Children deserve the best of the environs while growing up. The first requirement is to ensure the continuity of home environment to that prevailing within the boundary walls of the school. It leads to a global preference for the presence of ‘lady teachers’ particularly in the initial years of schooling. Schools are duty-bound to provide safety and security that must include physical, emotional, social, and hygienic and health-related aspects. Parents are over-stretching their resources to put their child in a ‘good school’. Normally it means a private school, with a reputation for good performance in board examinations. While enrolments in government schools are on the decline, these are on a spectacular rise in private high-fee charging schools.
Several disturbing incidents have shaken the confidence of parents. One could recall instances of shocking levels of misdemeanour with even innocent children not only by the support staff, but even by teachers and principals. As if reports of such demeanours were not disturbing enough, a couple of murders of children within school premises have shaken the confidence of the entire nation. Suicides by schoolchildren are on the increase and that too has a close connection with the school environment.
Commercialisation has entered school education in a big way. Private schools charge hefty fee; they rarely invest it on the designated need. The CCTVs, even if put in place, rarely function. The agencies responsible for accreditation of schools, or for ensuring safety and security in schools, are reticent. Taking note of growing concerns, the MHRD in consultation with the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has issued fresh guidelines. There is no dearth of such rules to ensure a fear-free and secure environment in schools, but not many care. Have we not seen even liquor bends and drug peddlers just around schools? The hawkers outside the school boundary may not be selling only the displayed items, but much more. The spread of dreaded drugs in Punjab could be a consequence of several factors, but everyone knows that schools were targeted.
As per regulations, schools must employ guidance counsellors, but they are not appointed on one pretext or the other. Even if in place, they are assigned duties that have nothing to do with guidance and counselling. It is the duty of the principal to ensure that specific individual needs of every child are responded to. But for that you need professionally equipped, and duly empowered principals. Governments take little interest in appointing regular principals. In the national capital, of 918 posts of principals in government schools, 595 are vacant—some for several years.
The situation is further complicated due to shortage of teachers. Governments have failed to give the schools their due, and that has led to serious concerns amongst parents on safety and security of their children. Unfortunately, even after heart-breaking tragic incidents, nothing has changed.
J S Rajput
Former director, NCERT