Schools

The 21st century safe school addresses school safety from a holistic perspective

Anjana Deepak
The 21st century safe school addresses school safety from a holistic perspective

The shock remains but the panic is replaced by a growing resolution: Enough is enough. The recent gruesome incidents (rape/ murder) targeting children in schools, compels a complete relook and rethink of where we are going wrong and what exactly can be done to ensure and secure the safety of our children. Keeping students safe and in an environment where they can flourish is becoming more and more difficult. Children spend a large percentage of their time at school and it is imperative that we make sure that we implement every possible measure to keep them safe.

A new kind of rigorous education is now a must for all children as well, maybe from the very moment they learn to understand the word “safety”. It is not only the parents’ responsibility to make sure their child is safe but also the duty of the school that we equip the minds of our children to do everything in their power to protect themselves from the monsters that roam in society.

Sexual Abuse
A difficult topic but one which demands we shed inhibitions and educate children about the issue and their rights.
In most cases the sexual predator is usually someone the child knows and has interacted with. A teacher, a family member, a neighbour, a friend… any of these people who we come to trust may violate our children.

The concept of ‘Your mind, your body’ should be taught to a child. A child must know that they and only they own their bodies and it is okay for them to say ‘NO’ if they don’t want to be touched. Even if it’s as simple as a hug or a kiss, a child should have the right to say no if it makes them even slightly uncomfortable. They have certain areas as ‘private’ which are off limits to everyone else, including members of the family.

Pushpendra Kumar, Principal, RM Public School, Bijnor

Says Pushpendra Kumar, Principal, RM Public School, Bijnor, “It should be made mandatory for school children to be educated about sex. Since I am from a rural area, I see a lot of parents hesitating to discuss sex with their child. As society leaders we have to take up these responsibilities as sex education is not only for the children of the big cities; it is very important for the children of the rural areas as well to understand and shed inhibitions around the topic.”

Using appropriate terminology is important. It ensures that the child is correctly informed and can talk about it if there is a situation. Making the child feel comfortable during this conversation is a must.

Sonal Ahuja, Director, Shri Ram Foundation Preschool

Sonal Ahuja, Director, Shri Ram Foundation Preschool and Shri Ram Bal Bharti School emphasises on the fact that, “Once we cross the barrier of our own apprehensions, only then will we be able to share many more secrets of ‘sex education beyond the physical act’, with children.”

The mouth, chest area, stomach area, area between the legs, buttocks are off limits to anyone and everyone. That doesn’t mean that everywhere else is okay. Illustrated books on sex education can be used to explain these concepts to children simply and effectively.

Kavita Sanghavi, Principal, MET Rishikul, Mumbai

Sex education is mandatory. According to Kavita Sanghavi, MET Rishikul, “Sex education is imparted through regular sessions by the school counsellor and expert talk on the subject is delivered to students by gynaecologists, psychologists and sexologists from outside.” This awareness goes a long way in keeping children safe.  

Bullying

Bullying, one of the largest problems in schools, is a form of abuse that usually occurs when a child or a group of children target another individual and exercise their power over them. It usually happens in areas that have less supervision by the staff or teachers of the school - bathrooms, deserted hallways, cafeterias, at the school bus areas or even in the bus. Bullying comes in many forms - fighting, name calling, teasing, excluding someone repeatedly…. Bullying can be physical or an emotional trauma for the child who is at the receiving end of it.

Bullying isn’t considered a big problem as compared to drug abuse, so most parents and teachers tend to make light of it, but it can have long lasting effects on the child being bullied and on the bully as well.

Sunny Mahajan, Joint Secretary, Pratap World School

If signs of bullying are seen, a parent or teacher must address it immediately. A child disclosing an incident of bullying must be taken seriously. Sunny Mahajan, Joint Secretary, Pratap World School says, “Workshops are conducted with students and there is an Anti-Bullying committee also in place. Statements like these are also highlighted at various places in school. Bullying is strictly prohibited inside the school premises and no such act should go unnoticed or unpunished.”

