Safety of children in schools
Concerns about the safety of children in schools keep increasing. The issues relate to physical safety, mental and emotional health, child abuse and many others. In this, Dr Avtar Singh, School Accreditation Assessor, NABET, Quality Council of India (New Delhi) and Subramanian Bhavanishankar, Head of School, Lalaji Memorial Omega International School (Chennai) advise some vital measures to be taken up by schools to monitor it through comprehensive rules and regulations.
Q: As the concern about the safety of school children is increasing, with issues related to physical safety, mental and emotional health and child abuse, do you think there are comprehensive rules and regulations to govern and monitor them in this country? What steps should be taken by schools to ensure effective implementation of these rules wherever they exist?
Dr Avtar Singh: There are enough rules and regulations in our country to govern and monitor issues related to physical safety, mental and emotional health, child abuse, etc in schools, such as Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2003; RTE Act 2000; National Charter for Children-2004; National Plan of Action for Children-2005; The Integrated Child Protection Scheme-2009; POCSO ACT 2012; National/State Commission for Protection of Children; and National Policy for Children 2013.
A comprehensive child protection policy and recruitment policy incorporating various provisions of these acts and policies should be formulated and minutely implemented and monitored by the HOS and its managements. Template of Child Protection Policy and Recruitment Policy prepared by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Rights of Children covers most of the issues related to child’s mental and emotional health and child abuse.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar: National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has in place a well thought-out set of guidelines to state governments, organisations and communities to actively engage in protecting the rights and safety of children. Schools are thawing to this responsibility and slowly but steadily engaging to alleviate child safety concerns. The NCERT has played its part in incorporating the essence of understanding the Childrens’ Bill of Rights through the curriculum set forth for the middle school.
Every school should commit to challenging the societal tolerance to compromised wellbeing of the child. If the educational institutions endeavour to work with families in understanding the undermining factors, better and comprehensive preventive education policies will emerge regarding child safety. Social education which focuses on equipping all the stakeholders with the knowledge to protect children against various kinds of exploitation is central to the realisation of this purpose. A safe school strives to model good governance, resolves conflicts and builds trust in sustaining healthy relationships.
Q: Despite strict guidelines with regard to the safe transport of students from their locations to schools and back, there are increasing evidences of transport accidents causing death and injury to children. How can school improve their accountability in transport management?
Dr Avtar Singh: Main reason of such accidents is lack of proper and timely monitoring of guidelines related to mechanical fitness of the vehicle, training/experience and physical fitness/health of the driver, non-availability of important contacts details with the driver and attendant and at times absence of any attendant in the vehicle. Involvement of parents during arrival and dispersal timings along with teachers can help ensure smooth transport movements.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar: The norms set by the SC and different transport regulatory authorities of the various state governments are authoritarian in this regard. Managing government imposed operational regulations have been perceived to be problematic with schools resigning to withdraw the operation of transport. This has permitted private transport operators and public transport system with compromised safety prescriptions to engage in transporting school-going children.
A regulatory and punitive approach towards measuring accountability in school transport operations should give way to a supportive and collaborative engagement. The schools should be empowered to manage their transport operations and own the liability for delivering results aligning with the national goals set for security, safety and comfort of the students using the school transport. Clarity in defining performance expectations, personal ownership and effective management of consequences will certainly contribute to the schools’ accountability.
Q: Physical and emotional abuse of students in the schools has been banned by the law. Nevertheless, a number of cases are reported in schools about teachers neglecting such guidelines. How should a school ensure strict compliance of these guidelines?
Dr Avtar Singh: Child Protection Policy of the school must be made available to all teachers. This policy should also be part of the school’s Recruitment Policy. Issues of physical and emotional abuse and their consequences should be discussed with the teachers from time-to-time and strict disciplinary action is the last resort to ensure compliance of guidelines related to child’s physical and emotional abuse.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar: A student has the right to engage and study in an environment where he/she feels safe and is free from any form of physical or emotional abuse or harassment. Recurrence in violations exposes the imminent need to establish a zero-tolerance approach to such abuses. A whole school commitment, which is primarily student driven, may be the way forward to effect socio-cultural changes in order that the teachers readily embrace this approach. If the causes of violations are challenged the first time, every time, the need to tow the line will be perceived in the entire community.
