Everyday, as I stand at the school gate, waving my kids off , there are multiple thoughts that cross my mind – ‘Did I put the diary back in the bag?’ , ‘Will they get pulled up in class for something’, ‘Will they be Ok?’, ‘Is it going to be a bruise-e or breeze-y day?’ – As a parent, a critical part of your mind naturally tends to worry and constantly has the multiple ‘Why,When,How & Where’ – but the thought of something so brutal at school …?
As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine what the parents of these young children must be going through.And I hope and pray no other parent should have to go through this pain, especially when we can prevent it from happening.
The brutal murder of a 7-year-old in a Gurgaon school and the rape of a 5-year-old in a Delhi school have once again reminded us of how unsafe the “safest place” for our children has become.
While the government has chartered laws, acts and defined guidelines – capacity for complete implementation and a check thereafter seizes to exist.Having robust state mandated laws and protocols are a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition to protect our children in schools. For example, for all the recommendations that I have been receiving on whats app – most of them already exist within schools, yet gruesome acts of humanity continue to occur. Verification processes exist, are they complete and in time? No access zones exist on campuses, is someone manning them? CCTVs seem to be peering into you at every corner of school, do we use them retrospectively to analyse an offence rather than proactively to prevent one.
We can continue to point fingers and endlessly reason out on national television, but the fact remains we lost an innocent life – and as parents,individuals and a society – it is our responsibility to work closely with schools and school committees to protect our children and their innocence.
Let’s take the step together and work towards making every space, safe and secure for our children:
- Much of a school’s safety is significantly dependent on its environmental design and its architecture. There should be no areas that are not under surveillance. For example, there should be no doors that can be locked (except for individual bathroom units), all doors must have transparent / glass panels, no secret rooms within a room on campus. Much of the unwanted crime can be prevented with the sheer fear of ‘see and be seen’. CCTV cameras should cover all the common areas especially remote or less populated areas. Live footage must be constantly monitored.Faulty cameras should be regularly repaired. As parents, talk about its basic safety features and design before we worry about the swimming pool and horse riding facility. Give suggestions on basic safety guidelines and areas where you find this missing.
- Schools around the globe have a strong committee of parents, teachers and expert consultants that work on developing metrics for safety audits, process and policy design and closely work with parents on safety issues. The primary role of this committee (Child Protection Committee, School Monitoring Committee or Parents Teachers Association) is to help the school balance the safety concerns against curriculum requirements. A good parent safety committee must provide this support and comfort to schools by encouraging parents to volunteer as marshals. Parent marshals can help during school excursions, help with school bus monitoring, create an anti-bullying society, provide mentoring and coaching to school helpers on campus.
- Schools should familiarize children with on campus safety measures – how can a child raise an alarm in case of any kind of emergency. There should be alarm buttons around campus or even attached to their I-card (especially in secluded areas and for younger children),so that any child in trouble can easily raise an alarm. As a parent, work with the school committee to conduct these sessions regularly. Insist that every school bus has a teacher and a didi present until the last child is dropped. The school must conduct sessions on self defense and good and bad touch regularly amongst children in school.
- There are schools that have started to issue RFIDs ( radio frequency identification card ), a smart tracking system that alerts parents through SMS on the whereabouts about his/her child. While this is all great, it is important that you have real vigilant eyes on children rather than constantly depending on an app or a smart chip to raise the alarm. A proven method that is followed in multiple other countries is ‘teacher patrol’, where teachers walk around during breaks, assembly time, class hours and during start and finish of school time.Research across schools in many geographies have time and again proven that schools that have dedicated teacher patrol routines during break and transition time drastically reduce bullying, physical accidents etc. Every student knows that someone is always watching out for us. As a parent, work with your school to ensure that there are caring adults walking around the campus, especially in areas where offences could happen – bathrooms, secluded corridors, labs, canteens, behind the school building etc.
- A complete background verification is a must. Corporate organisations follow this so religiously, that in some cases even CEO’s don’t get on boarded until the background verification process is complete. It is important that all teaching and non-teaching staff undergo a complete verification process. While the HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar has announced that all schools must have more women staff- it in no way implies complete safety. Besides just the verification – metal detectors to be installed at all entry points of the school. Thorough physical frisking of the staff or anyone entering the school to be done. Monitored and restricted school entry– school should have one entry and exit point. Entry into school needs to be strictly monitored . Anyone without a parent, student or employee badge should not be allowed inside. Visitors should only have access to management area which needs to be segregated from where the students are. As a parent work with the committee to ensure this is in place.
- Robust training and selection process is extremely critical at the school level. Think about it, these are the people that nurture your child as they go through their key learning phase. Training not only includes protocols and procedure training, but also training on yoga, meditation, mental peace and spirituality. As a parent knows, that safety is more about culture than it is about processes. Ask your school — how do they ensure engagement and ownership among its helper staff community.
- Invest in walking around the campus and understanding how frequently are the doors, windows, grills and glass panels checked. Does the school have railings of suitable height, and there are no rusted or broken pieces that may injure a child? How frequently are all electrical wiring checked that everything is concealed or insulated and switch boxes are properly maintained and placed beyond the reach of children? Does the school have sufficient fire safety equipment installed as per government norms, and whether it is fully operational? How regularly are the checks and maintenance done to ensure proper working of the equipment?How frequently are mock drills conducted to check the preparedness for fire and other emergencies? When was the last drill conducted for the staff and children?
- Children spaces – playground, laboratory, washrooms etc are dedicated only for the use of school children and should not be accessible to anyone and everyone (not even parents). Is there a female attendant all the time in the washrooms meant for use by the children? Are the younger children being escorted to the washroom with a trusted source? No – access zones should be adequately barricaded and rights of access should be articulated visually. As a parent, see if you are experiencing these controls when you visit the school.
- Talk to teachers and understand if they can handle child safety issues in case of an emergency. Are safety and child rights a discussion point in teacher meetings?Are there doctors on campus to handle an emergency and what are the closest medical facilities available in and around the school. It is equally our responsibility to know and be completely aware about medical assistance available.
- Surprise checks and roll calls are a must. While there is the usual attendance first thing in the morning, most schools do not have a robust mechanism to track students between class periods. With floating classrooms, bunking classes and large campuses, it is a good practice to include attendance in every class or issuing a pass if the child steps out. Such tracking system not only makes the individual teacher accountable for each child in the class, but it also makes students accountable for their movement during class time.
No grades and no results are more important that the fact that children should feel 100% safe in any environment. While schools do everything they can to substantially decrease the probability of an accident – like anything else in life, nothing can guarantee absolute safety. Our children’s safety is a collaborative outcome – not just the school’s or the government’s. Take efforts to build your own understanding of various issues faced by children of today. Don’t interfere in school matters but invest time in understanding safety procedures and guidelines and teaching you children how to keep themselves safe.
We owe this to them – let’s come together to make this a safe and secure place for the generation we are building after us.