It is probably the first time that three departments — School Education, Transport and Police — have come out with detailed guidelines for schools, parents, children and other stakeholders to safeguard students going to school.
All this in the wake of recent reported incidents where school children were kidnapped and abused. A majority of parents and schools have welcomed the initiatives suggested by the Departments, but many wonder if it can be strictly be adhered to and if these are really long-term solutions.
To start with, counsellors say that with no proper fencing and inadequate security personnel in a majority of the government schools, the premises is susceptible to use by anti-social elements and activities.
Counsellors say schools and parents should play an important role in addressing issues such as kidnapping, hoax calls, skipping classes, abuse and violence.
Teachers say that in today's context, the safety issue is a lot different from how it was viewed 6 to 10 years ago. Technology, the cyber world and television influence students in several ways.
Mary Ramola Samuel, headmistress, St. Ebba's Girls' Higher Secondary School, Mylapore, says there are several challenges running an all-girls school.
“We generally do not send our students with somebody who claims to be the brother of the ward. Many times I have parents who are terrified to talk to their daughters about issues and they ask the school to intervene,” she says.
When the Commissioner of Police recently convened a meeting with school heads, he insisted that schools install closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. While some institutions already have such systems, many schools have said to the Departments that it is not a viable proposition.
‘A School' run by the Chettinad Foundation, for instance, has tied up with Viva Communications and has a web-based IP CCTV surveillance. The arrangement allows parents to view their children in school from anywhere by logging onto the internet. They can view the classrooms, playground, canteens and pick-up points.
But not all schools may be able to afford it. Some schools even wonder if it will serve the purpose of enhanced safety and if so to what extent. Seethalakshmi Viswanath, principal, Amrita Vidyalaya School in Nesapakkam, says it might not be financially possible for all schools to make such investments.
“What is most important is to create awareness. On campus, teachers should be sensitised. We are also giving a list of do's and don'ts for children,” she says. The school does not allow someone new to pick up a student unless they have an authorised letter from the parent.
Simply relying on technology alone cannot help. “Raising awareness is important in sustaining any safety measure,” Ms. Viswanath adds.
Children need to be empowered — they need to be taught when to befriend somebody, what is the difference between a safe touch and an unsafe touch, and need to be taught to handle any crisis, say psychologists.
“We need a module on psycho social support and crisis situation. Crisis management skills can be taught to children, right from kindergarten,'' says Fatima Vasanth, Principal, Madras School of Social Work.
She also thinks appointment of counsellors cannot be considered a luxury. For mental and psychological support, a comprehensive education system with a counsellor is required, she says.
Parents have their share of concerns, particularly related to transporting their children. D.Prakash, parent of a class IV student studying in a Matriculation School in Villivakkam, ensures he drops his daughter to school one way and in the evening the child's grandparents are outside the school at least 10 minutes before the school bell rings.
“These initiatives on having extra security outside the school and other instructions to van drivers and schools need to be followed up. At least every month, a meeting should discuss the progress and schools should ensure parents play a greater role when it comes to suggesting safety measures,” says Mr. Prakash.
Officials in the School Education Department say that the circular sent to schools also talks about the Chief Educational Officers of every district being asked to conduct meetings, with the police department also as a representative, once in three months to chalk out new measures and review initiatives.
(With inputs from
Liffy Thomas and