Why Precious Talents Top school was a tragedy in waiting

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019 09:00 |
A police officer during the rescue mission at Precious Talents Top School. Photo/PD/SAMUEL KARIUKI

“My child told me several times, ‘daddy our class shakes every time someone walks in and we do not know why’,” said Meshack Nyabuto, a parent at Precious Talents Top School, Nairobi, where seven pupils lost their lives yesterday morning.

“I was perturbed by the constant report and contacted several other parents and we decided to approach the head teacher for a meeting to address the issue.

Unfortunately, the building has come down before that meeting could take place. It is sad and unfortunate,” mourned Nyabuto who was however grateful that his Grade Three child escaped the tragedy.

Among those who lost their lives in the early morning incident was Class 8 KCPE exam candidate Emna Idambo, 13, Class One pupil Whitney Wekesa aged seven and Jacqueline Gesare, a12-year-old Class 6 pupil.

Sub-optimal structures

As if having a premonition about yesterday’s tragedy, family members had on Sunday attended the school’s prayer day ahead of national exams and Emna was one of the star performers.

 “We had had such a great time yesterday (Sunday) praying for them,” a distraught Isaac Idambo, Emna’s father, said.

Clad in short teal skater dress and tights, she was among the lead singers in their presentation.

While asking God to listen to their prayers as they prepare for the exams, the pupils presented a song, Dua Langu, as they prayed for good performance in Standard Eight national exams, just over a month away.

“We looked forward to her good performance because she was serious in her studies. After high school, she wanted to be a lecturer and the last thing she said to me today in the morning was ‘dad, bye’,” the father recalled.

Government Spokesman Colonel (Rtd) Cyrus Oguna said 71 learners were affected by the tragedy, out of which seven succumbed to injuries.

The other 64 pupils were rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital where they received treatment and were discharged.

“Following this incident, more than 600 pupils underwent routine check-up at the nearby St. Mary’s Catholic Centre,” said Oguna.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga led Kenyans in mourning the pupils.

“My heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to the families of the affected. Our agencies are taking urgent actions to contain the situation and alleviate further suffering,” said the President.

Ruto, who visited the injured students, ordered a safety audit of all learning institutions. “We do not want sub optimal structures in our schools.

We want a serious audit to be done to all learning institutions to ensure learning of our young children is not compromised like we have witnessed,” said the DP. 

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha said the tragic incident would have been avoided had the school owners complied with construction regulations.

 “I want to categorically state here that the learning of our pupils will not be distracted again by such issues. If the owners of this school were working in an ideal situation, they should have come for approvals from the ministry,” said Magoha.

Accounts from parents and residents demonstrated that the school building was a disaster in waiting.

Most of the injured children were in classes 2, 3 and 4, which were on the first floor. Classes 7 and 8 occupied the ground floor.

Yesterday was an ordinary Monday morning as children mainly from Ng’ando slum off Ngong Road, flocked to the school from as early as 6.30am in search of knowledge.

But just before 7 am, they heard a loud bang and before they could comprehend what was happening the floor caved in.

It was a state of confusion as the more than 850 pupils scampered for safety. The worst hit were classes 7 and 8 as the concrete slab rested on them.

The walls of the school, which was established about 10 years ago, were made from iron sheets. The structures in the compound speak of a school that has literally been punching above its weight, with many of its pupils shining in national exams.

Flouting regulations 

The Secretary of the National Building Inspectorate termed the construction a deathtrap. “The person who did this is a criminal. It is a criminal offence,” Moses Nyakiongora said at the site of the tragedy. 

Magoha said a multi-agency team had been set up to investigate the cause of the tragedy and advise on measures to ensure children are safe.

“In the meantime, we have asked learners to stay home over the next four days as we put in place measures to ensure their safety, but this tragic accident must not be used to instill fear.

The multi-agency team will conduct thorough investigations and submit a report to me for action,” said the CS.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko said he had received numerous complaints against the County Planning Department.

He said in a statement that he had commissioned a comprehensive systems audit that exposed activities of rogue officials in his administration, who have been flouting the Physical Planning Act and zoning regulations with impunity, while running an extortion ring to provide building approvals that do not meet set standards.

“Through the audit, I established that on more than one occasion, the rogue officers would switch off the digital system at City Hall to by-pass the official channel in issuing building approvals,” Sonko said.

Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) secretary Nathaniel Matalanga condemned the workmanship of the building saying that the authorities should take up all remedial measures to ensure this does not happen in future.

He also urged county Governments to ensure buildings being constructed under their jurisdictions are up  to the standard, in addition to ensuring they regulates all buildings in the country.

“What we are seeing here cannot even be comprehended, we do not understand who could have done this, it cannot even be used to construct a toilet slab. What has happened is basically a structural failure and do not think any professional was involved, its an issue of greed. Someone wanted to kill our children and this should not happen at all,” said Matalanga.

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