The brutal murder of a 7-year-old child in the school premises in Gurgaon, India left the Nation in a state of shock. Citizens are hurt. They want justice for the victim. They demand schools to be safe. In view of this, the Union Minister For Women & Child Development twitted that the Govt. is making an all-out effort to underpin Child Safety in Schools. And has invited suggestions to be forwarded with hashtag
In view of #MissionSchoolSafety, let’s first understand what went wrong at the place where the unfortunate incident happened? Here goes the list:
1. Compound wall: There are ten entry points to the school. This is because of unmanned or broken compound wall.
2. Locality: There existed a wine shop just 27 steps away from the school.
3. Principal: The school did not have a full time Principal for almost the entire year.
4. Credentials of staffs: The background information of bus drivers, conductors, and other staffs of school was not verified.
5. Access area for bus drivers, conductors, and outside workers: Whether employed by the school or contracted out, the area was not limited to just the bus area.
6. Rest rooms: Bus drivers, conductors, and outside workers used to enter the school building, and use the rest rooms meant for kids. Other outside workers of school like gardener etc. also use the same rest rooms as kids.
7. Window grills: The rest room where the sad incident happened had three windows with no grills.
8. The CCTV cameras: All the cameras weren’t working in the campus. Also, the CCTVs installed in the premises were faulty. They were not covering the entire school area.
9. The “Surakshit School Vahan Policy“: was not followed.
10. Expired fire extinguisher: The fire extinguisher installed were expired.
And most importantly, parents were not aware about the security measures implemented by the school.
In view of #MissionSchoolSafety, let’s find out what are the criteria that parents look for admission of their kids to a school?
1. Commute distance: Many parents want a school that is nearby and also good.
2. Academic standards: Many parents look for academics as the prime factor of consideration in a school.
3. Students-to-teacher ratio: Different parents seem to have comfort levels with different ratio numbers. Some parents are comfortable with students-to-teacher ratio of 40:1 and there are parents who prefer if this ratio is as low as 20:1.
4. School boards: Most schools in India offer ICSE, CBSE and SSLC curriculum. Few schools offer international boards like IGCSE and IB. Different boards address the different needs of parents.
5. Overall reputation of school: This is based on the review about teachers, extra curricular activities, school policy on corporal punishment, the looks of the school and class rooms, the functional playground areas, rest rooms, transport facilities, school timing, the locality and sorroundings of the school; and safety concerns like presence of CCTV’s, support staff etc.
The parents of the unfortunate incident also had looked into all the above features. So what went wrong?
#MissionSchoolSafety: There are standard operating procedures about safe school publised by CBSC and Govt. of India Human Resource Development. But is it implemented? If implemented or claimed to be implemented, is it verified by the goverment agencies? And furthermore, is this data available freely to the public?
I assume not.
Let me buttress my point with a digression. Many countries across the world produce reports on crash tests for cars. These test results essentially tell how a car fares during a crash and what are the chances of survival of the occupants when a crash happens. Based on the crash test ratings, certain cars are not allowed to be sold. India is soon going to introduce the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP) from October 2017. The data will be available to the public. This is a very important step taken by the Goverment towards road safety in line with global standards. Can we do something similar for schools?
A ‘Crash Test’ for Schools
We have accreditation boards for schools. We have published safety norms. What we do not have is the safety rating and published data on the same for public viewing. That way, any parent would be able to check how well a school meets and adheres to the standards laid out by the Government. Also, every school should compulsorily have registered Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and hold at least one general body meeting once a year. PTA should have the authority to ckeck the running of the school.
Every accident is a notice that something is wrong with men, methods, or material. We will not be able to bring back Pradyuman. But, Let’s save our children from such horrific incidents.
The need of the hour: A ‘Crash Test’ for Schools!
The other day, I was walking past the corridor on my way home from work. As soon as I walked past the elevator, a huge cardboard box caught my sight. I was curious about what might have been wrapped inside! It was written shoe-stand with shoes :). I thought our new neighbors might have shipped stuff from the middle east. Because of curiosity again, I tried to peep inside the box. And guess what! I discovered a young boy hiding inside with his hands and legs folded. He somehow managed to fit himself inside the box. I became alert. I pulled him out. Thought he might be with a gang of friends playing ‘Hide and Seek’. I started talking to the boy.
– Are you hiding from your friends? Playing hide-and-seek?
– Why are you sitting inside this box? Where are your friends?
– They are playing inside the house.
– What? Why are you here alone? Let me take you to your friends.
We rang the bell. There were 3-4 kids in my neighbor’s house. The leader mentioned that they do not play with young kids. And that’s an instruction from his parents. I understood now that the boy was sad and the box was his cocoon shelter. Can you please play with him outside for sometime? “No auntie, he has damaged a flower pot already”. And they all came out and showed a pot that the boy had kicked in a fit of rage and damaged! There was some spill over soil to testify their fact! I looked at the boy, and his sadness had increased. He murmured softly that he already said “Sorry” to the team of elder kids. And told that he kicked the pot because he was left out of the games. “Don’t you have other friends to play with?” To this he mentioned that his age kids usually return little late from school, and come late for playing.
My only option was to safely take the boy to his house. But the I decided to spend some time with him. I talked to him, tried to instill some life skills. The only reason was that I wanted to see him happy. Here are my 5-tips that helped the bullied boy:
1. Listened to his story: I gained the trust of the boy as I offered to listen to him. I took him to the house of the elder kids, and tried to solve his problem. I discussed with him various options, and offered solutions. But most importantly, I listened patiently. It’s a common suggestion to parents when their kid becomes a victim of bullying.
