Are Our Schools Really Safe?

Post the gruesome murder of Pradhyuman, safety inside schools has become a big headache for both parents and the administration. The incident has also brought security companies in the limelight. 4 months after what transpired, the question still remains, are our schools really safe?

Most parents begin their day by dropping their children off to school, confident that their wards would be safe once they were within the guarded gates of the institution. All that parents expect from a school is quality education and a good faculty their children may rely on. But the recent murder of Pradyuman Thakur, a seven-year-old boy, within the premises of a well-known private school in Gurugram, has shaken both parents and educators. The same parents who not so long ago dropped their children off to school, sanguine about their safety, are now nervous and distraught.

 Little Pradyuman was brutally killed barely ten steps away from his classroom. The gruesome murder of the child has raised some very crucial questions about the security of children within the school premises. It has highlighted various security lapses that need to be tackled by schools, parents and the government. Even before the dust had settled on the brutal murder of seven-yearold Pradyuman in his school washroom, the shocking rape of a five-year-old girl at Delhi’s Tagore International School, shook public consciousness.

 Says Sanyukta Mukherjee, mother of an eight-yearold boy, studying at Happy Model School, “After a seven year-old boy gets so brutally murdered within his school’s premises, a parent is always likely to get worried. So much so that I wanted to ask my son to never visit the washroom again.” Rakesh Mehra, a concerned parent of an eleven-year-old girl, studying at Sanskriti School says, “Even though there are a number of security measures that the school has always taken but a parent is always worried, especially after cases like these.”

Security Beef

And Delhi schools seem to have gone out of their way to beef up their security infrastructure in the wake of the two gruesome acts of violence against children. Rupa Chakravarty, Principal, Suncity School, Gurugram says, “We have left no stones unturned to ensure the safety of students. At Suncity School we have deployed a one-ofa-kind safety system. This Indoor Location Tracking system uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chip within the school premises to provide near real-time information to parents. It uses GPS devices in buses to track kids while they are on their way to school and back, and shows the location live to parents on their phone apps on a map.

 “Yogesh Sindhwani, Head of Lancers International School emphasises that “Eyes on every child at all times,” had become the top priority for all schools. “The present times are definitely challenging and we shall stand up to learn and deliver.” All the stringent measures are no doubt, knee-jerk reactions to the recent incidents, but the incidents also point to the fact that the role and responsibilities of educators had suddenly increased manifold.

Sindhwani says, “We at Lancers International School are very conscious of our responsibilities towards ensuring safety and security of our students and to this end, have regularly worked towards incorporating steps through guidelines provided to us by various authorities from time to time.” But are these guidelines enough to ensure the biggest question on every parent’s mind? Nita Arora, Principal, Sri Venkateshwar School, Dwarka believes in a “transparent and continually audited safety and security system, disaster management, physical and emotional health management and cyber security based on verification of records of staff, continual training, auditing and effective implementation and supervision.” Arora elaborates on Sri Venkateshwar School’s security system. The school has 240 CCTV cameras with facilities for recording for 15 days at a stretch, which are continually monitored. “Regular training of staff and students and deployment of staff before and after school hours is another vital component of our safety system,” says the principal of the school, when asked about the security measures the school had adopted.

 “Running a Play School brings extra responsibility on the shoulders and one needs to be extra cautious,” says Madhu Prashar, Principal, Playway Nursery School, Delhi. “For instance, during school hours no male staff enters the area where classrooms are situated. All CCTV cameras are working properly. Maids accompany the children to and fro in the cabs and verification of the staff is done. All these points have been considered, but there is always room for improvement,” says Prashar.

New Inventions

 In the midst of the brouhaha over the safety and security of school children, some manufacturers are making hay while the sun shines. Some companies are developing technologies and software to enhance security of children within school premises. Europa TechnoSoft has developed one such technology, called Urosecure that is already functional in various institutions. Urosecure is a turnkey “Security Enhancing cloud-based solution that improves the security layer in schools.

