inspections are rarely thorough and schools are seldom denied permission to reopen.
The education department doesn’t have a mechanism to ensure school buildings are safe. In many schools, children, mostly girls, are made to clean classrooms and premises.
The incident should be a wake-up call for the government, education officials, schools and parents. While those responsible should be punished, the government and other stakeholders must take efforts to make sure no child has to study in unsafe and unhygienic conditions.
Teachers and other school staff should be trained in first aid and basic life support; nearby healthcare facilities should be made readily available to schools in case of emergencies.
Education is the right of every child, and children should not be made to put their own lives on the line while getting one.