Chennai

Big Brother or benign eye? CCTV debate rages on

As S. Kamakshi and her friends play kho kho on the playground of the Chennai Higher Secondary School in Thiruvanmiyur, a distant eye is systematically watching them, an eye that does not blink, and does not forget. The all-pervasive CCTV camera here has been installed as part of a pilot project. For now, students are enamoured of this new addition, because they are now equivalent to ‘private schools’ in terms of availability of technology.

According to A.P. Subramanian, assistant headmaster, the school has four cameras, one monitoring the main gate, one the playground, one the record room and one the corridor in the main block. The cameras , which have been in place for close to 45 days, according to him, are a solution to many perils, he says. Late-comers and ‘trouble-makers’ can be watched, the entry of outsiders into the school can be curbed, and in case of quarrels, the footage can be used as evidence.

Headmistress K.B. Gomathi says that since only two night watchmen, hired on a contract basis, patrol their large campus, the cameras help greatly from a safety perspective. Four more cameras, she says, will be installed. Its role in enforcing discipline is only an added advantage.

When asked about how they felt about the newly-installed cameras, students clinically listed things they could no longer do — those opting for mid-day meals would not be able to waste the food and bury it in the playground, they could not leave school indiscriminately, they would no longer be able to indulge in petty fights, but there would also be no fear of bicycles getting stolen. Beyond all that though, N. Shalini and her friends say that if they fell down clumsily while playing on the field, they would be conscious of the fact that their headmaster would be watching them.

Jeyapriya R., a teacher at the school, however, poses a more fundamental question. For how long can students be disciplined by a camera? Discipline, she says, has to come from within. “But when students indulge in a petty quarrel, and parents come asking, we have the evidence to show them,,” she adds.

What prompts children to comply with a roving camera but not a teacher? “When we’re playing pranks in the ground, there is a fair chance that no teacher would have seen us. But, now we cannot take a chance,” M. Sudhan says.

Private schools in the city which have been using CCTV cameras for a few years now, and are all too familiar with its workings. Ajeeth Prasath Jain, senior principal, Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram, says that his school’s 80 cameras were installed five years ago and have been helpful in keeping a watch on the children. “We have abstained from installing cameras in classrooms because we do not want to rob the freedom of the student and the teacher. They have been installed only in the movement areas and the labs,” he says.

Educationist S.S. Rajagopalan however says, “This system is based on the mistaken assumption that children will behave only when watched,” he says. Children, he adds, are bound to misbehave in a controlled atmosphere, and must be given the freedom to be children.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 8:17:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/big-brother-or-benign-eye-cctv-debate-rages-on/article3765897.ece

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