In the wake of rising incidents of child abuse and violence in schools, a group of experts has flagged hiring of staff without police verification and leaving children unmonitored during recess hours as key areas of concern.
Shikshan Katta, an informal educational forum, held a meeting on Saturday to come up with recommendations to make schools safer. The suggestions will be submitted to the state government by November.
Schools need to come up with better monitoring systems to keep an eye on students, especially during recess hours, said the educationists. “Recesses are a dangerous time as children are unsupervised,” said Sucheta Bhawalkar, principal, Indian Education Society’s Raja Shivaji Vidyalaya, Dadar.
“We find maximum cases of bullying take place in the toilets during the recess. But it is difficult to monitor this area, as we can neither install CCTVs here nor post round-the-clock attendants,” she said.
Bhawalkar said schools are careless while hiring teaching and non-teaching staff. “Often, daily-wage workers are hired as non-teaching staff without any background checks or police verification.
“Hence, incidents of sexual assault by staff members are increasing,” she said.
Another major area of concern highlighted by the group was schools’ lack of preparedness to deal with disasters and emergencies – mock drills and safety audits are held only in some schools, said the educationists.
“Shocking incidents of child abuse, ragging and corporal punishment are being reported in schools frequently. Still, schools are not serious about putting safety measures in place,” said Basanti Roy, former divisional secretary of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education.
“When an incident comes to light, schools give knee-jerk reactions and shirk responsibilities,” she said.
Even grievance redressal mechanism in schools is not up to the mark, said educationists.
“It is compulsory for schools to have complaint boxes for students, but often, their complaints are ignored,” said Farida Lambay, co-founder, Pratham, a non-government organisation. “Teachers need to be specially trained to identify troubled students and a plan of action should be in place to dealing with their problems.”
Some of the suggestions
Schools must conduct safety audits at least twice a year – a list must be prepared, including aspects such as fire safety, security, disaster preparedness – and regular checks be carried out to ensure these are in place Verify the credentials of the coaching classes before enrolling students
A draft checklist for schools to conduct safety audits has been prepared by Ambuja Iyer, educational consultant
Have a well-defined safety statement
Give badges to teachers and non-teaching staff
Ensure visitors have limited access to the school
Fire exits should be located at convenient points
Make students and teachers aware of the evacuation plan
Attend to loose electrical wires immediately
Lay down a procedure to conduct structural audit of the school building
Install banisters and railings along the stairway and corridors. Keep them well-lit.
Monitor students working on computers. Block adult sites
Keep sensitive documents, exam papers and results password-protected
Girls’ and boys’ toilets should be at a distance from each other
Entrances to the toilets should be monitored
Dr Samir Dalwai, a developmental paediatrician, warned schools should be careful while teaching students about good touch and bad touch. “While most schools now teach these things, we find students sometimes make complaints based on inaccurate things they have picked up in these sessions,” she said.