Safety: A Major Concern for Indian Schools

An Indian school student's shadow falls on a banner during an awareness Campaign against Child Sex Abuse (CSA) in Hyderabad on November 19, 2014, the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse. More than 53 percent of children in India have faced sexual abuse, according to reports. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM

Indian schools are visibly low on safety and security, many schools across the country are yet to install safety and security arrangements. However, in recent times with terror attacks on schools all over the world Indian schools have realized the importance of having a proper security arrangement to meet any such eventualities. Schools are preparing themselves to take necessary precautions and keep strict security checks. All this is being put into place, albeit a little slowly. There are some pertinent aspects that schools must consider while creating safe environment like; creating a supportive environment free from danger and harm, preparing safety plans to escape from the school building in case of natural or manmade disasters and considering safety in student activities, whether it is learning hobbies, sports on the ground or conducting experiment in the laboratories. With the implementation of Right to Education Act (2009), there is an increase in school going population in India (especially in the government schools), But both the government and private schools have not taken any concrete steps to deal with safety issues. Government schools are barely able to provide basic infrastructure. They have poorly maintained school buildings, and hardly any ready plans for safety to deal with increased population. There is lack of safe drinking water, hygienic sanitation and clean toilets especially for girls in these schools. Private schools are no different than this, they also compromise gravely over the safety norms. This calls for schools to have necessary interventions to increase awareness and understanding of threat from different quarters.

Safety Interventions at National and International Level

Squelch (2001) defines a safe school as one that is free from danger and possible harm, where non-educators, educators and learners can work, teach and learn without fear or ridicule, intimidation, harassment, humiliation or violence. There are numerous school safety initiatives being carried out presently across the world to create safe schools. The 2011 Global Monitoring Report examined the devastating effects of armed conflict on education with 42% of out-of-school children living in conflict-affected countries. The GMR also explored the role of inappropriate education policies in creating conditions for violent conflict. In 2014, the UN Security Council adopted its Resolution guaranteeing the right to education of children in armed conflict. Education International is promoting a wide ratification of an international Safe Schools Declaration to protect education by improving monitoring and reporting of attacks. To protect the right to education and promote the continuation of education several initiatives are taken in India too. The National Policy for Education 1992, advocated for child centric approach and prohibited corporal punishment in schools. The Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) in India introduced Disaster Management as a separate curriculum. The Supreme Court’s order in a Directive on School Safety Norms in India put it a rule that no new government or private school would be given affiliation if the building did not have fire safety measures and earthquake resistant structure. The Directions of State Governments also directed all existing government and private schools to install fire extinguishing equipment’s and keep school buildings free from inflammable and toxic material. The School Safety Programme led by the National Disaster Management Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India provided guiding principles for promoting and enabling schools to create a safe environment. But all these interventions can be of help only if our schools link their safe school policy to a whole school approach. An approach which emphasizes the promotion of effectiveness of a school safety education program.

A Whole School Approach

A whole-school approach is built on evidence-based strategies and practices (the effectiveness is documented) that happens over a sustained period of time (e.g., one academic year or longer). It is embedded into teaching, routines activities using reliable instructional practices with ongoing professional development support for teachers. It engages students in active learning and provide them enough opportunities to practice their social-emotional skills and collects information to ensure the strategy is making a positive difference in the learning environment. Thus, the whole school approach incorporate links to the school policy, school ethos & values, curriculum, interpersonal relationships, effective partnerships with parents and services in the wider community. There is an interconnection of three elements; the school ethos, curriculum inputs and partnerships and supervision for creating a whole school approach for school safety. Ethos can be seen and felt from the type of school furniture, access to toilets and drinking water, the type of student work displayed, the decision making role that student play and the type and range of emotional academic and extracurricular support and opportunities available for students in the school. The curriculum inputs refers to both the formal teaching and learning program in the school and the informal curriculum component. School partnership refers to the need to work collaboratively with parents and community agencies, to manage school safety. Involvement of parents enhances the effectiveness of a school safety education program. Thus it is essential for schools to establish meaningful links with community agencies. Schools must develop School-Based Safe School Education Policies and Practices with a vision for a strategic whole-school approach for student wellbeing and a focus on prevention as well as management. In dealing with safety issues an effort must be made to include students also as partners. This will help them to increase their awareness and understanding of threat from different quarters.

Critical Reflections

A sense of security is indispensable to bring out the hidden potential of each child to allow them to grow, thus mainstreaming safety concerns into school curricula as a whole school approach can raise awareness and provide a better understanding of safe environment for children, teachers and communities. Despite initiatives at International and National levels, there are large number of Indian schools that have no safety mechanisms in place nor any awareness or sincere efforts from the school management to create a safe environment. The only efforts for safety in schools are various circulars time and again issued by the school boards that keep advising schools to ban corporal punishment and use confidence building to improve the performance and behavior patterns of the children. Schools are thus expected to pay attention to the safety of its environment and evolve and adapt to changing circumstances without losing the sight of primary objective of educating their students.

Dr.Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor at the M.S.University of Baroda. She is Associate Editor at Eurasia Review and a correspondent for DIOGEN pro culture (magazine for art, culture, education and science) She can be contacted at: swalehasindhi@gmail.com

 

 

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