Moreover, the schools must promote a better understanding amongst their teachers, of the laws protecting the interests of the students as also evidence immediate action against such violations in order that the organizational attitude towards adherence to rules and guidelines changes. The staff members should be educated to recognize their protective obligation towards students.
Q: With major changes in family and social structures, schools are called upon to empower healthy life skills to the learners to facilitate their growth process. But a large number of schools have neither counsellors nor empowered staff to address these issues. How do you foresee the role of schools in the future to face such emerging concerns?
Dr Avtar Singh: Counsellor in every school is an ideal solution. Life skills manuals/kits prepared by the CBSE can help every teacher to empower to be a counsellor in his/her own right. Students should be trained in ‘peer mentoring’ and involved in imparting healthy life skills amongst students. Positive engagement with and by students should be encouraged.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar: It is evident that vertical transmission of skills and value systems has collapsed owing to weakening of traditional family support structures and urbanisation. In the wake of more modern families dissociating from their responsibilities on life skill building in their children, the role of schools in this regard has amplified by a large extent. To pronounce that the schools are not vigilant to these emergent changes may not be entirely right. Comprehensive programs on life skills have been adopted across different education boards and the schools are beginning to play an active part in realising the efforts of WHO and UNESCO on life skills education and on MHRD’s AEP.
Rudiments of essential social skills needed for emergent adolescents and young adults are taught and practiced for them to lead a healthy, safe productive and fulfilling life. Focused counselling, is still a desideratum for most schools as the core academic subjects have always been overvalued at the expense of all other transactions. In order that the schools fulfil this role, the pride of place in school transactions should be given to common-sense life skills building in a listening environment. This would permit the schools to encapsulate the principle of social education in the realisation of purposeful citizenship building.
Q: Do you think a comprehensive School Safety Council should be put in place in each school comprising of all stakeholders? What should be the focus and scope of action of such committees?
Dr Avtar Singh: School Safety Council comprised of parents, HOS, teachers, students, neighbourhood representatives and local police should be put in place in every school. Parents with professions like doctors, social workers, retired defence personnel and lawyers may be included in this committee. Teachers should include school counsellor and representatives of all segments. If school has NCC, Teacher in-charge NCC should be included. This Council should have adequate periodic orientation on all issues related to safety and security of children. It should meet every month to assess and review various measures to ensure safety and security of students and initiate remedial measures wherever required.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar: Affirmative! A safety council will definitely play its part in addressing the needs of the school-going community in the face of challenges relating to safety and security. The council may draw out a policy to deal with undermining factors that impact the well-being of the ethos such as bullying, violence and other forms of physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, substance and drug abuse, anti-social behaviour, sexual misconduct and a wide range of needs including guidelines and rules for the promotion of personnel, building, fire, water, electrical, material, transport and equipment safety, health, gender sensitive values, peace and human rights among others.
Apart from the tribulations that are intrinsic, extraneous factors such as arson, hooliganism, terror, natural calamities, medical exigencies that could impact the safety, security and well-being of the community, need to be addressed. As preventive management holds the key to successful implementation, the committee needs to address all issues relating to risks, perceived and real. In addition, every violation or incident or accident needs to be reviewed and measures must be taken to eliminate further occurrence.
Different rules and regulations relating to school safety are managed by different agencies and thus there is no comprehensive agency to address such concerns in schools. Do you think there should be a School Safety Council at the national, state and district levels to deal with all related issues in a comprehensive manner? What are the challenges in having yet another administrative structure?
