According to the MoE’s circular (March 2012), all schools are required to identify potential hazards on campus that could cause injury during disasters such as earthquakes or fires. The hazards are divided between ‘structural’ and ‘non-structural’ types, the former being related to the building structure. The latter would refer to objects like cupboards that have not been secured well which could then fall on students trying to escape or simply block the way.

What is an obvious ‘non-structural’ hazard is the classroom desk. If there are adequate aisles of the required width there should be no problem. But it is a fact that too many of the classrooms in the higher secondary levels and even middle secondary levels are overcrowded. There are often more than 40-45 students in a room designed for 24 students. The large number has been made possible at the cost of the important aisle space, which at the best of times is difficult to navigate. During a disaster, it will take just one student tripping in the aisle to block the escape of all other students.

The ministry’s own standard is 32 students per classroom. But this remains largely unenforced. With such large numbers, even if escape from a classroom was possible, the narrow corridors would themselves pose another hazard.

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