25 May 2018 08:12 PM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 16 SEPTEMBER, 2017

Horror in the Corridors of Schools

RASHMI OBEROI


I see worried parents and school children in the society that I live in. Groups of parents huddle up together in the evenings while the children play in the nearby park…the discussions in all corners are the same…the safety of their children in school. I overheard a few kids talking in hushed tones too – a mixture of worry, fear, gossip and apprehension. Children at this age are vulnerable and with the horrific incidents taking place in schools their minds can be scarred.

Put yourself in the shoes of the school-going children today and parents of such children and try and understand the turmoil in their minds. This is not what they bargained for – these are supposed to be the best years of a student’s life…the formative period, the learning stages. This is when their character is shaped, their mental attitudes and principles moulded.

What we see happening today is tragic. A Class 2 student of Ryan International School in Gurgaon was found dead on the morning of September 8 after his throat was slit with a sharp-edged knife by a bus conductor inside the toilet as the boy resisted a bid to sodomise him. People haven't even recovered from this horror when there is news that a 5-year old, has reportedly been raped by a peon inside a classroom in yet another Delhi school. How does one react to such news that speaks of inhumanness and brutality?

The internet game ‘Blue Whale’ that ends in suicide after 50 days of physical harm is a reality in our country today. There is danger lurking in every corner. Recently, a British paedophile was arrested in Delhi for sexually abusing blind children. Can it get more disgusting and sickening than this?

Children spend more time in schools than anywhere else for most of the year - making it extremely important for school authorities, teachers, and parents to ensure that every child is safe inside the school premises and while commuting to or from school. Education systems have an important part to play in realizing child protection as children spend a significant amount of their childhood in the school environment, which is the next influential setting for the child after the family.

The shocking discovery of sexual abuse of a six year old in a Bangalore school recently has led to an undeniable need for a Child Protection Policy in schools. The safety of children has become a crucial point of discussion across the country. Child protection is defined as the ‘strengthening of country environments, capacities and responses to prevent and protect children from violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect and the effects of conflict’.

Schools must mandatorily create and implement a Child Protection Policy and must efficiently include child protection into their processes, curriculum and staff recruitment. Bringing in the concept of child protection in education systems can lead to essential changes in the ways schools function, children’s behaviour when attending school and the method in which teachers or school authorities interact with children.

There is a need for the articulation of a set of child protection standards to be adhered to in spaces that a child enters: one such space being schools. It is the responsibility of the schools to have a written child protection policy as schools are considered one of the safest places for children.

Many accidents occur when children are commuting to schools. This happens because we haven’t yet ensured safety on school routes. Most of the footpaths are in dilapidated conditions, forcing students to walk on the roads and invite trouble for themselves. Lack of proper sign boards, speed breakers etc. are also major factors contributing to these accidents. A safe route to school audit should be conducted periodically by the school management and local government to trace out the obstructions and challenges faced by students.

The school infrastructure is another major concern. Many students have died or been injured due to poor infrastructure at the schools. We should not wait to initiate construction or maintenance of roofs until they collapse and create trouble. Similarly, provision for safe drinking water is the students’ right, not a supplement. School authorities should always be keen about auditing the school infrastructure and amenities to create a better and safe learning environment.

Safety around school premises is very important. School authorities should initiate necessary action for keeping the environment and students safe. A school bus is considered to be the safest commute option for children. They should follow clear mandates including the seat to student ratio, display of emergency numbers and tracking system, etc.

Display of emergency numbers in school will be highly beneficial for students and staff members. These should include the contact numbers of the local police station, school principal, PTA authority, ambulance service, etc. It is no longer a question to whether or not to provide first aid to students. Injuries can happen at any moment and delay in proper medical aid can lead to serious fatalities and casualties.

Deployment of police personnel in school zones will ensure the students cross roads safely and will also encourage them to follow the rules. A school safety committee should be constituted to ensure and monitor safety practices within the school.

Every school should be required to create a child protection plan which should cover all factors like school transport, medical facilities, physical infrastructure, toilets, staff training and forms of punishments and abuse. The Child Protection Policy of a school must be made freely available to all children, staff, parents/ guardians and the public.

Every Child Protection Policy must furthermore comprise – a policy statement; code of conduct; a whistle blower policy; implementation guidelines and it must have clear accountability resting with a key stakeholder of the school with a child friendly version made freely accessible to children. It is also imperative that orientation to children and staff on the Child Protection Policy must take place.

The Child Protection Policy is the minimum standard every institution must adopt. It is also an important part of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) guidelines, which states that both parents of students and the teachers have to sign guidelines to ensure a safe environment when the child joins a school.

Building a protective net around children is the responsibility of all members of society whether directly charged with the care of children or not. A Child Protection Policy in schools is an attempt to extend child protection beyond the legislations pertaining to children and will go a long way in keeping children safe from many dangers.

Education is a lucrative business these days with new schools mushrooming up all over the place. School franchises seem to have become a money-making racket. To maximise profits, classes are stuffed with so many children that teachers find it difficult to control kids even in Play-school. If education is now a business…Where in lies the accountability and with whom?

Parenting in today’s day and age is challenging – there is no doubt about it. From peer pressure to digital dangers to stalking to over-indulgence to sexual assault – the world is cruel outside. And troubles don’t just end there - The healthcare system in recent days has made a mockery of the lives of little children, our education network is also on the borderline. When parents send their children to school, the least they expect is that their kids will be home back safe and sound and not undergoing a traumatic experience in the very walls of a school.

Remember: we grew up being told that ‘School is a temple of learning’!
 

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