With implementation of Right to Education Act (2009), the population of school going children in India is increasing. The majority of children go to the state-run government schools, but these schools are barely able to provide basic infrastructure, there is lack of safe drinking water, hygienic sanitation and clean toilets especially for girls, the buildings are also poorly maintained. While there has been a mushrooming of privately-run schools (with primary motive of profit-making), the situation in these schools also is no better due to constraints of space and other infrastructure problems, and it is often observed that such schools compromise gravely with respect to safety norms. There is a debate on school safety and how to make schools a safer place for the children all over the world. India has also taken steps in this regard, and the “Making Schools Safer Series” has been developed by the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute as one of the key activities of the Training and Learning Circle.
Squelch (2001) defines a safe school as one that is free from danger and possible harm, where non-educators, educators and learners can work, teach and learn without fear or ridicule, intimidation, harassment, humiliation or violence. According to the Quarterly Bulletin of Central Board of Secondary Education (2009) safety is freedom from danger or harm and prevention is an important element of safety; everyone in the school needs to know how to act safely and responsibly in unsafe situations. Therefore, ‘Safe and supportive schools’ refers to the provision of an environment that protects the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of students. It is the responsibility of our schools to have a comprehensive perspective towards creating safe environment. Every school should have a plan for escaping from the school building in case of fire or natural disaster. Safety should be considered in all the student activities, whether it is learning hobbies or conducting experiment in the laboratories.
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Article 19,
- The Indian Constitution
- National Policy for Education 1992, which emphasizes child centric approach and prohibits corporal punishment in schools.
- National Policy for Children, 2013 – Guiding Principles X: safety and security of all children is integral to their well-being and children are to be protected from all forms of harm, abuse, neglect, violence, maltreatment and exploitation in all settings
- WASH in Schools is a UNICEF 2009 programme to bring “Equity in School Water and Sanitation: Overcoming Exclusion and Discrimination”. It helps fulfil the universal right to education and health and meets its role in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals”.
- The Supreme Court’s order in a Directive on School Safety Norms in India says that no new government or private school would be given affiliation if the building did not have fire safety measures and earthquake resistant structure. It has become imperative that safety measures as prescribed by the National Building Code of India, 2005, be implemented by all government and private schools functioning in our country.
- The Directions of State Government also states that all existing government and private schools shall install fire extinguishing equipment’s, school buildings are to be kept free from inflammable and toxic material or stored safely, evaluation of structural aspect of the school building must be carried out periodically, and school staff must be well-trained to use the fire-extinguishing equipment.
- The School Safety Programme was led by the National Disaster Management Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India. The goal of the Programme is to – “promote a culture of disaster preparedness in the school community”. Basic Components were; Promoting Awareness and Education Activities, Demonstrating Disaster Risk Management, Training and Capacity Building and Annual Safety Assessment. This Programme works on two operational fronts: district level and school building level. The district-wide programme targets education departments, administrators, emergency officials, teachers, students and the wider community. The school building-level programme focuses on school specific measures.
- The National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the Government of India also puts direct and full emphasis on “providing universal access to quality basic education”. Unsafe schools adversely affect the quality and reach of education in schools in poor and low-income areas. Education itself should include safety awareness. Small preparedness measures can make a great difference in areas that are at risk. The school safety audit can guide stakeholders to prepare and implement school based safety initiatives according to vulnerability and capacity of the schools.
- The Central Board for Secondary Education in India has introduced Disaster Management as a separate curriculum for standard VIII from the academic year 2003-2004, IX from 2004 – 2005 and standard X from 2005-2006. The various activities taken up by the Board for achieving the target included- Module Development, Circular on school safety, Awareness generation in form of painting competitions, exhibitions, debates and essay competitions, Development of Standard VIII, IX and X textbooks.
The above guiding principles have been identified as important area of intervention by researchers and policy makers. These guidelines would help in promoting and enabling schools to create a safe environment, a renewed focus on school safety education in primary and secondary Indian schools is becoming a trend now.
Dimensions of Safe Schools
According to the WHO, there are various dimensions of safety in schools; physical, emotional and social aspects, the infrastructural aspect, prevention and interventional aspect. Emotional and psychological safety comes from the trusting relationship nurtured by a teacher. The experiencing of a ‘trusting relationship’ with their teacher is psychologically significant for pupils and can help overcome any emotional issues or problems confronting them. Our teachers need to step up their role as the guardian of the students.
