Sonia Dogra

Schools have always been second homes for children. On an average, a child spends six to seven hours in school. That is a long duration.

What the child carries back home for life, is not simply limited to books but a bag full of memories that is often termed ‘school days’ in later life. With a paradigm shift in society and functioning of schools, we no longer live in an era where schools become second homes and teachers are viewed as members of family.

With the recent gruesome murder of a seven year old in Ryan International School, problems of modern day schooling have landed into our living rooms. Problems that existed nevertheless, but were brushed under the carpet. Let us have a look at some of the issues that plague our children today, with particular respect to their schooling.

It cannot be overlooked that nowadays parents have become increasingly aware of the education imparted to their children. This may be attributed to the fact that mostly parents are well educated themselves and have big dreams for their wards. But it is extremely naive to equate quality education with good infrastructure. We often fall prey to huge buildings, state of the art facilities, social status of a school and fail to add some important aspects to our checklists. These include safety of our children, security measures adopted by schools, an info list of the employees and also some seemingly harmless issues such as the school canteen. Do we ever ask ourselves before handing over a fifty rupee note to our child whether it is worth to spend it on eats from a place whose hygienic condition has not been cross checked by us?

However, the malaise is more deep rooted than a plate of samosas or a packet of chips. When the brutal murder of Pradyuman took place, schools in Delhi took out a joint statement that read,

It is one unfortunate but serious lapse which needs to be investigated but schools generally have strict measures in place to ensure safety of children. Outsiders are not allowed, students can’t go outside, these are general practices. Whether an outsider was involved or someone who was already inside, is a matter of investigation. Generalising the opinion that schools do not have enough safety measures in place would be unfair.”

I would say that it is unfair on the part of schools to term it as an isolated incident and not own up to laxity in their security systems. Pradyuman’s is not just a one-off case. We have had the case of 6-year-old Divyansh Kakrora who died in February last year inside Ryan International’s Vasant Kunj branch under mysterious circumstances. Several cases of molestation of children by school staff have surfaced time and again from across the country. Therefore, the first step for schools would be to accept that a problem does exist therein. Accepting the problem is the foremost step towards finding a solution. And of course, once a child enters the school premises, the security of the child instantly becomes their responsibility.

It becomes important that schools stop passing the buck. It is easy to point fingers at grade IV staff or parents or friends. But the onus rests on the management and the teachers. Schools might have strict rules about students not going out or strangers entering inside, but what about employees who have a rightful access in the premises. Nobody suspects them. They are the ones who have ample opportunity. They are authority figures that the children are expected to obey and no one hears complaints against them. Therefore, as parents, when we seek admission for our child to a school, we must ask ourselves whether the teachers, principal and management are willing to interact with us? Or, do they inadvertently turn us away from the school gate itself. As parents if you do not have access to the staff, be rest assured that you will not be heard in the near future as well.

We must also be aware that schools do have certain safety guidelines that they are expected to follow. As parents, you have a part to play as well. It is important to remember that violence happens when there is no vigilance. Parents must empower themselves with information about what schools are required to do and ask appropriate questions as well as raise an alarm if they notice any violations.

The heart rending incident has brought governments across different states to take some formidable steps to ensure better safety measures in schools. In Shimla district, a special meeting of heads of government and private schools was held by Deputy Commissioner Rohan Chand Thakur, where school administrations were asked to make students aware of child molestation and how to distinguish between good touch and bad touch via a twenty minute movie. Schools have also been advised to install CCTV cameras in their washrooms and not to send unaccompanied children, upto the age of seven years, to the toilets. It has been recommended that all employees must have police verification before they are appointed by the school administration. Parents must ensure that schools adhere to these guidelines.

Speaking of good touch and bad touch, brings me to discuss the role of parents in teaching children about their bodies. Indian culture for long has barred discussions such as these to come up in households. May be that has been a major reason why our children have been duped and taken advantage of. Making children aware of their own bodies is not just the task of schools but also of parents who need to ask themselves whether they are ready to shed all inhibitions and educate their children with the essentials of life in modern world.

There is yet another aspect of schools that I wish to highlight through this piece. A reputed school of Delhi, namely Pathways Global, was recently in news for a video that went viral. It showed a student of Class X hitting one of his class fellows with so much force that it is reported, the boy suffered serious injury in his ear.It was later reported that the act was a part of a bet between students.

The school authorities issued a letter saying that the students involved had rendered a written apology and had been suspended from school. Well, the school administration may think that they managed to take appropriate steps but the entire episode left us wondering what kind of atmosphere prevails within school campuses and whether the tag of International or Global schools is enough for our children?

Once again it talks of safety of children inside schools and also brings forth a number of other questions –

What were so many boys doing together in the school restroom when they should have been in class?

Who allows mobile phones to be used in school premises during teaching hours?

What values are we passing on to our children as parents and as educators?

Is a written explanation from the school enough to justify the lack of discipline within its premises?

Are parents to be blamed equally for this scenario?

Let us answer these queries one by one. Teenage is a difficult phase and most schools often find it hard to deal with their senior classes. Nonetheless it becomes the responsibility of the school to ensure that discipline is maintained. Schools need to have an SOP to deal with such matters of grave concern.

A lot many international schools charge phenomenal fees and therefore a certain section of society sends their wards to such schools. An episode once related by a staff member of one such school, on promise of anonymity, had a student with temper issues break an LED TV in the school Common room. The parents were called to resolve the problem. Instead of reprimanding their ward, the parents signed a cheque amounting to the cost of the television and thus sought a way out of the problem.

And this is exactly where our role as parents and educators comes in. No matter how much money we have, is it important to give in to each and every demand of our wards. No matter how modern a school may be, does it make sense to allow students innumerable facilities? A school is for education and personality development. What are we making of a generation that cannot do without AC classrooms and state of the art facilities. Let us ask ourselves?

As parents we fail the day we decide to step up for our child’s discomfort. The day we decide to shield them from learning life’s important lessons. The day we shift the onus of bringing up our children wholly and solely on schools. As for schools, times are changing. It is important to have a school counsellor, which I recommend not just for students but for the teaching and non teaching staff as well. The pressures of modern day teaching are as much for the teachers as for students. And timely counselling can work for both.

Present day society faces a lot of challenges and it is only a cohesive approach by both schools and parents that can help cope with them. It is easy for schools to become defensive and pugnacious when incidents such as the one in Ryan International or Pathways take place. It is more difficult to be accepting of the situation. But believe me, the latter is the only way to find wholesome solutions.

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