Don’t brush it away. Certain tell-tale signs can be seen if a child is a victim of bullying. They might withdraw from people and from friends, lose interest in activities they previously used to enjoy, display physical injuries, and show a drop in grades, etc.

If a child is being bullied, they can be helped, first by talking to the parents of the bully, teaching kids to take the non-violent approach to deal with a bully by walking away, talking it out or just by moving away to play with a group of friends. They need to be helped to restore their confidence. The first thing that bullies usually do is to break the self-confidence of a person.

Taruna Kapoor, Vice Principal, The Wisdom Valley Global School, Palwal

Vice Principal, The Wisdom Valley Global School, Palwal, Taruna Kapoor says, “We conduct assessments in our school as to how often bullying occurs, when it occurs and how students and adults intervene. Parents are also made aware of these problems and encouraged to handle them properly. Awareness campaigns and workshops are conducted for the benefit of students. A thorough code of conduct, rules and reporting system is established. Also, a general school culture of acceptance, tolerance and respect is encouraged. Positive social interactions among school staff, students and parents is reinforced. Bullying prevention materials are introduced in the school curriculum and activities.”

She adds, “Bullying can threaten students’ physical and emotional safety at school and can negatively impact their ability to learn. The best way to address bullying is to STOP before it starts.”

Children who are bullies must also be helped as it can cause severe behavioural problems later in life. Children normally turn out to be bullies when they don’t empathise or sympathise with others, they usually like to be the centre of attention, enjoy aggression and love to pick fights. A counsellor at school could talk to the child, and may help get to the root cause of the problem. They might have anger issues, or some changes that are happening at home or they might feel insecure. Counselling may help solve these problems. Children who usually bully have, at some point, been victim themselves.

Learning Disabilities

How receptive are our schools and teachers to kids who have learning disabilities? These kids are most vulnerable and are at a risk for long term academic and social problems. Children who find it difficult in classrooms be it with reading, writing, comprehending, paying attention, proper coordination, memory, and staying organised could be facing learning disabilities. These disabilities can manifest in varying degrees of severity. Some students may struggle with more than one. Proper diagnosis is extremely important, followed by remedial measures to correct their situation. Solutions for children with learning disabilities must focuses on individual achievement, progress and learning to ensure they are successful.

Depression

Although depression is classified as an adult disorder, children are also susceptible to it. When depression is recognized early and treatment is provided, young people can feel and function better in school and life. Schools play a pivotal role in in identifying depression and intervening. School staff must be knowledgeable about depression as the disorder can seriously impair academic and interpersonal behaviour. Some of the signs teachers must look out for are: low tolerance for frustration and negative patterns for thinking, giving up on tasks quickly which they find daunting, doubting their ability to independently complete tasks and solve problems, lethargy, speaking laboriously, difficulty in completely expressing thoughts and ideas, decreased self-esteem and self-worth, and separation anxiety from parents.

In cases where the child is going through depression a home-school communication system has to be developed to share information on the student’s academic, social and emotional behaviour. The best approach taken is often individualised. Children, when helped to overcome their depressed state with patience and perseverance from school staff, home and peers, tend to lead happy and normal lives.

Corporal Punishment

A common disciplinary measure in schools is corporal punishment. Hitting with the hand or with an object like a cane, pinching, excessive physical exercising, twisting of the ear, etc are some forms of corporal punishment. There have been instances where children have lost their lives or have been gravely injured. In most cases the physical hurt can be treated but the psychological and emotional effects can have severe consequences in the future. Mental harassment is also a form of corporal punishment.

There is no excuse to resorting to corporal punishment. It is important to treat every student with respect and care. Children can lose their confidence and self-esteem. With a child being continuously subjected to corporal punishment, the dire consequences could be children developing aggressive or destructive behaviour. They start to think that it is okay to hit someone if not listened to, or they may show cowardice, learning to obey without asking questions or having opinions.