 “Prabind K. Singh, Founder and Managing Director, Europa TechnoSoft says, “Tracking people who visit an institution’s premises is difficult even through CCTVs as this technology has its own limitation. Information recorded on CCTVs cannot be stored for a very long period of time. For such a purpose, we need a technology that is able to record information about people for at least a few years.”

Singh elaborates on how Europa TechnoSoft captures information about a visitor, authenticates and analyses the information in no time and secures it for future reference. “We are also developing an algorithm that will require a person’s Aadhar card number, along with his/her picture or photograph,” he says, adding, “This will be used to connect with the broader Aadhar database on the cloud, which will be able to track a person’s past record and any wrong doing will be highlighted.”

Blue Tree has also created a national database which is free-of-cost for all member schools where the schools can not only check on an offender, but also update the system with information about staff sacked at other schools, who may at that point be working at their school, thus, making information available for cross verification across all schools. Krishna R. K., CEO, Blue Tree Consulting Services says, “Based on a survey conducted, we found that nearly 90 per cent of the schools did not have proper security systems. In today’s rapidly growing digital world, we believe that educational institutions should adopt proactive technologies to create a Safe School ecosystem and prevent undesirable incidents from happening.”

“Whether it is teachers, staff members, contractual workforce or visitors, technology can help educational institutions restrict access to specific areas of school and track them,” says Krishna, “thus avoiding many problems and creating a safer school ecosystem.” Blue Tree has built proactive technology platforms that not only instill a preventive mechanism, but also inhibit behavioural changes in the school to think ‘Safety First’. Blue Tree’s ‘School Safe’ is an integrated technology platform that comprises three parts, namely, visitor management, instant verification and school offender registry.

Reforming Society

Security of children within school premises is suddenly quite a task. The communities concerned, seem to be making considerable efforts to avoid such incidents in future. Even so, the brutal murder of the seven-year-old and the hideous incident of the rape of a child within school premises, seem to be fading from public memory already.

While schools are tackling the need of the hour, they are sensitive to the need for a long-term solution to violence against children − which some educators apprehend, may be nearly impossible. Says Sailander Solanki, Chairman, Sri Venkateshwar International School, “Education is paramount. Educating others around us and maintaining a system of checks and balances is the only permanent solution for a problem of this magnitude.”

 Rana Gupta, Vice President, APAC Sales, Gemalto says, “The need of the hour is definitely to review the entire subject of security and privacy, as it relates to students in a school to identify the areas of improvements and the roadmap for execution on the same. In this context, the stakes have changed considerably and the cost of being a principal or CEO or the board member of a school or a school-chain is now much higher, compared to what it was in the past.”

 Gupta goes on to add, “Complete segregation of primary, middle and higher classes is one aspect of common sense that is being seen as getting violated with such brazen commonality that it is no longer even considered a requirement. Pick and drop for kids is another aspect that has several security consequences. And requisite parking arrangements for the buses is the least of it.”

 Yet, the two incidents were probably, the wake-up call that schools, policymakers and society at large, received that security of children was an issue that involves much more than keeping an eye on the school premises through CCTV cameras. According to Pooja Shroff, CEO, Kalorex, a more permanent solution to safety of children, rests not only with the school, but the government and the community, as well. A true solution to crimes against children lies way beyond the boundaries of schools. It requires the involvement of both policymakers and society. “The schools should implement the guidelines issued by the CBSE and the government, especially the part about the verification of employees. Any person with a criminal background should not be employed. Each member of staff should be trained to be alert and prevent and report on any suspicious activity. The school should have one nodal officer to address such queries whose phone number should be circulated to each and every staff member,” says Shroff, adding, “Meanwhile, the government has to ensure quick justice in such cases and harsh terms to deter people from committing child-related crimes.”

The consensus is that a major overhaul of policies like education for all and societal reforms, could ensure the long-term safety of students. That is a long haul and a task that is near impossible in the short-term. But the question that haunts is: Do we need incidents like the ones that have sent shockwaves to the community in the recent past, to realise that we need to keep our children secure and safe?

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