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Schools need an eye beyond CCTV cameras for safety of students

New Delhi, Hindustan Times | By
Sep 15, 2017 08:34 AM IST

Improving infrastructure: A major overhaul of policy and practices is needed to ensure students’ safety in schools.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) issued a notice to all affiliated schools this week enlisting guidelines to ensure a child’s safety on school premises.

The CBSE guidelines have asked schools to restrict access to their buildings and monitor any visitors(HT File)
The CBSE guidelines have asked schools to restrict access to their buildings and monitor any visitors(HT File)

A day later, Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal directed the Delhi government to make security measures mandatory and linked the rules to schools being recognised. He also asked the Delhi Police to waive verification charges so that schools are incentivised to do background checks on their staff.

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The problem is that these moves were precipitated by the murder of a seven-year-old student in a private school in Gurgaon and the rape of another toddler at a school in Delhi’s Gandhinagar. Such reactionary responses seem to be the standard modus operandi in most cases.

Involve Parents

Priyank Kanoongo, member-RTE and Education at National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), said that such incidents were not endemic to any particular region but indicated a “national crisis”.

“A student was found murdered in Ranchi. A student drowned in a swimming pool at Bhopal. Such incidents are happening everywhere, in urban and rural schools. But it happens more so in private schools because there is a lack of vigilance,” said Kanoongo.

A major reason for this, according to him, is a lack of parents’ intervention in private schools, affecting accountability.

“Under the RTE, the formation of a School Management Committee (SMC) is mandated for government schools, but private schools are exempted. This means that around 73% of schools in India have SMCs, while others don’t. And most of schools that do not have SMCs are private schools,” he said.

But in the wake of recent incidents, many schools are involving parents in committees set up to improve security.

“We have time and again taken suggestions from parents on security but of late, parents are still anxious so we have decided to include some parents in our security committee. Many have agreed to even visit the school on a regular basis to ensure security is in place and we have agreed to come to a conclusion on the same,” said Rohan Bhat, principal of Children’s Academy in Mumbai’s Malad.

Tightening protocol

The CBSE guidelines have asked schools to restrict access to their buildings and monitor any visitors.

Schools in Ludhiana, such as the BCM Arya Model Senior Secondary School and the local branch of Ryan International School, have started issuing ID cards to parents.

“We do not let our students leave unless it is with a person holding a valid parent ID card, or with people who have been authorised by the parents,” said SK Bhattacharya, secretary of Delhi’s Bal Bharati Public School and president of the School Action Committee.

One of the directives and suggestions that have come from most law enforcement agencies is verification of staff to check for criminal records.

Police sources said the suspect in the murder of the student at the Gurgaon branch of Ryan International School was hired without verification. Investigations suggested the suspect, Ashok Kumar, was fired from his previous job at a private school in his village Ghamroj because of suspicious behaviour.

Fixing surveillance

The CBSE guidelines include a direction to ensure vulnerable and isolated parts of a school are monitored constantly by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, but officials believe it is easier said than done.

“Just one or even ten cameras are not sufficient. At Bal Bharti Public School in Pitampura, we have 300 such cameras in every corner of the school. But how many schools will actually be able to afford it?” asked Bhattacharya.

CCTV by itself may not be sufficient since instances of abuse, such as the Ryan murder, take place in areas that are in surveillance blind spots, such as toilets. Parents in many schools have sought attendants in toilets for safety of children.

In addition to security on campus, concerns also relate to when children are in school buses. Some of the suggestions in this regard include the hiring a female staffer who will be on a school vehicle at all times. The added expense of an extra staffer, could however, be a deterrent.

School’s like Bal Bharti have figured a way out. “We are actually looking at getting female conductors. So we will be able to do with one staff instead of the two,” Bhattacharya said.

Way forward

Though these measures are expected to provide immediate relief, a major overhaul of policy and everyday practices maybe required to ensure long term safety of students.

“One of the first things is to get parents more involved in the school. Principals also need to be empowered in management because they are usually more sensitive to the issues. Teachers are the best medium to reach students and hence they need to be properly trained and sensitised,” said Kanoongo of NCPCR. Monitoring remains crucial. “District education officers need to be empowered and given access to private schools as well,” he added.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Mariyam is a correspondent with the Hindustan Times’ Delhi team. She covers stories related to weather, pollution, and education.

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