Interview: Manu Gupta on School Safety

A safe school is key to safe children. It is upon each one of us to ensure that our children are safe. Aapda Samvaad spoke with Dr. Manu Gupta, who is the co-founder and executive director of SEEDS, a non-profit organization working in disaster risk reduction in Asia, to understand issues related to school safety.

Q. How do we know a safe school from an unsafe one?
A. Viewed from the eyes of parents/guardians, a ‘safe school’ would be one where they feel their kids are being taken care of and are safe from harm, from the point they leave their homes for schools until their return.
In terms of scope, the concept of ‘safety’ would encompass not just the risk of natural hazards, but also fires, threats from the immediate external settings, to on-campus violence and abuse.

Q. How do we integrate DRR education into the school curriculum so that the emphasis shifts to the understanding of risks and safety as a life skill? 
A. Rote learning cannot ensure Do’s and Don’ts will be practiced when needed. What is really needed is working with teachers on adding practical, real life based elements of risks and safety in their regular teaching pedagogy.

Q. How do we make our conversation on DRR with children interesting so that it
stays with them?
A. At SEEDS, we have had the most successful DRR campaigns with children through games and fun activities. Games have been developed for different age groups and introduced in extra-curricular sessions, cultural activities, and environment club activities.

We have also observed keen enthusiasm among students in carrying out risk assessments within their classroom and campuses, and also their immediate surroundings using simple hazard hunt forms.

Q. What preparedness measures should schools take to reduce disaster risks? How can parents, NGOs support schools in ensuring children's safety?
A. Schools need to have a clearly laid out plan that lays out protocols based on possible disaster scenarios. Plans need to be reviewed regularly. There are now elaborate guidelines on the subject by Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD), Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), NDMA.  Further, each State Government has laid out specific guidelines for schools. The Safe School Plan should be able to incorporate recommendations of these guidelines and put in place protocols that are rehearsed regularly.
Parents, members of local community, NGOs, public emergency services have a responsibility too. Creating mechanisms for participation of all stakeholders is necessary. E.g. every school should have a safety committee that includes, besides the school staff, parents, representatives of local emergency services and NGOs.
Parents can be called upon to volunteer as wardens in large events, and mock drill exercises; NGOs working on DRR can serve as “bridge-builders” in making knowledge and tools available to schools for practicing safety measures.
Ultimately, safe schools concept is much broader and includes:
a.  Reduction in losses due to avoidable disasters/accidents among students.
b.  Improving quality of education through reduction in drop-outs and absenteeism.
c.  Building greater community ownership  of schools through engagement with citizen groups/local CBOs, business, emergency services and line departments.
d.  Creating a culture of preparedness and safety.

Q. Disasters affect children's well-being in ways that can have both immediate and long-term consequences. What role does psycho-social support play in mitigating the impact of disasters on them? 
A. Emergencies erode the social protection cover for children. This gets amplified in poor marginalised communities. Strategies to provide pyscho-social support to children must be part of each response action.
In our experiences, children face incidents of abuse at home, and on their way to school. This has been one of the contributing reasons for dropouts among adolescent girls. Addressing such daily issues would mitigate potential devastating effects of disasters.

Q. What role are the National School Safety Guidelines playing in building disaster-resilient schools?

A. The national school safety guidelines have comprehensively addressed the threats of natural hazards in schools. They provide a complete A to Z guide to addressing both structural and process related issues in schools. Some notable highlights of the Guidelines are :

1.     The guidance provided for integrating ‘safety’ in education programming and by using the existing institutional structure

2.     Elaborate guidance on strengthening capacity of students, teachers and non-teaching staff.

3.     Listing of possible tools for practice of school safety - such as School Disaster Management Plans.

4.     Details on possible role of local stakeholders

Schools and State and District authorities should actively use and promote the use of the Guidelines through the education department establishment using the training institutions at State level and District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs).

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