The development of trust and respect are a fundamental pedagogic responsibility of the teacher, as they help to establish ‘conditions of learning’ in the classroom. Infrastructural aspects may refer to the security of school building and prevention and intervention aspects may include; awareness of parents, assigning duties to teachers, school discipline policies, programs of in-service training of staff to prevent unsafe situations, curriculum with safety related topics, parent and community involvement, mock drills and finally annual review or evaluation of safety policy in schools. In the process of dealing with safety issues school authorities should include students as partners, preparedness should be initiated from the early years of school education as it is an age where children are most adaptable. Thus it is necessary to increase their awareness and understanding of threat from different quarters.
Development of School-Based Policies and Practices
The Guidelines to Support the Development of School-Based Safe School Education Policies and Practices are provided to assist schools and school authorities to develop their own policies. The schools must keep the school values at center before developing safe education policy. It is important that the policy must be linked to a whole school approach which emphasizes the promotion of resilience, linked to the beliefs and values of the school community. The Central Board of School Education has given guidelines to assist CBSE schools all over India. Board has advised schools to formulate safe school education programs for the students, this will help develop opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills for responsible decision-making, interacting, communicating, problem solving and critical thinking. The following figure-1, shows how safe school policy in schools can be formulated keeping the school values at the center. Schools have parent communities who work in partnership with them on wellbeing and safety issues. Leadership teams must work hard to involve the parents and make them feel welcome. Thus with parent involvement the safe school policy can formulated.
The inner most circle in the diagram has aschool mission statement that should be a base for the safe school policy. The second circle is teaching learning context and parent partnership, and the outermost circle shows the safe school environment policy. Schools must incorporate their own specific value framework within a whole school approach to safe education with involvement and support of parents and wider community. It is the role of policymakers, government representatives, citizens and parents, to make sure that that every child receives the safe and secured environment in Schools.
A Whole School Approach
A whole-school approach is reflected in school policies and documentation, and the consistency between the perceptions of staff, students, parents and the leadership team. Whole school approaches are strategic, comprehensive and embedded rather than fragmented. A whole school approach for managing safe school environment requires all the members of the school community to work together, it focuses on: Prevention of safe and supportive environments and Intervention to provide appropriate support for student’s safety. Safety issues should be approached within the context of a school’s student discipline policy. The whole school approach provides a systematic and practical framework which schools can use to manage safety issues and ensure that the well-being and individual needs of all students is supported. The National Healthy school programme identified 10 elements for the development of an effective whole school approach (NISS 2004)
2) Management and management change
3) Policy development
4) Curriculum planning and resources
5) Teaching and learning
6) Culture and environment
7) Provision of support services
8) Staff professional development needs health and welfare
9) Partnership with parents and community
10) Assessing recording and reporting
The above Figure 2, presents a whole school approach in creating a safe school environment by incorporating education and management strategies in the school. There is an interconnection of three elements; the school ethos, curriculum inputs and partnerships and supervision for creating a whole school approach for school safety.
Let us discuss how these three elements are interconnected and can be used in arriving at whole school approach.
School Organization & Ethos
The responsibility of development of school ethos is the responsibility of a school leader. The ethos of a school is the culture felt across all aspects of the school. Factors such as connectedness and belonging, values and beliefs, fairness, justice, and success at school promote resilience in students.
The school ethos encompasses resilience of students. The school ethos can be seen and felt when staff look at and talk to each other and to children of school; the type of and range of school furniture, access to toilets and drinking water; whether and what type work is displayed, and how; whether and how students play a role in decision making and that is managed; and the type and range of emotional academic and extracurricular support and opportunities available for students in the school. For creating a safe school environment all the members of the school should be involved and the policies and procedures addressing school safety must be clearly communicated and understood by students, staff and parents.
Safe education planning needs to occur across the whole school curriculum. The curriculum refers to both the formal teaching and learning program in the school and the informal curriculum component. This provides students with an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills, and to develop attitudes and values that enable them to make informed decisions relating to safety
Partnerships & Services
Schools need to work collaboratively with parents and community agencies, to manage school safety. Schools have a significant role to play in providing information to parents about safety related issues through parent teachers meet, the school counselor and the school newsletter/magazine. Involvement of parents enhance the effectiveness of a school safety education program. It is essential for schools to establish meaningful links with community agencies.