It is the collective responsibility of all to abolish corporal punishment completely. Teachers and educators need to form mutual agreements with students, motivating them and giving them a sense of belonging to the school. It is the right of every human to live a peaceful life without having to face violence in any form.

Online Abuse

Technology cannot be eradicated from children’s lives; it is here to stay. Monitoring them every second of everyday is impossible. So, when they get sucked into the big bad world of virtual reality what do we do? How do we cope with the fact that our kids can be hurt by someone who is sitting thousands of miles away?

The Blue Whale game, which is a 50-task game culminating in a suicide order, is a classic example of children being ensnared online. Developing trust and openness is the way to combat such dangerous influences. Children should be educated to talk openly about things that concern them, whether it is internet related or otherwise. Adults in a child’s life should make sure they don’t blow things out of proportion or overreact to situations but understand the needs of the child so that, in any situation, they feel comfortable to come up and speak to an adult, regardless of the issue.

We need to speak to children, develop their self-worth and give them the confidence that life is not about letting someone or something influence us into the wrong behaviour, and that there are alternatives to combat stress and confidence issues.

Countering the sinister Blue Whale challenge is the Pink Whale challenge or the Baleia Rosa game, which aims to spread not anguish and harm but love and happiness. While the Blue Whale is about depressing messages, self-harm and suicide, Baleia Rosa promotes positivity and encourages people to save lives.

Eventually, youngsters must realize that online challenges are not the ultimate game-changers, and that we all have our inherent traits of strengths and weaknesses - it is up to us to work on them.

Internet Safety

Internet usage has to be monitored continuously as today’s youngsters tend to use the internet heavily these days. It is important to provide kids with safety and protection from online predators.

We must keep an eye out on what they surf online. Children should be taught not to trust everything that they hear or see on the internet and to never reveal any personal information like their real name, which school they go to, their address or even frequent places they hang out. They must also be told not to share their family or friends’ information either.

Most internet browsers have parental controls that can be easily used to set up security safeguards and content filters for language, nudity, sex and violence. Special browsers can also be set up that are kid-friendly. You can allow your child to only have access to this browser.

Children also get sucked into online chats where identity thieves or child predators pose as friends. A constant vigilance has to be maintained to their chat activity.

Children must be allowed to play age appropriate games. Check gaming websites that list the ratings of each game.

Do not allow children to do online shopping by themselves, we never know if they are going into insecure sites to make purchases and could be left vulnerable to online thefts.

School Safety
Schools must ensure that there is CCTV coverage in all corners of the school to ensure that the kids are monitored. When hiring staff and teachers, the school must ensure that they go through the proper channels of hiring, because these are the people who are responsible for a child’s safety and wellbeing. Schools must develop guidelines regarding the hiring process. It shows that the institute has done their homework and that they are a serious organisation and not just a money-churning machine.

Says Kusum Kanwar, Principal, Billabong High International School – Santacruz, “The 21st Century Safe School is a forward-thinking comprehensive approach addressing school safety from a holistic perspective of mental, emotional, physical and social safety. It is much more than physical threats. However, schools at times have a false understanding of school security and poor training and not following best practice guidelines for safety programs, leaves schools vulnerable to threats.
“Students deserve quality education in a learning environment where they feel safe and secure. Ensuring safety training for stakeholders prepares and empowers school administrators, educators and staff to effectively plan and train for a multitude of potential threats risks. It begins with planning and an increased level of awareness of potential threat indicators.
“Safety Training includes creating safe learning environments which are emotionally and psychologically safe, have situational awareness and other critical social and behavioural topics and simulation drills and safety exercises. Many schools have a mindset that training a small number of staff who can train the rest of employees can help, however the outcome will probably not be favourable. Parents need to be a collaborative partner in this endeavour by heightened awareness.
“Safety Training programs need to merge mental health and security practices for creation of a safe school.”

