We live in an era of major tragedies, catastrophes and pervasive exploitation. In the midst of such an uncertain and ever changing environment, the safety of the schools should be of utmost priority to any nation. Schools are an important institution, assigned with a crucial responsibility of creating independent and responsible citizens of tomorrow. Thus, providing a safe learning environment for the children should be mandatory across all educational systems.
Sadly, the scenario is very different. Children have been hurt, harmed and abused at school. Whether it was a death or injury due to building collapse, food poisoning, stampede or fire accidents; or children being abused by fellow classmates, school staff or bus driver; their safety has been compromised to a great extent. There are several incidents that unfold the quality of safety standards adopted by various schools globally. To highlight a few instances, would be the Kumbakonam school fire tragedy in India in the year 2004, the food poisoning outbreak in elementary schools in Rhode Island in the year 1990, the shocking incident of children being subjected to sexual molestation over decades by the teachers of a boarding school in Connecticut, the Sichuan earthquake in China which collapsed the walls of a school building in 2008 and many more. A large number of schools in the urban cities are constructed in congested areas, thus making them vulnerable in the event of catastrophes due to improper siting. It is extremely important for schools to inculcate structural as well as non-structural measures to ensure the safety of the children and the school staff.
Safety is an attitude and the schools need to imbibe this into their system in a very effective manner. The two parameters on the basis of which a school can create an inherent culture of safety are awareness and alertness. Some of the structural measures that can be undertaken by the school management to ensure the safety of the students are firstly; avoid the construction of the school building in congested areas or in and around an area with tall structures. Secondly, ensure that the school building is built on a strong foundation and is highly resistant to natural calamities, thus making it serve as an evacuation center in the occurrence of such disasters and thirdly, ensure timely maintenance of the physical infrastructure of the school. Taking these structural measures into consideration will enable parents to be rest assured that their children are safe within the school premises in the event of tragedies.
Though the safety of the students in school is the ultimate responsibility of the school management, but they can surely work hand in hand with the parents, for successful implementation of several non-structural measures. Some of these methods include, generating rescue awareness among the children and staff by conducting rehearsals and mock evacuation drills, installing charts in classrooms that display various rescue techniques and showing videos to students on various safety measures. This will help the students to know how and when to act in times of crises. The schools should also put together and distribute a school safety manual with all its emergency plans and contact numbers to serve as an important safety guide. Installation and constant monitoring of cameras in most parts of the school premises should be mandatory. Schools may also conduct regular self-defense workshops for all the students or include them in the school curriculum and alternately, provide special training to teachers and other staff members to serve as a safety mentor in unfortunate situations. Schools should recruit a full time student counselor to be available to the children at all times. Timely help will motivate the children to speak about any exploitation or abusive incident faced by them, either out or in school. Such incidents have a deep impact on the child’s psychology and thus, should not be ignored by the school management, teachers or the parents at any cost. Schools should conduct systematic and regular quality check on the food being provided in the school canteen, to ensure that no damage is caused to the children due to negligence. Schools can maintain a record book for visitors and a visitor pass to know exactly who is visiting the premises and to easily trace down any suspicious trespassers. Also the visitors should be escorted by a school staff at all times.
Alternately, parents can help in ensuring the safety of their children by talking to them about various safety measures and teaching them how to act during tragedies. Parents can inform their children of the primary route as well as the alternate routes to and from the school, to ensure that they have a backup in case of emergencies. They should also clearly communicate to the school teachers about any physical, emotional or health concerns of their child to avoid any mishaps.
However, every school and its demographic set up are different and hence, there may be several unique areas of safety concern. It isn’t possible to identify and list all of them but ultimately it’s the responsibility of the school to promote a culture of preparedness among children and to prioritize their safety. Therefore, the time and energy put in by the school management today, to formulate and implement several preventive measures, will help save the lives of thousands of children tomorrow.