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HT Top Schools Conclave in Mumbai: Communication key to students’ safety, say experts

The event marked the culmination of the ninth edition of Hindustan Times Top Schools Survey, an annual initiative that recognises the best schools in the city and suburbs.

mumbai Updated: Nov 14, 2017 16:01 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,HT Top Schools Conclave,Mumbai schools
School principals and academicians at the event that marked the culmination of the ninth edition of HT Top Schools Survey, an annual initiative that recognises the best schools in the city and suburbs. (Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

Unhindered communication among children, their families, friends and teachers is key to students’ safety, said panellists at the Hindustan Times Top Schools Conclave on Monday, in the wake of several crimes against schoolchildren in Mumbai and Delhi.

The event marked the culmination of the ninth edition of Hindustan Times Top Schools Survey, an annual initiative that recognises the best schools in the city and suburbs.

Manoj Nair, associate editor at HT, who moderated the discussion on ways to make schools safer for children, asked the panellists whether the recent instances of violence against school students should be treated as isolated incidents of crime or symbolic of an unsafe environment in schools.

Rohan Bhat, principal of Children’s Academy Malad (E) and one of the panellists, said schools are not unsafe. On the contrary, said Bhat, campuses have become safer as schools secure their premises. “Such incidents have been taking place for ages. But these days, people are more aware and ready to take on the system. With the advent of social media, everything goes viral,” he said.

Panellists said schools alone should not be made responsible for keeping students safe. Lack of communication between family and friends makes students vulnerable. Distressed children are more prone to abuse, offline as well as online, they said.

Excessive use of technology -- mobile phones and social media – act as barriers in effective communication at home and in school, said experts. “When we are distressed, we need to speak to someone without being judged or reprimanded. The schools should have a counsellor, preferably a human resources (HR) professional. As teachers are the first point of contact for students, they should develop their own strategies to deal with students. There should be caring and sharing at home,” said Dr Vihang Vahia, professor emeritus of psychiatry, RN Cooper Hospital.

Experts said children often turn to social media to speak their mind. “It is very easy to find vulnerable teenagers on social media websites, which ultimately gives a chance to perpetrators to communicate with them,” said Vicky Shah, an advocate and cyber security expert.

Panellists suggested parents should enforce a ‘no tech time’ - a designated stretch of the day when no one at home is allowed to use mobiles, computers and other such gadgets - at home to reduce the excessive use of technology and to encourage interaction. They also suggested adopting a ‘buddy system’ - pairing two children together - in schools to make them safer. “The perpetrators keep checking the threshold of children before attacking them,” said Vahia.

However, Bhat felt ‘buddy system’ will unnecessarily lead to a ‘fear psychosis’ among children. Instead, he advocated conducting a ‘risk assessment’ in schools. He also suggested that schools in the city should adopt the Gurgaon police’s guidelines for safety of children in schools. “The schools should ensure all their closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras work. They should conduct fire drills. Police clearance certificates should be a must before recruitments,” said Bhat

The attendees found the discussion to be ‘insightful’. “We all are grappling with these issues,” said Sreejit Bhattacharya, managing director, New Horizon Education Society, Navi Mumbai.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 01:16 IST