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July 1, 2020

Safer schools

Editorial

 
July 1, 2020

Incidents continue to be reported from time to time which suggest that our school classrooms may be unsafe, particularly for girls who face harassment from male teachers or possibly even their peers. As is the case in other countries, a policy on this needs to be devised by associations representing private schools (from where the loudest allegations come). In the first place, a definition of abuse and harassment needs to be formulated and made clear to students, both female and male, who often may not understand precisely what it can comprise. This is especially true in a culture where children and teenagers are encouraged to obey adults and avoid challenging them in any way. At the same time, schools need to draw up policies on harassment and circulate rules amongst staff.

This is not a trivial matter. It is sad that too often, students or parents have had to take up the matter before schools take any action. What we need is for our schools – whether they are of or for the elite or for the lesser privileged child – to take the lead in ensuring that they are offering a safe, secure environment for all students. One way of establishing this would be to have a complaints panel to which students can bring their concerns, with student representatives possibly made a part of this body so that no individual feels intimidated about approaching the committee. It should also be a strict policy that every complaint is held in complete confidence and the first priority is to protect the student. It is always unsafe to claim that a student is concocting a story unless there is very definite proof of this.

Harassment can occur easily in schools because of a culture which puts adults firmly in charge over young people. We also live in a society where harassment is widely accepted by women and girls, and also by men and boys who do not see it as a crime. Most of all, those in charge of running these institutions all over the country need to be themselves clear about a zero tolerance policy for harassment and the need to protect children above any other consideration. For this, much more needs to be done: including changing the sort of culture that allows the bullying and moral policing of young girls and boys who speak up about such incidents. The future of our children is in the hands of those who teach them and those who work at those places of learning. We must educate the educators first.