SEEDS India takes charge to ensure school safety

NEW DELHI: Manu Gupta, Executive Director, The Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) talks about SEEDS new comprehensive and interactive school safety program – Safe and Secure Schools in association with Honeywell India. This program seeks to ensure that children go to school without fear, remain safe in school, and return home safely.

Manu Gupta sharing about Safe and Secure Schools initiative with Rusen Kumar, Editor, India CSR Network. Excerpts of the interview:

Elaborate on the SEEDS Safe and Secure School program.

The concept of school safety has evolved over the last couple of decades, as the threat to the physical wellbeing of children has become more visible both globally and in the country. School safety in India, which began with fire safety and safety from natural hazards, has evolved to encompass to safety from terrorist threats, civil disturbances and recently extending to safety against violent acts/bullying/substance abuse/sexual abuse.

For SEEDS, Safe Schools may be defined in terms of 15 essential practices such as compliances as per policies, acts and rules of the National and State Government including education boards; documented assessment of threats, regular audits, and continuous surveillance practice; and regular conduct of emergency response exercises.

The programme takes a three pronged approach which shall enable mitigation of natural hazards, reducing everyday threats from external environments and preventing on-campus abuse and violence.

How many schools are you currently working with under this program?

Honeywell Safe Schools programme is currently being implemented in 50 Government schools and one special school in East Delhi.

Elaborate on the findings of the baseline study that you undertook for this program.

Baseline key findings of the baseline study indicated that 69% children walk to school usually unaccompanied. Parents fear road accidents and bullying most and do not even recall natural calamities such as floods, earthquakes as hazards. Most of them attribute loss of life and suffering to inadequate response systems; but, ironically, 99% people are unaware of any helpline. Respondents blame inadequate response systems but not lack of community preparedness and only seven percent of them are aware of the school disaster management plan mandated by the government.

Secondary data points highlighted that a count of 3,007,010 students are enrolled in 5751 schools in Delhi. 53% schools are at highest risk from earthquakes, including all 624 in East Delhi. 316,321 students in East Delhi are at risk, as their schools fall in the Yamuna flood zone and 725 Delhi schools lack playground/open space for evacuation.

Recently we have come across situations where students were sexually abused in schools; how are you educating/creating awareness amongst the parents and students to deal with such situations?

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups as well as easy targets to the various silent disasters like accidents, bullying, abuse (both mental and physical) etc. occurring around the world since time immemorial. The recent case of a child being murdered at a prominent school in Gurgaon, NCR has served as a grim reminder of the problem. Generally it has been seen that children are scared to report such incidences. Even if they gather the courage to speak up, their voices go unheard in their peer groups, school authorities and even their parents.

We at SEEDS through our safe and secure school program have been trying to address such day to day stressors through carrying out participatory risk assessments including safety audits of schools. The scope of such assessments focus on all issues related to safety and securing of children from the point they leave their homes for schools until their return. We attempt to establish mechanisms and protocols in schools with necessary capacity to address such issues and escalate problems at appropriate levels for immediate mitigative action. Apart from that, we try and create awareness generation through various participatory tools such as activities like street plays that are carried out by local youth in communities around the school. Further, we work with local CBOs, neighbourhood associations in identifying potential vulnerable zones and a system of community watch to prevent incidents of violence on abuse.

What are your future plans for expanding this program? Are you going to expand in other cities except Delhi?

We would like to scale this programme to reach out to as many schools as possible. For this we are actively seeking partnerships through CSR support and voluntary help from citizens. Schools in large cities and those located in highly hazardous zones are high on our priority and tailor made solutions are being developed to address threats that are typical in each setting. As per directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, all schools in the country need to address issues of safety and security.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee in this feature are entirely his own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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