The State of Security and Safety in Schools
Back to school
Amidst the pressure associated with getting kids back to school, parents and guardians look forward to having their kids in schools that offer peace of mind while providing knowledge and care to the kids. When the kids are all out of the house, parents and guardians are ‘free’ to go about their daily businesses. The excitement is usually pretty high. But so are the risks, as the kids are exposed, in a world where borders are disappearing.
How does the school security system work?
Most public schools operate the ‘gate man’ model of security. In most cases, the gate man does not even man the gate, but can be found anywhere within the school as a member of staff. A lot of them have no proper training in the basic act of security. Besides, the idea of a gate would have meant that there is perimeter fencing with the gate as authorized access into and out of the school. But what obtains in many of these schools are incomplete fences, broken or vandalized fences, with a lot of ‘escape’ routes.
In the private schools, especially those in the cities, the situation is way better. Although most of the private schools do not have the land mass and space that the public schools enjoy, they are usually fenced with functional gates and ‘gate men’. In the latter situation, restrictions of access in and out of the school premises are in place in many of these schools. Usually, there is this picture of ‘a secured school’ painted at the entrance. But is that where it should end?
Recalling some ugly scenarios
In many standard schools in Nigeria and abroad, school authorities really do make huge efforts to get things right. But cases have been seen when tragedy struck under conditions when everything seemed right.
On the 6th of December 1989, there was the Montreal Massacre in Canada where 14 women were killed and 14 injured, comprising of ten other women and four men. On the 20th of April 1999, there was the Columbine High School massacre in USA, where 12 students and one teacher were killed while 21 other persons were injured. On 1st September 2004, there was the Beslan massacre in Russia where Special Forces killed 385 students and left 783 other persons, including children, injured. On 18th of January 2017, there was the Colegio Americano Del Noreste shooting in Mexico where three students and one teacher were killed while five other students were injured. One Africa example is the Garrissa University College attack in Kenya on 2nd April 2015, where 148 students died and 79 others were injured.
Back home to Nigeria
In recent times, school kidnapping found its way into national news as perpetrators had a filled day with their exploits. The 2017 New Year euphoria was yet to die down when Turkish International School in Isheri, Ogun State, was hit with three students and two staff members kidnapped on the 13th of January. On 25th May 2017, Lagos State Model College in Igbonla, Epe was also attacked as six students were kidnapped. Although, the victims were eventually released, the gaps in schools security bridges were already glaring enough for concern.
While not forgetting the grand abduction of 276 female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, and the Yobe State school shootings in 2013 and 2014, it will be in order to say that many schools in Nigeria are vulnerable to various forms of attacks, including internally-masterminded attacks. Cases of theft, bullying, raping and sexual assaults are rife in schools. Reports reveal that teachers rape their students and male students also rape fellow female students. These mishaps cannot be left to chance.
Flashpoints that need attention
Staff background checks: Taking an inside-out approach, schools will need to carry out adequate background checks on teachers and other members of staff, such as nannies and caregivers, drivers, cooks, nurses, cleaners, gardeners, etc. They all form part of the human ecosystem that the school children are exposed to. This due diligence of extracting and compiling critical records, crime history, financial records of the school staff and its vendors is one practice that hasn’t really seen the light of the day. If taken seriously, the school authorities will have a basis to recruit people with the right records, attitudes and mindset. Schools cannot afford to operate with numerous children under their care in a situation where they cannot precisely tell who their teachers and other members of staff are.
Biometrics will help in pulling up the data of all staff members. If a teacher moved, for instance, school authorities and parents should be able to know why they left their last place of work.
Security Policy: Schools must have security policies with detailed plans on how to mitigate risks. These policies should be updated regularly and approved by the Board, the PTA and faculty. The policy should be shared with PTA, students, teachers and security personnel. Security and safety drills should be done for students, teachers, parents and security personnel. Everyone should be trained to “be each other’s keeper.” Schools should have complaint boxes where students can give feedback that will reveal security threats like bullying, raping, harassment, etc. Telephone lines that can directly reach the security desks should also be in place.
Looking out for blind spots: An old adage says ‘the devil is in the details.’ A lot of schools take it for granted that they have put things in their right place. But negligence can be a big show spoiler. Negligence is the antonym for diligence. Expert opinion have it that it is not the same thing as carelessness, as the skills and competence may exist but without commitment to delivering or going the extra mile. How many children get beaten or robbed or harassed just because no one was watching? Good news is that it is now possible to use technology to monitor things that go on within and around the school.
Access control: Who can go in and out of the school? What are the entry protocols and screening requirements? Access control systems (ACS) are designed to enable or disable access to a particular resource by a particular entity. It determines who is allowed to enter or exit, where they are allowed to enter or exit and when such permission is allowed. With ACS, schools can ensure that access to school children – visiting, pick-ups, etc. – by unauthorized persons is totally denied.
Manned guarding: Are schools using ‘gatemen’ who just know a little more than how to open and close the gate as well help receive school children when they arrive or help them cross to other side of the road when they are departing? Schools should be manned by guards who have been well trained and groomed in security management to position them in good stead to handle numerous security challenges that will come their way.
Guards should be given fundamental training on how to mitigate risks. Their jobs require that they should always be conscious and be able to recognize danger by being able to read signals and by being sensitive to unwanted situations. In addition, guards should be tech-enabled to boost their efficiency. Schools should also maintain the proper ratio of guards to student. In most cases, the ratio is too wide and this results in guards’ inability to take proper note of loose ends.
School Shuttle: Firstly, there is a need to ensure that the vehicles that convey school pupils to and from school are in good shape. Secondly, in most cases, school bus shuttles are not direct. They tend to travel in rounds until all pupils have been picked up or dropped off. With this synaptic shuttling, extra care need to be taken to ensure that the movement of pupils from one point to the other can be monitored. Shuttle vehicles should have tracking devices. One effective solution, in this regard, is the Halogen School Connect System. It prevents children from being kidnapped or getting missing, using a technologically-powered resumption alert and exit alert. Parents are able to receive SMS on mobility status of their children. In addition, it has an embedded tracking solution for the vehicles, monitor speed of drivers, geo-fence and assign routes for their drivers to follow, and also monitor adherence to pick-up and drop-off time.
Also, the nannies at home, the drivers that do the school shuttle, the home teachers are all part of the security value chain. Parents, in particular, must ensure that all checks have been done with a plan to mitigate possible risks.
Counselling: Experts reveal that children will hide vital information if they do not trust the person they are talking to. School counselors, who offer advice and guidance to children, should be psychologically balanced enough for children to trust them with information. That way, latent signs of threats could be exposed.
Security Trainings: Schools should conduct trainings for teachers, students, parents and security personnel, and also have a process for informing them on the security policies put in place as well as generating insights to security matters and self-defense tactics.
Mandate to schools
The school is a vital part of a child’s development. Children spend more than one-third of their time in school. Parents trust the schools to keep their children safe. It is therefore the responsibility of the school and the parents to ensure that schools are kept in the utmost state of safety. This is a mandate to all of us, as society builders, not just to school authorities alone. We are playing our part by providing total security solutions that work. What part are you playing today?
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