From the Editor’s Desk: OCTOBER 2017

Dear Reader

The murder of seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur by a bus conductor in Ryan International School in Gurgaon on September 8 has changed the way security and safety is viewed in schools all over India. The boy’s throat had been slit inside a toilet and a CCTV camera had captured the Class 2 student crawling out of the toilet and collapsing in a pool of blood. This horrific and most unfortunate incident was enough to wake up the entire nation and push it into an overdrive to try and redefine school security. The mainstream media has been raving and ranting about prevailing inadequate security measures in these institutions, while parents have been huddled together to fervently discuss the topic and demand better security for their children. School managements meanwhile, have been trying to implement as many points as possible of the guidelines, hurriedly being issued by a multitude of authorities, such as the Central Board of Secondary Education and the local police.

Why does it take a seven years old kid to die before people become aware of the obvious, something which logically should have inherently been there? When we build schools, we naturally expect them to be safe! So, why do we suddenly turn hyper about security and safety when an unfortunate incident occurs? Weren’t the basic security measures supposed to have been there as a norm? The answer to this is, yes! Yes, they should have been there in the first place. However, we assumed this, but never cross checked or questioned these aspects when we admitted our kids in school, because security and safety was never on our priority list, we never thought on those lines, let alone, demanded these things! We were more keen to know, if the class rooms and buses were air conditioned, whether the school had a swimming pool or not. For things like security, we never checked! Because, safety and security is just not a part of our DNA, unlike the Israelis, where every man, woman and child is born with security awareness running in their bloodstream!

We are rudely awakened by a shocking incident, so we go on an offensive against school authorities and blame them for inadequate security measures. We begin questioning everything and start to conduct security audits, not for once thinking…Are we competent to do what we are attempting to do? And, the school authorities, just to please everyone, and while wishing for this nightmare to be over, start hurriedly implementing all the measures prescribed by hyperactive parents, the unforgiving media and incompetent government authorities who suddenly have school security in their crosshairs.

As a result, we throw common sense to the winds and begin to put in place measures that are absolutely illogical in the way they are implemented. Like placing a door frame metal detector (DFMD) at the school’s entrance and making kids walk through them along with their tiffin boxes, water bottles and backpacks, which may be made of metal or have metal parts. The resultant procedure has the DFMD beeping all the time! We begin looking for security auditors on a war footing, without ascertaining their competence or knowing the scope of the work that is to be assigned. Most of the time the schools are only looking for third parties, who are willing to share their responsibility by submitting a written and signed security audit report. The authorities, just to prove they are doing something about school security, meanwhile issue a slew of directives that are open ended and non specific. For example, ‘Placing CCTV cameras at all vulnerable points’. They do not define the size and the resolution of the images that the cameras are supposed to capture and neither do they define the basic vulnerable points of schools!

Creating safe schools is the responsibility of the entire community in which a school or school system operates, but responsibility for maintaining them on a day-to-day basis lies principally with school administrators and, to a lesser extent, the local law enforcement agency. Security is not a standalone capability. It should in fact form a critical element of any education project plan and once it is designed and implemented, it should be continually reviewed and upgraded. Parents should ensure that they send their kids to only those schools that have been certified safe by competent authorities. But isn’t this wishful thinking, as most believe that this furore will die down very soon as some other incident occurs to catch the attention of the media. We are fortunate that most schools in India still don’t have the problems of drugs and weapons and incidents such as active shootings, the way schools in the US have.

Wishing all our readers a very happy Diwali.

Cheers, Stay Safe and Happy Reading.

G B Singh

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