Safe learning: Keeping schools safe for kids

State has made educational advancement but schools remain quite unsafe for our children.

One of the fundamental requirements to ensure the safety of schoolchildren is that the school itself be a safe place for them.
This is important for three reasons:
1. Unsafe schools can lead to safety incidents which can cause injury or even death of its pupil(s).
2. In the modern 'whole of school' learning concept, teaching safety lessons to children sitting in unsafe classrooms will be hypocritical and cannot lead to effective learning .
3. Schools are often used as relief centres during disasters and are, therefore, considered as 'lifeline' buildings.
Therefore, having unsafe schools, which will be damaged during disasters, will exacerbate the impact of the original disaster.

Preparing for school safety
Kerala has a long tradition of schooling and our governments have been investing in school systems for decades. Our high levels of literacy and the record of people pursuing higher education which enabled Keralites to take advantage of the employment opportunities all over the world are a direct consequence of our investments in schools.
Our children are our future and investing in good schooling system is a foundation for sustainable development. As the government, teachers and parents have student safety paramount in their minds, the government will be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our children safe.
While we hear about occasional accidents leading to major injury or death of schoolchildren, such incidents are few and far between. However, as a society we must do whatever possible to prevent accidents causing injury or death. At the same time, investing in safety of schoolchildren ensures their safety during school years and help put a foundation of safety for them in their future and our society.
Three enabling actions are needed by the government to initiate a programme on school safety:

Make an explicit commitment to build safer schools by way of a policy or statement so that the issue gets attention of all stakeholders, teachers, children and parents.
Establish a system whereby at least one teacher (two in the case of mixed schools) in a school has a basic understanding of school safety and is professionally trained in first aid.
Ensure that a basic safety audit is conducted in the school and a safety plan is prepared for every school.

Safe school policy

The safe school policy should be a simple statement, no more than one page, which is approved by the government and is displayed in all the schools. The basic elements of a safe school policy are:
A commitment from the government to a safe learning environment for all children.
A commitment from the government to make available the resources needed to make the schools safe.
A commitment to the parents to inform them about any safety incident relating to schoolchildren, be it inside the school or outside.
A commitment to investigate any safety incident relating to the safety of the schoolchildren and take the required corrective action.
A call for all concerned to contribute to the safe school policy.
The copy of the safe school policy is given in the appendix of this guidance note. This may be printed out in big posters and displayed prominently in the school.

Draw up a Safety Plan for secured environs

The headmaster or principal of the school will be primarily responsible for implementing the school safety policy. To discharge their responsibility, they should appoint a safety focal point for the school who is trained in basic safety issues dealing with schools and also professionally trained in first aid. In mixed schools, there should be one male and one female focal point to deal with safety.
The school safety points identified should be given the required training on the basics of school safety as well as in first aid. In addition, they should be provided with the required resources and facilities for first aid. In case of schools which have a school safety club, the members should be given basic training on how to identify safety hazards and report them in advance.

They should also be empowered to assist other students who may be injured during school activities. In schools where there are no school safety clubs, such a responsibility may be given to the class representatives.

School safety plan

Every school should have a documented school safety plan with the following basic elements:
The name and contact details of the headmaster of the school.
The name(s) and contact details of the safety focal points of the school.
A map of the school and its surroundings showing any safety concerns (road, railway, river, high tension wires, factories, etc.).
A layout of the school showing fences, entrances (open and locked), assembly area, location of the first aid box.
Key identified safety risks within the school.
Phone number of the nearest hospital, fire station and police station.

Assessing school safety
School safety is a function of three separate elements and all these need to be systematically reviewed in the context of school safety:
Location of the school.
Construction and layout of the school.
Activities in the school (both in the classroom and outside).
In addition, weather conditions such as rain, wind or heat bring in additional risks that need to be factored in.
Furthermore, school children are also exposed to safety situations during their travel to school on foot, or by automobiles or boats. Whereas these situations are not directly within the control of the school authorities (except when school arranges for transportation), a school safety programme should address these issues and also work to maximise its impact.

Audit school safety plan to cut down risks

The education system in the state has played a significant role in the progress Kerala has achieved in human development indices. However, it ranks very low in safety records. Accidents claim about 8,000 lives annually with over 4,000 dying on the roads and over 1,800 drowning. School children face many hazards, including fatal road accidents and deaths due to collapse of school buildings or trees and other factors.

