PETALING JAYA: Nearly three decades ago, a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) inspection on religious schools nationwide revealed that almost all lacked fire safety standards.
And yet little has changed over the years, with fire incidents at such schools happening ever so often – 211 cases recorded between 2015 and August this year.
The RCI was formed in November 1989, after a horrific fire that claimed the lives of 27 girls at Sekolah Agama Taufiqiyah Al Halimiah in Padang Lumat, Yan in Kedah, in September that year.
Headed by former Federal Court judge Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zain and assisted by former Education director-general Tan Sri Murad Mohamad Nor and building expert Dr Bernard Wang Tsun Hao, the RCI made several observations after visiting more than 1,500 registered and unregistered religious schools nationwide:
> There were more than 360,000 students studying at religious schools in the country.
> There was a lack of information on the exact number of Islamic religious schools.
> These schools did not know which authorities to approach to register their schools.
> There were many weaknesses in the supervision of religious schools, and the ability of the Education Departments to oversee them.
> The schools were not prepared for fire nor equipped with basic fire fighting equipment.
> There were no proper fire drills or any training on fire prevention.
> Some of the schools were constructed with mediocre building materials and used cheap, highly inflammable mattresses.
The RCI recommended, among others, a bottom-up review on the management of such schools, and the lackadaisical attitude of school managements and authorities in adhering to uniform building by-laws.