When parents wave goodbye to their children at the school gate, they do so with the assurance that their child is going to a place probably safer from their own home. Away from the sharp corners of the tables and the door hinges.
Not anymore. Parents today are constantly checking their phones hoping not to receive any unpleasant call from the school. The recent incidents at some of the most prominent schools in the country are to be blamed. The heinous murder of a seven-year-old child in a school in Gurugram, the rape of a five-year-old in a Delhi school, a bullying incident in a school in Noida and several other instances of molestation of children in schools have reminded us that safety and security measures in schools need to re-evaluated and strengthened.
While CBSE has issued new guidelines in the light of these incidents making it mandatory for schools to conduct regular security audits, police verification, setting of parent-teacher panels etc, schools need to step up on security facilities and integrate stronger security measures on the premises.
The burning question: Who is responsible?
The prime responsibility definitely rests with the schools to ensure safety of the children within the walls of the temples of learning. However, parents and, at a larger level, the government authorities, too must share the responsibility. Parents as part of parents' bodies must engage with schools to identify any shortcoming, loophole with the school or to keep a lookout for any abnormal behaviour with their children when they come back from school. And government authorities must ensure strict implementation of guidelines with respect to adherence of security measures by the schools.
What needs to be done?
Proper verification and background check of employees
Though already mandated by law, it is often found that school authorities are lax in conducting verification and background checks of employees. This must be strictly enforced, for all employees, including housekeeping staff, drivers, clerks, managers, teachers and others. There should be special focus on crosschecking and verifying the antecedents of the staff, who deal with students, especially those in kindergarten or primary classes.
We also need to empower students as agents of social change.
Their previous employment details, police verification through background check and contact details should be collated before they are hired. The school management should designate a cell specifically for verification of employees. Phone calls should be made to the previous employer to check their credentials before hiring. A character certificate from the last employer should be made mandatory.
Use of appropriate technology
We need to use surveillance technology such as CCTVs to secure areas such as those outside washrooms and playgrounds used by students. Merely installing CCTV cameras is not enough, there should be a designated personnel or a control room to monitor. For younger children, a female housekeeping staff or attendant should be present in the washrooms. They shouldn't be left alone in deserted spaces in the school at any time. Toilets should not be far from classrooms.
There is now technology available that enables real-time monitoring of school buses by a local control room set up in the school that can track pick-up and drop locations and student movements. Parents can have access to it through an app on their smartphone and get notifications about the student's boarding the bus or disembarking in real time. Chip enabled RFID's as student ID's should be used by schools.
Special panic buttons should be installed in washrooms or any other vulnerable areas of the schools where it is easier for a student to alert the management in time before an untoward incident happens.
G4S India has invested in technology to make schools a safer place for students. This technology is easily integrated with existing security systems in the schools.
Restricted entry on school premises for staff
The entrance gate of the school should be the strongest checkpoint. The guards at the gate should have standing instructions NOT to allow any driver, conductor or unknown person, to enter without a valid reason. Visitor management with access control technology should be used for securing access control within the school premises.
Role of teachers
Teachers need to be proactively involved in ensuring the safety of students in school. Teachers should make it a point to walk around deserted or dead areas in schools before and after recess or during school hours. There should be surprise checks done by teachers and by the school management. There is a need to create a system for inspecting the school in a friendly, informal and comprehensive manner to avert any unwarranted cases.
Designated teachers, as per route used by the teachers, should travel with the children, possibly their class teacher in the same bus, also overseeing proper embarking/disembarking. In case a teacher is absent, a parent should be present on the bus.
Participation of students
We also need to empower students as agents of social change. The children should be educated about good and bad touch and feel confident to report any uncomfortable incidents to either a teacher or parent.
Role of parents
As a parent, it is important that we teach our children to be assertive in order to protect themselves against incidents of bullying and emotional exploitation. And, most importantly, make our homes a place of trust and support. At school, creating a safe learning environment, identifying pupils who are suffering or at risk of harm and then taking suitable action, are vital to making sure that children are safe. It is for the government to make sure the right information is imparted to parents and children both in private and government sector schools about issues relating to cyber-safety and bullying.
In conclusion, safety and security is an ongoing process and preparedness is the key. Schools and authorities should not wait until an incident occurs. They must, in association with professional security agencies, identify potential risk exposures; create and disseminate action plans and train and drill staff and students on a regular basis.
School, college and university campuses require a unique set of security and safety solutions that balance individualised needs while staying mindful of costs and budgets. As the demand for campus public safety services rises under rapidly changing revenue landscapes, it is crucial to find the right security partner with the ability to deliver effective solutions without compromising critical services.