With cases of kidnap and other security and health breaches being recorded in schools, stakeholders say issues of security, welfare and wellbeing of pupils anywhere in the country should be handled with more urgency and seriousness.
Dr. Odusolu Yetunde, a health safety practitioner, said: “The institution of learning should not be a source of hostility and nightmare to a child. The formative years in which education plays a vital role should be one that ensures learning in a safe environment, which will support the holistic development of the student physically, socially, mentally and emotionally.
“Safety in school environment can be defined as one that provides for overall wellbeing, as well as ensures that no harm comes the way of the student during the course of education. Ensuring safety for schoolchildren encompasses a myriad of ways, which involve immediate, medium and long term plans targeted at overall safety.”
So, what steps should be taken to protect schoolchildren generally?
Odusolu suggested that: “Medium and long term plans will involve monitoring schoolchildren’s safety by providing good source of potable water to prevent outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases, building of infrastructures like fence, hand rails on stairways to prevent falls, security cameras for monitoring and surveillance of school environment, building more classrooms to avoid overcrowding and its attendant problems, fire extinguishers for fire and flammable chemicals in school, training and drilling of students, teachers and school security personnel on networking with the law enforcement agencies, such as, the police, army etc., to ensure continuous and random security checks on schools.
“Government should also address issues of unemployment that give room for idle hands to get involved in kidnapping, by providing jobs. Schools should set up safety committee to look into peculiar safety issues, identify such potential risks that pertain to schools, as well as develop strategies and procedures to address its safety issues.”
On her part, Dr. Folu Olatona, a consultant Public Health Physician at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) emphasised importance of safe eating environment.
“This area is important, because if food and drinks are not consumed safely, they can lead to diseases. Many diseases in developing countries are caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene,” she explained. “Children spend many hours in school, thereby consuming at least one meal in the school environment every day. Adequate attention should, therefore, be paid to the environment to ensure adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, so that food and water are consumed safely.
“Schools should make adequate provision for potable drinking water, sanitation and hand washing facilities. Water dispenser should be cleaned regularly. Children should be discouraged from using straw attached to bottles to drink water or any other beverage, as these may harbour microorganisms. Cups are better, because they can be washed easily. Adequate facilities for sewage and refuse disposal should also be provided in schools. The number of toilets should match students and staff population.
“Water and soap should be available throughout school hours for hand washing. Litterbins should be provided with covers and litter should be disposed regularly. Children should be taught how to wash their hands every time after using toilet and before handling any drink or food.”
Olatona advised that pupils should have access to correct healthy and nutritious.
She said: “Healthy, nutritious foods and beverages should be available in the school premises. Food vendors should be taught basic principles of food hygiene and handling. They should be regularly screened for common organisms that can be transmitted through food. Poor school environment does not just affect food and nutrition, it also makes both teaching and learning very difficult.”
In his view, Lagos-based legal practitioner and principal counsel of Ezenne & Associates, Chuka Ezenne said school children’s safety is an all-encompassing topic, which includes safety whilst on the way to school, safety in the school and safety after school. It is very important, because children are the future. So, in a way, society’s future is being secure, when school children are protected. Schools, after the home should be safe haven for children.
He said: “Nigeria has adopted and ratified various international conventions on children’s rights, but because there is severe lack of financial resources allocated to the protection and promotion of children’s rights, consequently, mechanisms for protection of children remain weak. Thus, it falls on parents and schools to explore ways of cushioning this weakness by arranging and sustaining protection for children,” said the legal expert.
Suggesting the way forward, Ezenne said it is extremely important for schools to protect school children from abuse by staff, protect the children adequately by ensuring their safety physically, psychologically, emotionally and otherwise.
Security Consultant and MD, Mega Guards Services Ltd, Richard Amuwa said: “Schools need to have a good security structure, and should also look at physical structure, especially the fencing, to ascertain that it is strong. If it is weak from flood due to downpour, it should be fixed immediately,” he said.
He continued: “Another thing is that, schools need to do emotional and psychological vetting on teachers before they are employed to know if they pose any security threat. Vetting is very important to find out if a teacher has mental problem, bad record or not in the right frame of mind. A teacher that is not in the right frame of mind cannot function properly, likewise an unhappy teacher cannot be happy while in school.
“Destructive tendencies should not be tolerated. Parents of children that are discovered to be destructive should be informed, so that they can take their wards to a psychologist to carry out psychology test on them. Children should be prevented from carrying knife or any dangerous object that can be used to injure someone.”
He advised that government should instal CCTV, which uses solar system, so that there will be no excuse of power failure. Government should also put a police commissioner in charge of schools, just like we have those in charge of airport, marine and so on. His job should be getting his team to visit schools at random and work with local vigilantes. It is also vital to partner with private security outfits to bring in young, educated and agile security personnel because security has gone beyond opening and closing of the gate.
Amuwa urged parents to be alert and warn their children to avoid talking to strangers. They should tell their children to move away quickly and raise alarm, if any strange man or woman in a car calls them.
“Children should be taught where to run to in case of emergency. I advise children to walk in groups, especially those going to school on foot,” he said.
By Geraldine Akutu culled from Guardian.ng