This story will likely need to be pursued by Western press sources as China's Ministry of Propaganda goes into full cover-up mode about this aspect of the tragedy.
Here are a few quotes from an article that appeared in the London Financial Times:
“How come it’s the schools that fall down first? Why are government offices so sturdy?”- a contributor to the Tianya online discussion website asked on Tuesday.
Urban planning departments remain hotbeds of bureaucratic graft.Architects say suggestions the schools should have been more robust are not just idle internet chatter.
“It is obviously very hard to say from just a few photos, but it does look as if some of those school buildings used little construction steel,” says a Shanghai-based architect who asked not to be named. “[That] perhaps explains why they collapsed completely.”
Unfortunately, rushed and substandard construction means that many are actually “hidden hazards”, says Prof Zhou, who also heads a research centre for earthquake-resistant construction.
“If standards were adhered to and corners not cut, then schools would not be the first to fall down,” he says. “It is an issue of whether designers and contractors are corrupt or fail to guarantee quality.”
Zhou Yun, head of the Institute of Civil Engineering at Guangzhou University, says that while Chinese schools are not in themselves subject to special standards, any public building constructed according to codes introduced in 1989 should be basically sound.
Beijing has turned down offers of specialist foreign aid.
Here is an example of a rural construction project in Bihar, India, where steel rebar was used:
New York Times Article
London Financial Times Article #1
London Financial Times Article #2
Washington Post article