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EDUCATION

Creating safe environment for children in schools

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EARLIER this week, I visited a public Nursery/Primary School in Awka Metropolis. I came into the school towards the dismissal time of the Nursery section. So I was there when their dismissal bell rang, and the children flocked outside.

For some of them, their parents or guardians were already there to pick them up and they left with the children without any form of clarification with the school authority. Some of them, to my uttermost bewilderment, have no one to pick them up at that time.

They were just there unguarded, playing while waiting for their parents or guardians to take them home. During this waiting period, someone will just come in, pick one or two of them and leave, just like that, without any form of clearance from the school authority or security personnel. Then, I wondered what will happen if someone that has no business in that premises, walks in and picks one or two children from there and walk away.

In shock, I walked into the staff room, wanting to find out from the teachers how they know which parent takes which child since no one was there to supervise the exit of the children. Their response was, “we are just paid to teach them, not to babysit them”. Another said,  “even if you babysit them, their parents will just come and pick them up without any form of appreciation.”

The climax of the whole response was from the headmistress, who said:  “Who do you want to watch over them without extra cost? Most of us here have our own children that we are supposed to pick up from other schools.”

I then asked, what if something happen to those children while they are waiting and she said’ “as long as it is not during the school hours, it is not our business.” Pondering on these words, I asked myself, if the safety of the children is not the business of the school authority, whose business is it then? With cases of kidnap and other security and health breaches being recorded in our schools, stakeholders feel government and school authorities should handle the issue of security and safety in our schools with utmost urgency.

Speaking on the issue, Mr Ezeani Clifford, a civil servant, said, “Safety in school environments can be seen as one that provides for overall wellbeing, as well as ensures that no harm comes the way of the student during the course of education.

It should be seen as school and school-related activities where students are safe from kidnap, violence, bullying, harassment, and substance use. Students of all ages require a safe learning environment for their better education and development. School security encompasses all measures taken to combat threats to people and property in education environments.

Safety for school children is an all-encompassing issue, which includes safety whilst on the way to school, safety in the school and safety after school. It is very important, because children are the future. So, in a way, society’s future is being secured, when school children are protected. Schools, after the home should be safe haven for children.

“Schools need to have a good security structure, and should also look at physical structure, especially the fencing, to ascertain that it is strong. If it is weak from flood due to downpour, it should be fixed immediately.”

He continued, “Another thing is that, schools need to do emotional and psychological vetting on teachers before they are employed to know if they pose any security threat. Vetting is very important to find out if a teacher has mental problem, bad record or not in the right frame of mind. A teacher that is not in the right frame of mind cannot function properly; likewise an unhappy teacher cannot be happy while in school.”

Also, Mrs Onwuasoanya, a banker and young mother said that “insecurity in our schools is a burning issue that government and school authorities should take more seriously. Two months ago, I got a call from my child’s school, telling me that my seven year old girl had an emergency.

On getting there, I saw my little girl screaming and covered in blood. On enquiry, I found out that her classmate, who should be about the same age with my daughter, used a sharp object to cut her three fingers, and my baby was badly injured. Up till now, no one in that school is able to tell me how that little boy got that sharp object that he used on my daughter.

And I cannot still believe that this kind of a thing can happen under the watch of the class teacher as she claimed she was in the class all through. Although I am still in court with the school authority, I feel it is high time the government and education stakeholders adopted some security measures to make the education environment more conducive for the schoolchildren.”

For Mr Okoye James, a secondary school teacher, “The institution of learning should not be a source of hostility and nightmare to a child. The formative years in which education plays a vital role should be one that ensures learning in a safe environment, which will support the holistic development of the student physically, socially, mentally and emotionally. Security at schools has become paramount to all stakeholders: teachers, parents and students, the installation of CCTV at designated points in the school premises is important.

This is to help the school authority to monitor all the activities going on in the school. Sensitization of students and parents on security alerts during PTA and other school programmes, orientations in classes and during assembly should be done from time to time. Despite the size of the school, every school should have strong and viable security, especially at the gate.

When this is done, strangers should not be allowed into the school and people (parents or guardians) should not be allowed to walk in and go to the classrooms to pick up or check on their children at will.

“For nursery and primary schools, when children are to be picked up, only familiar and regular faces are to be allowed. If the regular person would not be available, the assigned person to pick up the child should be introduced to the school authority or the school’s security personnel earlier.

“In secondary schools, where the students can come to school and go on their own, the school should also make sure that there is a time frame for students to come in the morning and go in the afternoon. This means that lateness to school should be curbed, parents and students need to cooperate.

Once the students are not in the premises at the stipulated time, they are assumed absent and the school will be locked. In the afternoon when they leave, the school can no longer be held accountable. Nonetheless, parents need to educate their wards, as we do too, to go home straight, keep away from strangers”.

In agreement is Mrs Ofodile, a retired principal who further outlined more security tips schools, especially those with boarding facilities, should adhere to.

She said; “Schools should take safety serious by having one entrance and one exit gates. CCTV should be installed and must be managed by trained personnel, while all staff and students must carry their identity cards at all times which should be electronically tagged at the gate.

“Dates and times for visiting must be clearly specified and displayed at the entrance and all visitors must be subjected to checks at the gate. Parents must also be adequately informed of the activities in the school and their schedules. Also, walls, if present, should have some form of computerised safety gadgets with warnings for any intruder.

“In addition, the location of the school is important for government protection, therefore, there should be permanent links on safety issues between the state and schools’ administrators. So at a touch of a button, the security officers should report to the school within seconds. This means they must have their pass to get in for emergencies”.

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