Dr Avtar Singh: Problem in our country is that monitoring agencies like State Education Departments and the CBSE suffer from complacency syndrome. They always ask reports/returns from the schools but rarely visit schools to have on the spot verification of steps being taken by the schools for ensuring safety and security of children. Schools should, at their own, have periodic scheduled self assessment of various processes related to safety and security of students by all stakeholders and initiate measures to improve upon deficiencies. There is no need to have another administrative structure for this purpose.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar: Policy instruments such as The National Policy on Children, The National School Safety Policy guidelines, The National Policy of Disaster Management are available that have endeavoured to promote health and safety practices at schools through various state and district level agencies. The challenges that plague the practices have always been the absence of checks and balances.
If there is a commitment to track implementation at all levels beginning with educational institutions, no separate administrative bodies are needed at the national, state or district level. The major challenges that I perceive in elaborating the administrative structure are primarily related to defining clarity in assumption of roles and accountability in management of consequences in the event of occurrence of violations or impactful incidents that compromise school safety.
Dr Avtar Singh has 45 years of experience in educational supervision, administration and training. He served as a senior principal in a string of CBSE-affiliated senior secondary schools in Delhi and Assam for 25 years. Also, he served for 15 years in the Education Department of Indian Air Force. As a CBSE-trained ‘master trainer’ Dr Avtar has been actively involved in training teachers. He is also a counsellor and motivator for students. He writes on various facets of education, religion and social issues in newspapers and journals. Dr Avtar is an alumnus of IIM (Ahmedabad) and Institute of Applied Manpower Research (New Delhi). Currently, he is an empanelled Assessor for School Accreditation for NABET (National Accreditation Board for Education and Training), Quality Council of India, New Delhi and a CBSE qualified Peer Assessor for School Accreditation.
Subramanian Bhavanishankar is currently the Head of School at Lalaji Memorial Omega International School, Chennai. He also served in the same capacity at Chettinad Vidyashram (Chennai) from 2002-2008. With doctoral degree in low temperature biology and crustacean reproduction, major areas of his research, teaching and training are in aquaculture biotechnology, cryobiology and reproductive biology. He has been providing teaching/training assignments to undergraduate, postgraduate and pre-doctoral students in the areas of R&D-innovations, designs, professional training, classroom tutoring and teaching, practical demonstrations, independent management of research stations, administration in connection with project operation, etc. He is the recipient of BARD-USDA Post-Doctoral Research Associateship (US and Israel). He has also been honoured with a handful of prestigious awards, including Research Associateship Award (CSIR), Government of India; Young Scientist Award—Best Oral Presentation at All India Symposium on Invertebrate Reproduction and others.
Programmes and policies
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) released National School Safety Policy document in February 2016.
Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015, a 10 years plan to make the world safer from natural hazards, at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction underlined the importance of knowledge and education as one of its main priorities. It drew attention to school children and youth with the aim of making the community at large more aware of the threat of hazards and become better prepared.
Union Cabinet has approved the National Policy for Children (2013) to help in the implementation of programmes and schemes for children all over the country. The policy gives utmost priority to right to life, health and nutrition and also gives importance to development, education, protection and participation. Under the policy person below 18 years of age as a child and that childhood is an integral part of life with.
Checklist for disaster preparedness
- Is your school in disaster prone zone?
- Do you know the kind of disaster that may strike your area?
- Do you have a disaster readiness plan?
- Do you have a disaster readiness plan?
- Do you have a disaster management council in your school?
- Has the disaster evacuation plan been notified and put in place?
- Do you have a notified ‘action plan’ to manage any crisis?
- Are you in touch with the local disaster management group?
- Do you periodically conduct a monitored evacuation rehearsal?
- Are the communication channels for emergency well defined and notified?
Schools in coastal areas are likely to face the challenges like: Cyclones, Tsunami, High Winds and Floods. In case of those schools in hill stations, safe concerns include Earth Quake, Landslides, Snowfalls and Cloudbursts.