The Ministry of Education has sought Rs. 2,000 million from Budget 2024 to repair dilapidated roofs, classroom walls, water stand posts for drinking water, and other damaged physical infrastructure in schools throughout the country, ministry officials told the Sunday Observer yesterday.
They said they have communicated this requirement to the Treasury.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Education Ministry’s research teams, almost all national schools – 396 in the country, have poor physical structures. National School Director Sanath Jayalath yesterday said that some of them are beyond repair, some partly broken and in need of urgent attention, and some poorly constructed and needing replacement.
Education Minister Dr. Susil Premajayantha, told Parliament two months ago that he had sought Rs. 600 million from Budget 2024 to improve school infrastructure. He said that he needs funds to renovate these school buildings, and to carry out urgent maintenance work, and that no new projects will be undertaken.
Jayalath said that 30 schools need urgent repairs and that the Government had allocated Rs 500 million to repair these buildings.
The National Education Director Jayalath said this in response to our inquiry when we asked how many schools in the country had unsafe infrastructure, which threatens the children’s safety. We also asked him about the impact of the November 14 incident at the Weragoda Vidyalaya in Wellampitiya, where a school wall had collapsed on a group of students, resulting in the death of a six-year-old schoolgirl while critically injuring five others.
Jayalath said, “It was one of the most unexpected and unfortunate incidents in a school in the country. We deeply regret the tragedy.” “We learned that the wall and the foundation of the structure that fell on these children who came to drink water there and were playing by the water trough near the water post had not been laid in keeping with general masonry and concrete requirements.”
He said that a party contracted by the school had not carried out the work of the wall and its foundation laying properly, but the parents had helped in its construction. We asked if the Education Ministry had issued any school safety guidelines. He said the ministry had issued circulars regarding school safety in 2019, 2021 and 2022. We have taken steps to send reminders of the same school safety circulars to schools following the Weragoda Vidyalaya incident.
“The principal of the Weragoda Vidyalaya, had apparently not known about the condition of the foundation structure or the strength of it. He is a new principal. He was hospitalised after being assaulted by some people after the incident. An inquiry is now under way by the police and the ministry,” he said.
“A few months ago, we devised a well-documented plan, called a Building Repair Plan, to repair physical school infrastructure. The Government has been allocating funds to repair the school building since long ago,” he said.
Asked if the ministry was going to pay compensation for the child, he said that no amount of money could compensate for the loss of life. “But the provincial authorities have told us they will pay compensation,” he said.
He said that Education Minister Susil Premajayantha has called for a full report.