China's educational departments will investigate the construction quality of schools in quake-stricken areas and severely punish those responsible for substandard school construction.
"The ministry ordered the country's educational sector to strictly check school constructions, especially in disaster areas and regions susceptible to quakes," Ministry of Education spokesman Wang Xuming told a press conference in Beijing on Monday.
He said an official of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development had admitted that "substandard buildings cannot be excluded from factors leading to the extensive collapse".
"Those that could not meet safety standards must cease to be used," said Wang, adding the massive magnitude of the Sichuan Province quake, unprecedented in the history of the People's Republic of China, was one of the key reasons that caused the widespread collapse of schools.
Wang said the magnitude of the May 12 quake is much higher than the national standards set on civil buildings and that "reasons behind the collapses were mixed".
In Beichuan county of Mianyang City, one of the worst hit counties, local government promised a special investigation into the collapse of a middle School where up to 1,300 children and teachers may have been killed in their classrooms.
"We will preserve all the buildings, whether collapsed or not, for experts to investigate," Zuo Daifu, Mianyang vice mayor, was quoted as saying by the First Financial Daily.
"Most of the experts will be dispatched soon by the central government," he was quoted as saying. "But the specific time for the investigation has yet to be decided."
"We will cooperate with investigations by other authorities. If investigations show that shoddy work were responsible for the collapse of any school buildings, the offenders will be severely punished," Wang said.
He stressed relevant departments were already considering new and higher quake-resistance standards for school buildings. "A fundamental rule is that school buildings shall have higher quake-resistance standards than normal buildings."
Quake-hit areas have begun to draw up plans for the rebuilding of schools. Wang said the Ministry of Education will work with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and other authorities to ensure that "school buildings will be the strongest and safest structures".
(Xinhua News Agency May 27, 2008)