IT has happened again at a tahfiz boarding school; this time at the cost of 23 lives, 21 of them aged between 6 and 12. Pictures of fire-licked, ash-covered beds are reminders of something which has gone terribly wrong, again.
Our hearts go out to the families of the dead and injured in the blaze at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in Kuala Lumpur.
The cause of the early morning fire, which is being described as the deadliest in two decades, is still being investigated, but past incidents show that there is a need for regulation.
It appears we have not learnt from the 211 fires of tahfiz schools since 2015 and more so from a similar blaze in September 1989 when 27 pupils of SMA Taufikiah Khairiah Al-Halimiah in Kedah lost their lives when a fire gutted their wooden hostels.
Two actions need to be taken, and they have to be taken now. Time will cost more lives. Parents cannot afford to put their young children at risk of fires and other accidents. It is time we put a stop to such incidents in tahfiz schools, especially when they are home to one as young as 7 or 8.
First, the Fire and Rescue Department needs to conduct an audit on all tahfiz schools in the country. We understand the difficulties of the department as there are far too many schools for its limited resources to cover.
But, something must be done.
Perhaps, a coordination body comprising representatives of the Fire and Rescue department, religious departments and Education Ministry (MOE) may help.
According to the Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim, the building’s windows were fitted with grilles
that could not be opened from the inside. Initial checks by
the department also indicated that the school was not equipped with firefighting equipment.
Although we speak from the vantage point of hindsight, such things can easily be rectified.
Nationwide only 519 such schools are registered; there are many more which remain off the record.
Whatever the number of tahfiz schools in the country, they are potentially exposed to the same risks faced by the children of Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah in Kampung Datuk Keramat. The teachers, administrators and students need to be trained in fire safety.
As it stands, tahfiz schools do not come under the purview of MOE as other schools do.
They are, however, under the purview of
religious departments in various states and the Federal Territories.
While MOE is not currently equipped to oversee the pedagogic aspect of the curriculum, it can at least be tasked to oversee the safety of the schools throughout the country.
Such minimal regulations need to be emplaced.