Schools can make a difference in how violence is dealt with and in providing safe school environment, are they doing their bit? Is it lack of information about misconduct- how to address it, hindering efforts to provide safe school campuses.
Hasn’t sending off time to the school for children as a routine changed due to recent news bursts lately? From waving good-bye with a confident smile, that you are away from me yet you are safe. I have been waving off good-bye every day ever since my tween son and just turned teenager daughter commenced their preschool with the same confidence. It is children and moms or dads bonding time as we stroll joyfully towards the bus pick up point. We talk about anything and everything laugh and look forward to the day ahead with excitement. Every parent does the same.
The Recent Incidences
Off late, although I wave the same way as they head off to their school bus, and expect the children to come back from school with stories to tell. Life in between send off and till they come home has irrevocably changed in my house and millions of households in India probably. Never before have I given thought if they are not being bullied by anyone or hoping all is well in the school.
The incidents of violence are rare and unfortunate. We can’t lose sight of the facts in the recent incidents at Ryan International School followed by 5 years old rape in Delhi or incident in Kolkata, Lucknow and from across the country. There was fear of internal violence but external violence and safety have come to the forefront too with rash driving by the school drivers and the most recent one being the attack on the children at Gurugram by fringe elements for the protest against movie Padamavat. It is critical that schools and communities recognize that school violence needs to be addressed.
"Addressing School Violence is vital for the schools and community, it is also critical that they respect hopes and rights of the majority of students who are neither perpetrator, not victims who want nothing more than to receive a good education in a safe environment."
Delay or Widespread Unreporting of Violence
Schools must have an open transparent policy of reporting issues related to any violence to the competent authority. It has been witnessed in the most incidents that school’s management tries to hide the facts in the initial stage which is worsening the situation. The school thinks their reputation is at stake, is it only about school’s reputation, or are there far-reaching consequences that need to be dealt as a society? The role of schools in addressing the violence is the most instrumental than its reputation. There is an urgent need for the schools to come out from the state of denial and work towards the preventive mechanism. There are serious challenges today and they will grow more serious in our society if they are not dealt holistically.
Why is it happening now?
School violence is many faceted problem and often difficult to understand, it occurs from layering of causes. Most educators and practitioners would agree that one can’t pinpoint just one reason for violence that shapes up in schools. It is an amalgamation of many risk factors overall prevalent in environment and community due to socio-economic factors, community environment, student’s home life, external environment of school - such as cyber abuse, personal alienation and more. Regardless of the context of violence, it occurs both in physical and psychological forms.
Forms of Violence in Schools
The World Report on Violence against Children has categorized the school violence in the following broad categories:
Physical and psychological punishment
Sexual and gender based violence
Cyber Abuse and cyberbullying
External Violence: effects of gangs, conflict situations, weapons and fighting
Causes: Some causes and risk factors for school violence are (but not limited to):
Access to weapons
Cyber abuse & cyberbullying
Physical or corporal punishment
"Disturbingly, Indians have a high tolerance for violence while schools cannot be held for ills in the society; schools can make a difference in how violence is dealt with."
What Can Schools Do?
Schools are one of the vital the building blocks of any country. Support and push to rights-based code-of-conduct that recognizes everyone’s rights to teach and learn in a safe school environment, report acts of violence without retaliation and providing welcoming space can make all the difference. It will mean not just positive school environment but also with this good school system our community and future generation can eradicate the deep-rooted social issues.
Ways to Build Violence Free Schools and Campuses
Some ways to put a break on violence and building safe school environment are listed below:
Take Extra Precaution
Keeping weapons out through random locker and bag checks, limiting entry and exit points to the school, and keeping the entryways under teacher supervision.
Well sensitized ancillary staff and helping staff in all the dark spots including washroom areas must be deployed at all times. Human guarding is also vital for the transport staff so that they do not violate traffic rules and put the life of children at risk. The technology and devices to monitor activities should also be supplemented with human guarding and vigilance at all times.
Conflict Resolution Lessons
The lessons on conflict resolution must be included to help prevent troubled students resorting to violence. The lessons with interactive discussions and activities work well in peer-to-peer bonding. Interactive peer programs also help students learn to watch for signs that a fellow student might be more troubled or violent.
Greater Awareness of Problems
A way to the safer school environment is to make the children aware of the problems from an early stage. Effective awareness program can be panacea to non-violence in schools. Without intervention policies and knowledge of the persisting problems, children feel that using aggression is an acceptable way to deal with interpersonal conflict.
Develop a Non-Violent School Culture
Schools that work to help the whole school environment culture and non-violent school culture can bring the positive outcome for the community. This approach has ripple effect in educational outcomes, self-esteem and conflict resolution across school population.
Build Teacher Capability
Teachers’ relationship with children can have an influence in shaping the students to become responsible adults. Their role in contributing to positive, safe school culture and ethos by exploring elements of effectiveness is invaluable.
Make Students Partner in Combating Violence
Interactive class activities for creating code of conduct in the school and classroom can also help in making students responsible. Actions that can hurt the fellow students, what actions are okay and what actions disrupt the classroom can be discussed to make students partners. Writing code of conduct together make the rights and responsibilities clear and creates a sense of informed behavior among children.
Every school should adapt dialogue between teachers and students as well as the school principal, counselors, community leaders and parents’ associations. The absenteeism of such dialogue will not ensure everybody’s rights are alike. It takes a village to raise children, collectively, we can make non-punitive culture of safety. This will help in focusing on the root cause of the problem rather than focusing only on the perpetrator and victim.
Measures to Stop Bullying
Work to develop an effective guideline for bullying. Definition of bullying among teachers, student representatives, school staff and school community should be stated clearly so people may enforce the same expectations consistently. Educate and empower bystanders to report bullying to adults, resolve conflicts take action and discourage bullying.
Curriculum for Moral and Civic Education too
Include human rights and peace education in the curriculum. The moral and ethical life lessons are absolute necessary for the schools today. The vital understanding between right and wrong action, what is acceptable and non-acceptable comes from the sound moral education.
Help Students’ Respond to Life Challenges Constructively
Build students’ resilience to cope up with adversity, stress, and everyday challenges successfully. Increased resilience reduces the likelihood of student reacting to violence or falling prey.
Train and Sensitize Support Staff
The support staffs are the backbone of any school. The large school size nowadays works with the only help of transport staff and support staff, who work relentlessly on the ground. The training and education of these staff to interact with children should be part of human resource development. Their emotional, financial wellbeing should be taken as the mandatory stipulation for any school to run successfully.
Build Guidelines for Effective Responses
The preparedness to the common situation is an effective way, it includes training of teachers and helping staff to take action in an effective manner during the emergency situation, dealing with issues of violence and bullying. The broad guidelines will lead to informed responses to deal with conflict issues leading to a non-violent solution. Understanding and sensitizing will reduce the occurrence of such behavior among people in the school population.
Schools can provide a range of strategies and guidelines for the development of future policy and practice around school culture and safety. The schools should attempt to address school violence effectively by altering school environment rather than focusing on bullies and victim alone. A whole school approach requires some time and resources devoted to building a strong culture and ethos in the school community. A school with shared responsibility for changing the culture and developing positive school climate that discourages bullies and encourages students to care for each other will be able to bring positive constructive change in society.
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References: UNESCO, World Report on Violence against Children, UNICEF: Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse and many guides and reports.