School is where children spend close to half their day. As parents see their children off to a school, they do so with an unflinching confidence that their wards are in safe hands. But the traumatic incidents of killing, maiming, raping and molesting little ones in temples of education have shattered their trust. They are no more isolated incidents. It is happening across the country. The murder of a seven-year-old boy in a school in Gurugram in Haryana; the rape of a five-year-old in a public school in the heart of Delhi; the stripping of a 13-year-old boy in a Mumbai school; the death of a Class IV student after a fall in a school corridor in UP; sexual assault on a three-and-a-half-year-old girl in a playschool in Bangalore; the drowning of a six-year-old in a school water tank in the national Capital…. Such chilling incidents of killings, sexual assaults and tragedies indicate that schools are no more safe places for children.
To get to the root of this horrifying scenario, one has to take a close look at the changing face of modern schools. To cope with multiple requirements of clean environment, transport, security, etc. most schools recruit sweepers, drivers, guards, gardeners, and more. In most cases, the authorities have little knowledge about the background or work ethics of these underpaid and untrained personnel. More often than not, their police verification is not done. Instead of limiting the entry of such supporting staff to their area of work, they have unrestrained access even to the most private places where only students and teachers are allowed to go.
It is equally important to take note of the profile of those setting up private schools. Since education has become a milch cow, private schools, set up by real estate dealers, politicians and liquor barrons, are mushrooming. Unlike the traditional schools run by Christian churches, other religious trusts and institutions, the new entrants run them as business ventures with the sole motive of profiteering. To cut costs, many safety requirements are compromised with.
The Central Board of Secondary Education, in a recent circular, has made a host of safety measures compulsory in every school. If properly put in place, it can apply a brake on the spate of heinous crimes happening inside the four walls of schools. Police verification of all staff members, especially the supporting staff, should be made compulsory. Installation of CCTV cameras in the entire school premises, in working condition, can go a long way in checking crimes. It is equally important that the entry of supporting staff members should be restricted to their work areas. A mechanism should be developed in which every part of a school is supervised by one or other teacher during breaks and other activities. Equally important is that no child should be allowed to move around alone. Some experts have suggested ‘buddy system’ wherein children are put in small groups which can work as a safety mechanism for one another.
The recent incidents should serve as a warning bell to all schools to tighten their safety net. Those who have been taking things easy better gird up their loins.(Published on 18th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 38)