Indian schools are faced with a unique set of security issues these days. Every now and then we read about an untoward incident where a student is victimized within or outside the school premises. While some episodes are beyond administrative intervention but a school’s reputation gets mired in controversy nevertheless. To maintain a healthy space for the students and the community at large, and also to abide by the government safety standards; the schools are obligated to protect the students along with balancing their own budgetary limitations.

The criminal incidents in our country specifically have been on the rise. But more recently we are witnessing an alarming rise in the number of student juvenile criminal cases. Each year, there is an increase of 5% tentatively in such episodes. The crime rate statistics are also on a steady upswing. If not curbed at this stage, these would certainly lead our country into a social and moral epidemic.

The media has played a pivotal role in this case by providing coverage of on a number of student-related tragedies. It has spurred the need to upgrade the security equipment and procedures. The schools are compelled to focus on student protection as public outcry has left them with no option but to focus on security spending. As a result, there has been a paradigm shift, and now a large number of schools — particularly primary and secondary — have to devote a significant chunk of their budget every year to evaluate and improve their existing security systems.

The brutal murder case of a seven-year-old from a reputed Gurugram school’s premise and the rape case of a five-year-old girl by a school peon in Delhi has opened the Pandora’s box of concerns for the society today.

Parents now worry not just about the physical safety, but also the mental and emotional health of their wards, as well as their overall well-being. Alarmed at the increasing rate of crimes at school premises, the CBSE (i.e., Central Board of Secondary Education) circulated a new set of security-related protocols, that is to be followed religiously by the various educational institutions across our country unless they want to run the risk of being derecognized.

“The onus for the safety as well as the security of children in school campus shall entirely lie upon the school authorities. It is the right of a learner to involve and study in an environment where he/she feels free and is safe from any form of physical or emotional abuse or even harassment,” said the directive.

Violence against children in educational institutes is becoming frighteningly regular affair, and even the so-called elite schools in the metros are far from being immune. Thus it is the joint responsibility of the government, school management, teachers, caregivers, and families to work in collaboration to make sure that children are safe. But, in today’s day and age, it would be simply inexcusable to blindly ignore the available technologies, which add another level of security and supplement child safety in myriad ways.

Right from entry-control equipment as well as identification, which includes visitor badges, electromagnetic door locks, and palm scanners; to improvement in communication technology, video surveillance, alarm and protection systems, emergency alerts which include automated text messages or emails, to tracking systems which include smartphone apps, and GPS devices… there is no scarcity of technological options available to keep children safer at school premises. But the question today is: do we have the conviction to use these?

Simple technology like SMS messages plays a vital role in maintaining the safety and security of children. “An SMS messages can be sent to all the parents whose children do not turn up at school, to ensure their presence at home or provide knowledge to the parent about the child’s whereabouts” avers Dr. Padmavathy. “Again, when the child returns home in the evening, the parent sends a reverse mail to the school and also acknowledges the arrival of the child home.”

While the SMS alerts can fulfill the basic function, the actual monitoring of child safety is a more intensive task. Rockwoods International School, Udaipur, for example, is furnished with a surveillance system of over 130 CCTV cameras along with resource personnel who regularly monitors different areas of the school. “All corridors, playgrounds, classrooms, parking areas, entry-exit gates, areas outside washrooms, and even the entire admin block is fully under CCTV coverage,” quotes Principal, Ashish Bhatnagar. “Furthermore monitoring screens have also been installed at all the prominent areas like director’s office, the principal’s office and in the server room, while the school periphery is also carefully checked and controlled for any anti-social elements.” Plus, most cameras in the school also contain inbuilt microphones, not just to prevent physical abuse but also to record verbal abuse (if in case any) whether in the classrooms or the corridors.

It might sound like a mammoth task, but no more with intelligent products and technologies which have been designed in a fashion to work seamlessly together. A lot of firms out there are already specializing in such technologies. They provide schools with a complete package to help ensure the safety and security of learners, staff and even the visitors. Such products are installed at multiple Indian schools. The use of Security Cameras at different locations at the school – stairways, libraries classrooms, cafeterias, and conference rooms – ensures real-time monitoring and also reduces the time in response in case of a security breach, along with value for money as well as first-class support.

But still, the technology in school safety continues to be swatted away like a pesky mosquito with that hoary old canard – ‘Maybe it is too expensive”. Is use of technology for students’ safety really too complicated, elitist, and costly, and hence not for ‘regular’ schools?

Technology in school safety does come at a high cost – but if could one compares this to the life of a learner. With the ever-increasing number of students, the figure could be as little as Rs.200 per child per month. That’s a little more than the cost of a single ‘Happy Meal’ at Mc Donalds. Reason enough for even the nay-sayers to start I’m lovin’ it? Aint it?

The following guidelines have been issued in the circular as posted by CBSE:

#1. The educational institutions should strive to promote a better understanding amongst their facilitators and staff on the laws protecting the safety, security, and interests of the students and devise ways and means to take immediate remedial and punitive action against any breach/violations.

#2. The staff members should also be educated sufficiently to provide protective obligation towards learners to make sure of safety and well being of children at school.

#3. Get the security /safety audit done of the school vicinity and personnel from the respective local police station and follow the security-related advice for the safety of school children.

#4. Installation of CCTV Cameras at all vulnerable points in the school premises is of utmost importance to ensure their functioning at all times is mandatory.

#5. They must get police verification, as well as psychometric evaluation, for all the staff employed. Such audit and evaluation for non-teaching staff such as conductors, bus drivers, peons, and other support staff must be done very carefully and in a detailed manner.

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