2. Made him aware of his mistake: I took the boy near the flowering pot. I explained to him that plants are living objects. And that he must say sorry to the plant for having kicked it. The boy did what I asked. I mean he really stood before the plant and said sorry in all earnestness. He was aware of his behavior. He promised that he will not hurt others just because he is angry or sad.
3. Helped him to come out of sadness: My conversation with the boy helped him come out of his sadness. As we discussed options of play for him, he came out with the idea of going back home to his mother, spend time doing painting, and come out to the play area in the evening when his other friends would be around!
4. Directed him to his safety net: The boy was hiding inside the cardboard box. Somebody could have easily pushed it to the side and he would have got hurt. Luckily that was not the case and he was not hurt. I showed him the way to his safety net i.e. his home.
5. Imparted him the SHIFT-skills: Overall, I had to quickly ensure that his confidence does not take a hit, and help with a strategy to overcome the rejection and mild bullying that he encountered. First was to help him Show confidence, to be able to Handle emotions, to learn to Ignore bullies and Find good friends, and to confide in a Trusted adult are the skills to be imparted to victims of bullying. I explained to the boy that if the elder kids do not want to play with him, he must move on and find good friends of his age. And that he must discuss this incident with his trusted adults.
Bullying is such a common phenomenon that all of us see it around us. Kids can become victims and perpetrators of bullying without really consciously being aware of it. Some are mild forms of bullying, and some are severe. Either way, the victim does go through rejection, sadness, and can lose confidence. And we have to get them out of it and help them come out of it.
“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try”- John F. Kennedy. I hope I tried the right way to pull out a kid of his danger zone…
— Meem (Mom),What would Dory do?
— Dory would first think about a plan. Then think about the consequences, and analyze it!
— No, Meem that’s like Merlin. Dory would apply the plan that comes spontaneously!
The conversation with my 11 year old continued. It was our mom-daughter special time yesterday. We walked down couple of kilometers to the neighborhood theater. Watched the Disney movie “Finding Dory“. Dory is a wide-eyed, blue tang fish who suffers from short term memory loss. She gets separated from her parents.
With help of her friends Nemo and Marlin, Dory embarks on an epic adventure to find them. Her journey brings her to the Marine Life Institute, a conservatory that houses diverse ocean species. Dory gets to know that her family reunion would happen if she could save mom and dad from captivity. In the process, she saves a lot of marine lives. Finally gets reunited with parents. She could do this only because of flashbacks that reminded her of safety rules! Rules that were taught by her parents.
What are the messages from the movie? As we walked out from the theater, we started discussing. The walk back became as interesting as our onward journey. Here’s what we both zeroed upon:
1. Safety rules: Kids must remember the safety rules. As a very small fish, Dory’s parents taught her rules and plans. They taught her rhymes and songs to help her remember the safety rules. They taught her to repeat her name and her diagnosis. They showed her the path back home over and over and marked it for her. Because of this, Dory was able to reach home safely.
2. Friendship: Dory, Marlin, and little Nemo journey across the ocean to find Dory’s mom and dad. They only had one cryptic clue to go on: “The jewel of Monterey, California,” which Dory mutters in her sleep. In their quest, they get help from the turtles Crush and Squirt, Beethoven the whale, Hank the octopus, Destiny the shark, Ray the eagle, and other marine animals. Finding Dory teaches us that true friends are family, they risk their lives for a loved one.
3. Treat people better than they treat you: Dory became separated from her parents. She asked everyone she came across for help. But she was left alone. Then she met Marlin. He was on a mission to find his son Nemo. Dory knew she had to treat others better than they treated her. So she helped Marlin track down Nemo. Finally, she found many friends to help. What goes around comes around!
4. It always seems impossible until it is done: Dory never gave up. Many a times, she was lost. But she followed her heart. She took what logical thinking would consider undue risks. She lived in present and kept swimming. The team work of Dory and her friends despite hurdles helped them to reach their goal. Its a reminder that “Success depends on you“.
5. Coping with disability: Dory suffered from short term memory loss. But she taught herself to get around in the world with her disability. She learnt to make friends with some and avoid others who lacked good will. She managed to ask for help whenever required, and mastered the skill to solve problems. Her cognitive difficulties did not stop her from living in the community as an asset, and lead an independent life. The movie reminds us “Believe in yourself and you can do anything”
“Finding Dory” is a celebration of disability, differences, and friendship. It tells us not to lose our self-belief and strive to find our way out from adversity. Lessons not just for kids, but for all of us.
“Meem, during tough situations we should take a deep breath like Dory and listen to our heart.”, said my 11 year old. We continued walking our way back home.
“He is the most slowest in the swimming course.” No! I am not. “Then take this, Dum!!!” Dodo, what shall I do? All my swimming friends are teasing me that I am the slowest in the swimming course. “Okay Mittu, come here. Look, each child has different manner and habit. So you do not need to start a fight between them, Okay?”
Okay! Mummy today, me and my friends teased Mittu. They teased me saying “he is the most slowest in swimming, ha-ha-ha!” No son, that is a bad habbit. “But mummy, why is it a bad habit? “Son, if you tease others, you may also be in great trouble in coming days. So do not tease others. Okay son?” Okay mummy. I understand that we should not overreact!