A systematic assessment is needed to identify the safety hazards, but a basic safety audit can be conducted in the schools using a simple checklist. School location: A school on a hill slope or on the edge of a river is vulnerable to natural hazards. A school close to a highway, railway line and industrial facilities pose man-made threats to the children's safety. As schools have to be close to the community, natural or manmade hazards are inevitable. There may not be any 'ideal' location to protect the children but the potential hazards can be avoided by building the schools away from such locations.

As the schools already built cannot be shifted, steps should be taken to minimise the hazards. School construction: Schoolchildren suffer injuries and even deaths in times of disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, fire, lightning, rain etc.
School buildings should avoid open windows on the second floor upwards, and should have protected stairways, safe electrical switches and plugs. School operations: The safety of schools can be improved by changing the operational practices. These include creating awareness among all the parties concerned (children, teachers and parents) on the risks and risk reduction measures.

Take risk migration measures

After gathering the field data, the audit should prepare a list identifying the key hazards, their significance and possible measures of mitigating them. Every audit will identify a number of potential safety hazards to be addressed, which should be classified based on their risk. All high?risk hazards should be brought to the attention of the management and addressed immediately. In some cases, risk mitigation may not be immediately possible, but other risk management strategies such as risk isolation should be done. An action plan should be made to address the medium and low?risk activities on a time-bound fashion.

Risk mitigation measures
A good audit of the safety situation in the school will identify the typical risks specific to that institution, those which depend on the school location, construction, geography, climate, nature of students, facilities and activities. Whereas the list of hazards in the school will be long, most pupils are already aware of most of the risks. The audit will only facilitate to verbalise those risks and ensure that possible precautions are taken to minimise these risks.
These measures will consist of (a) creating risk awareness, (b) reducing risks by physical actions, (c) personal protective equipment, (d) early warning and signage, (e) emergency drills, (f) first aid, (g) and learning from incidents.

Creating risk awareness
Once the key risks are identified and major risks are eliminated, the findings of the school safety audit need to be communicated to all the students, teachers and parents. This should be done in multiple ways. For the children it could be done by a series of posters and photographs illustrating the risks and risk mitigation measures. For the teachers and parents, this could be done through an interactive session.

In addition to the generic presentation, additional presentations on safety should be held for the students on the following occasions:
Prior to any special events at the school
Prior to any planned outing from the school (excursions, sports competitions outside the school etc.).
Prior to any major construction activity being initiated within the school compound.
After any safety incident in the school which caused injury or could have resulted in major harm to children.
After a major safety accident in the state which has relevant lessons for the school children.

Mark main risk factors to safeguard children

The typical hazards in a school and in an office are similar. However, the risk is more in a school because the majority of the occupants are children who are not continuously supervised.
Some of the typical risk factors are:
1. Slips and trips: Children slip on the floor of the building or trip on loose wires and cables leading to minor injuries.
2. Fall from heights: In multi-storied school buildings, children may fall from heights through classroom windows, verandas and stairwells.
3. Electrical hazards: Many classrooms have electrical points and equipment that cause hazards.
4. Falling objects: Falling objects, such as cupboards in classrooms or loose materials from the roof are hazards that happen in areas with heavy wind /rain.

Computers and visual display units
The use of computers and other visual display units (VDUs, e.g., television, laboratory display terminals) causes hazards to the new generation. There are short?term issues such as neck pain and strain to the eye due to the positioning of the VDU and long?term impact due to posturing and positioning of the hands while typing on computers. Children should be taught appropriate work practices to avoid the health impacts.

Risk hotspots in schools
While classrooms have the above hazards, there are certain areas within the school which pose more risk.

Safety during special events
While day?to?day activities of the school pose risks, there are additional risks associated with special events such as sports festivals or excursions. The pupils (a) work in unfamiliar environment (b) are less supervised and (c) are in a more excited state of mind. Therefore, additional attention needs to be given to their safety.

Risk-aggravating factors
Natural and manmade events bring in additional risk factors. For example, heavy rain may increase the risk of slipping in the playground or construction activities in the school may increase electrical hazards.

Risks during journey to school
Coming to the school also poses significant safety risks as the majority of children are on their own. There are also special cases needing additional safety considerations.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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