Leadership Commitment in creating a Safe School Environment
Safe schools are most effectively developed when leadership teams have a vision for a strategic whole-school approach in which student wellbeing is a high priority and there is a focus on prevention as well as management. School Leadership must have a clear vision and take the responsibility for the development and maintenance of a safe, supportive and respectful learning environment in schools and also make an effort to communicate it across the school community. For this there should be plans in place to ensure that the vision is sustained for the longer term, with a clear understanding of the school’s current capacity to enhance the wellbeing and safety of its students and actions that need to be taken to enhance that capacity. Schools must be well equipped with the data about any unsafe incident occurring in and outside the school, may it be harassment, aggression, violence or bullying. This data should be time and again assessed to support the development and maintenance of a safe and supportive school. In prevention and intervention of safety related issues role of school leaders is important. The leaders must identify and support the key staff with specific responsibilities for student safety and wellbeing.
In India, unfortunately there is a lack of policy on student safety in large number of schools. There are no safety mechanisms in place nor any awareness or sincere efforts from the school management or the government to create a safe environment. The only efforts for safety in schools are various circulars time and again issued by the school boards that keep advising schools to ban corporal punishment and use confidence building and positive strokes to improve the performance and behavior patterns of the children. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBOSE) has brought out free of cost manuals on school safety with a checklist for different dimensions of safety which all schools can use as a ready reckoner to map their schools and plan ahead. But it is observed that schools often ignore the mandatory norms of safety made by educational boards and education departments. To add to the situation there is lack of effective quality assurance systems which make it easier for school managements to ignore school safety norms, they are even capable of getting all clear certificates for the schools from inspectors.
School leadership plays a vital role in planning, development, maintenance and setting the direction for safe schools. But the tragedy is that the large number of existing leaders are not equipped with the essential elements of good leadership. There are not many capacity building/leadership development programmers from government in place. Though the Central Board of School Education has taken initiatives like induction courses for first generation principals, strategic leadership courses in collaboration with leading business schools in India, specific contextualized training courses arranged with help from National University of Education and Planning, (NUEPA). But all these training programs are announced with a Fee amount ranging from Rs. 8000/- to 10,000. How many private school management would take initiative to send their principals for paid training programs? Such initiatives will work only if it is made mandatory by the board both the Central and the State Boards of education. Effective leadership development programs can ensure more and more schools to become vibrant learning communities under the direction of outstanding leaders. It is responsibility of the school boards to make holistic approaches towards curriculum and various educational programmes and make explicit process for building capacity of leaders at all levels. There is now an emphasis by Indian schools on prevention as well as intervention, this has happened because of changing social attitudes the society. Many high achieving/performing private and government schools have worked on school safety concerns, and made efforts to ensure physical and psychological safety of all students and staff by providing guidance for teachers and students. But so far there is no such evidence that these schools have shared their experiences or good practices with schools that need to create safe environment.
It is a fact that children spend maximum hours in school or on school property, a sense of security therefore is indispensable to bring out the hidden potential of each child to allow them to grow. Schools meet with many fatal accidents like; fire, building collapse, school bus accidents, injury in school labs and sports ground, brutal treatment inflicted by teachers or other unreported cases of bullying and violence. Such incidents have many serious psychological impact on the young minds Therefore educationists, whether they belong to government Institution or private Institution must be duty bound to protect every child from any form of harm or abuse in the schools. There must be immediate and speedy response to any kind of actual or perceived harm or abuse to children.
Mainstreaming safety concerns into school curricula in a whole school approach aims to raise awareness and provide a better understanding of safe environment for children, teachers and communities. There is evidence that students of all ages can actively study and participate in school safety measures, and also work with teachers and other adults in the community towards minimizing risk before, during and after any disaster events. Our teachers also have high levels of interest in making schools safe, but the constraints in time and resources hinder this many a times.
Our school leaders must identify safety related problems in schools, analyze them and make necessary changes, they have to be alert on the fact that as they find successful solutions to one set of problems, new challenges may arise. Along with school leaders equal role must be played by policymakers, government representatives, local citizens and parents in creating safe schools and go for regular follow up activities. All the schools must pay attention to the safety of its environment and evolve and adapt to changing circumstances while not losing the sight of primary objective of educating their students.