Wednesday, 27 June 2012

School Safety-The Psychological and Emotional Perspective

School Safety is not simply about protective boundaries and metal detectors, rather it is about developing a culture of safety! School Safety is about developing safe spaces, and an atmosphere of harmony. Schools are like homes, they need to provide a feeling of safety and snugness that is found in homes.

With each day that passes, we come across stories in the media about incidents involving violence in schools. I guess, after buildings, the next most important safety issue is the mental health of the students, and the need to evolve mechanisms for preventing incidents involving violence. We are all familiar with stories about quarrels between students leading to so-called Gang Wars. Recently there was even an incident in which a student is said to have stabbed a teacher for not allowing him to copy from another student during an exam. When we talk about school safety we are talking about both the students and their teachers, and in many cases, it would be wrong to blame only one group. In many cases, if an alert teacher notices  a particular student was behaving oddly and he or she talks to him then, perhaps a future eventuality could be prevented.
Bullying is a major problem that can lead to aggression, violent retaliation and other unwanted unpleasantness. It is in this area that teachers should be trained to learn to identify children with poor self-esteem, aggressive tendencies, and hostile attitudes and give them a pep talk or something. Students with such problems and who are repeatedly showing behaviour problems should then be reported to the School Counsellor. It goes without saying that all teachers study Psychology in the B.Ed. programme so they should not have problems in tackling difficult children! I have come across cases where the child did not want to go to school because one of the classmates was bullying him, calling him names, and perhaps eating his lunch! Such children concoct stories about stomach pains to their parents. In more grown-up children there are cases of extortion and blackmailing where the bully and his side-kicks try to extort money forcefully from the more shy and passive kind of students.
Parents send their children to school thinking they will be safe, but then often the child learns to smoke, take drugs, and watch restricted movies from his peers in school. Often problems take place when children are left unsupervised for long periods of time, especially when the teacher doesn’t reach the class on time, or during the transition periods, like dispersal, or recesses. Small quarrels that take place in an unattended classroom will sometimes end up in nasty brawls in the sports ground itself! Children who are differently abled are often the subject of ridicule. They remain in the classroom during the sports period and thus become more vulnerable from further attacks sitting all alone in the classroom with no one around!
Cyber Crime is another problem faced in schools today.While Cyber-Bullying takes place on the net, today’s phones are capable of accessing the internet so Cyber Crimes can take place in the classroom itself! The availability of cheap camera phones has made it very easy for pictures to be taken within the classroom itself. In one incident, a student took the photograph of a teacher while he was teaching in the class. In more serious instances, we have often heard of MMS Scandals and incidents of blackmailing leading to sexual exploitation and extortion. An important step that every school should take is to ban the use of Mobile phones in school. Teachers should be more alert about their surroundings as this alertness will help prevent students from watching movies on their camera phones. Parents should be constantly counselled not to allow their children to carry their phones to school.
The banning of Corporal Punishment, however, should be accepted with grace as beating a child is not the only way of disciplining a child. Unfortunately such cases keep being reported in the media off and on. In some cases it could be a mere case of spanking but in some cases, it could be even more serious with ruptured ear-drums, or cut lips! Physical wounds, however, heal quickly, but the emotional or mental wounds do not heal easily, and it is this mental trauma,  the embarrassment of being publically slapped that destroys the child’s mental peace! I have come across cases where the teacher was being partial to a particular gender of students, and treating the opposite gender harshly, making unnecessary comments or remarks! This in itself is a dangerous symptom of gender bias, a personality disorder which might lead to further complications! Teachers should not pick on a particular student every now and then to reprimand him or her in front of others. It is better to talk to the student face to face and get things straightened out.
The C.B.S.E. has come out with Comprehensive School Health Manuals in four volumes which try to address the psychological and emotional aspects of school safety. These four volumes try to address through an activity-based approach, the learning of Life Skills or Soft Skills, Anger Management, Conflict Resolution, and so on. Besides this, every school should formulate its own pro-active steps to ensure that the school has a healthy emotional environment where students feel safe and comfortable. Having an active House System with prefects can help a lot. The House System can be headed by the Student Council. The Student Council is formed out of nominated members of the Houses. The Students Council should have Teacher Observers in all the major meetings. The same goes for the Houses where teachers take up a more active role! It is also very important for the school to organise activities, like debating, mock parliaments, science fairs, exhibitions, talks during assembly workshops, and seminars for all teachers and students. In Service Programmes for teachers can also help in reviving the Soft Skills of the teachers helping them to cope with difficult situations more tactfully and pleasantly! In a, y case it takes an active teacher to protect the safety of all his or her students in school. In many cases just talking to the student, empathising with the student or counselling the student will suffice!

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