Search For My Haven Of Freedom

If 'education is freedom with responsibility' it is about time we ensured the school environment provides the freedom to deliver education. The space is devoid of fear and favour, this alone will help in the personal and social development of our children.

Where The Mind Is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore, the greatest writer in modern Indian literature, Bengali poet, novelist, educator, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, has very beautifully eulogised freedom at school. The poem is  read as a prayer in many schools and from me personally this is the 'haven of freedom' a school should be.

  1. Image courtesy pasadenaus.org
    Overall, schools are one of the safest places children can be. However, some schools have problems, such as bullying and theft, which make them less secure. These problems make students and educators feel less safe, and it makes it harder for students to learn and for teachers to do their jobs. There are still bigger challenges like shooting, kidnapping and using children as a means of meeting evil designs of terror groups. Our children are soft targets and when we have them at school we feel they are in a safe space or their haven.
  2. Look at what is happening in the world around us, first the Pakistani Taliban bombed or burned over 1,000 schools. Then they shot Malala Yousafzai, the teenage advocate for girls’ rights. But on Tuesday the 16th of December, the Taliban took their war on education to a ruthless new low with an assault on a crowded school in Peshawar that killed 145 people — 132 of them uniformed schoolchildren — in the deadliest single attack in the group’s history.
"The tragedy that occurred in Pakistan, makes me reflect on some of our own attitudes to the issues highlighted by this ghastly event. As a Head of School, one nightmare that constantly haunted me was exactly the possibility of such an event occurring on my watch. At Welham Boys, I had, in fact, commissioned security analysts from Mahindra’s Security think tank to assess our risk situation and to suggest measures to tackle these risks. 
What bemused me was the reaction of many parents, students and alumni. I was constantly accused of having “gone over the top”, of having reduced the school to a fortress or even jail, of having taken away the entire spirit of freedom that a school should exude. Moreover, it was not uncommon for angry parents and alumni to get into serious altercations with the guards who had asked them to fill in their particulars in the register at the gate. They considered this highly demeaning. 
Whilst all that these angry folk said may have been true, the question that deserves to be debated, is whether such measures (security cameras, explosive –sniffer dogs, visitors registering at the gate etc) were necessary. Many argued that If some terrorists wanted to hurt us , we , as a school could never stop them anyway. I argued that at least we could try, and in the process buy ourselves some time to get the children to safety, and summon help. Many felt that I was being “alarmist”. 
Pakistan’s tragedy should perhaps make us stop and think. Given the times we live in, will we not have to get used to being ”inconvenienced” on various occasions and at various places? Yes, schools should ideally be free of all the accoutrements of “security”. But is that realistic or desirable these days? "
~ Dev Lahiri, former Principal, Welham Boys School, Dehradun, India
What can a parent do? What does a parent need to know? What should a parent look for related to school safety at their child’s school?

Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, created a list of 10 practical things parents can do to assess school security and emergency/crisis preparedness from a parent’s perspective specifically for parents.  Security and emergency preparedness measures should be balanced with strong violence prevention and intervention programs. Along with  a well-disciplined and positive school climate, these elements of a comprehensive safe schools approach can play critical roles in making schools safe.

The school is the key environment for the personal and social development of a child, it is most imperative that we need to ensure that this 'ecosystem' has a sanctity of its' own. We lay emphasis on a green school, a clean school... the happiness of the child is at risk with the inherent need for security in the school campus.

Every school should have crisis teams that review their plans regularly, he said, and staff members who greet and challenge every person who comes to the door. They should have locked doors, safety drills and parents who know where to find their kids, just in case the unthinkable happens.

Schools need counselors, psychologists and officers building relationships with kids, because they are the best line of defense, Trump said.

Image courtesy - lymaraschool.org
'What really makes schools safer?' An article written by Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN goes on to state...Those who know the world of school security are already predicting what comes next: A strong reaction -- maybe an overreaction -- by parents, schools and legislators who want to take action. Politicians will be elected on platforms of school safety. Vendors will turn up with technology and security plans to sell. Schools will rewrite their crisis plans and run extra drills. goes further to ask, Is there no safe place?' "As they cut back on the human element, they've tried to compensate by leaning on and pointing to physical security measures, ... They love to say 'We have cameras.' "

Schools work to prevent problems through community building, fostering respect, inclusion, fairness and equity. We need to respect the school space if we want to have a civilised society. The history of human evolution is replete with violence and the urge to dominate by force. This psyche itself is a major challenge. Today beyond the threats from within like bullying, physical abuse, emotional torture... the external pressure, the paranoia that results are indeed highlighted by The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 being awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education".

The world has been shaken up with the brute violence like shootings in school, Boko Haram kidnappings, killing of innocent children by violence and design. Traditionally we looked at school safety from ensuring our children are 'accident safe' and their journey to school is safe too. Today the monster of terrorism and the brutal design of radicals has threatened the school space even more. The fear psychosis will not only push us to take recourse to policing and security but more than that will need counselling and great efforts to soothe the terror stricken minds of the children of the world.

The author  Sandeep Dutt takes the onus of the content and the opinions expressed are his alone. You may please email the author on sd@ebd.in for comments if any. For more about the author www.sandeepdutt.com
Disclaimer: Images have been sourced  from  Google User Content online and this blog claims no design or copyright please.
Special thank you to Mr Dev Lahiri who so eloquently put down his thoughts and helped shape this blog post.

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