“If a school is aware about the facts related to raising sensible children, then parents automatically start following the culture of the school,” points out Sonal Ahuja, Director, Shri Ram Foundation Preschool and Shri Ram Bal Bharti School. “We hold sessions and make sure that each one of them attend. School activities are not done just as formalities. We make sure that raising a child is a triangular effort: Teacher-Child-Parent. We all have to play our roles equally to reach a set standard or a goal.

“Schools are expected to address behavioural issues, minimize absences, reduce or eradicate mistreatment and bullying, prevent abuse cases and also fully prepare all students regardless of family circumstances or community characteristics. Given these demands, schools may find it difficult to be successful if they are operating in a reactive stance.

“Quality and character of school life can also be improved by welcoming partnerships, which aim at mutual trust and respect, responsiveness, research, reflections and introspections. In this partnership, school, staff, principal, parents, neighbourhood school representatives can develop a plan of action that is responsive to the needs of the school towards safety and security. The goal is not to provide the ‘one size fits all’ set of prescribed action. Schools should now step out of the so called, self-centred approach and bring a more community driven approach, by collaborating and welcoming partnerships - more brains, more reflections and hence most appropriate action plans leading to safe schools.”

Sunny Mahajan, Joint Secretary, Pratap World School also adds, “More personalized care by every member of the school can help in spreading positivity and protection for students. Mobile jammers can be introduced so that children do not become a victim of the Blue Whale game in school premises, particularly boarding schools. CCTV cameras should be present in every nook and corner so that everyone is alert. Police verification of each staff member must be conducted and anyone found with a record should not be kept in school. Psychometric assessment of each and every employee is essential. There should be security guards in school premises at various points as a physical presence always has an edge over any technology. Meditation activities for non-teaching and teaching staff help to maintain a positive balance of energies. Negative thoughts can be channelized. Ensuring more technology driven checks and balance can also help.”

Kalpana Chaudhary, Director, NH Goel World School, Raipur

Kalpana Chaudhary, Director, NH Goel World School, Raipur, says that apart from the regular norms of school safety, “We also do not encourage children driving their own two or four wheelers to school. We encourage children to use school transport. The children who come by their own vehicles have been issued I-cards to the drivers. Their names and phone numbers have to be registered with the school and they have to sign a register and a gate pass while leaving the school. Random and regular breath checking of the support staff specially the transport department is also essential.”

Stay Prepared
Life is full of surprises, not all of them pleasant. It is better that the organisation is prepared for fewer surprises. Institutes must continuously sensitise staff and enhance security measures in all possible ways. Some schools have already increased their security detail. Some of the measures that these schools have taken are:

The school staff and teachers are in the premises much before the students enter the school. After dispersal the building is secured by security staff.

CCTV cameras are installed at strategic points across the school and are regularly monitored by dedicated personnel. Regular maintenance is done to ensure functionality is strictly implemented.

Entry and movement of all adults in the school campus is recorded. The school is secured and the gates are manned by security guards all the time.

Students toilets are clearly demarcated and separate toilets are used by the support staff.

The GPRS system has been incorporated for school buses, while CCTV cameras, first aid and fire extinguishers have been placed in every bus.

Students board and alight from the buses within the school premises under the supervision of the school transport in charge.

Teachers are assigned duties on vantage points during school hours.

The school medical team comprising of doctors and counsellors conduct regular sessions with students on various subjects on safety and otherwise.

Bullying is strictly dealt with. Corporal punishment is not permitted and the physical safety of each child is of utmost importance.

An ambulance is stationed at the campus at all times for any medical emergencies.

Adding to these measures, Kavita Sanghvi, MET Rishikul, recommends that profiles are very clearly outlined to all so that every stakeholder is aware of their roles and responsibilities. Regular monitoring and recording, working closely with parents and earn their support and trust, informing parents of the school safety measures, holding meetings with staff members on child protection policy and their need to look into every aspect of students’ safety, recording of regular inspection by school safety officer, and the Police Clearance Certificate (PCC) of male staff members, are all essential steps.

When it comes to the safety of students, it is infinitely better to err on the side of caution.

This story features as the cover story in our October 2017 issue.

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