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The Last Laugh

At the risk of being either very popular, or very unpopular, I have to admit, it is a joy watching Modi play the crowd. He has a keen sense of the buttons to press, and which ones are sensitive, and which useless to his game. This goes beyond his spatial awareness, he has the rare quality of emotional spatial awareness, and that too at scale. There are innumerable examples.

Let us take his very finely tuned remark on the ‘cackling’ laughter in parliament. As an impartial outsider, one knows that give and take within parliament across party lines can be very sharp, often hurtful in the most civilised of countries. Or pretentious ones. In other countries, fights are not uncommon. To laugh mockingly, and to repartee is all par for the course. But to do it and hit several goals with just one sentence is an art, and here we see it in its highest form at play.

The context does not matter, since the giving and taking would have happened in any context. What happened was that a seasoned parliamentarian, Renuka Choudhary, currently in opposition, laughed loudly at something the Prime Minister said. When admonished by the chair, she did not need to respond, for the Prime Minister graciously asked the chair to let her continue, as he had not heard such laughter since the Ramayan.

Oh Modiji, when you are good, you are very good.

In one smooth move, he pulled together the entire sweep of the BJP’s successes in the past. Aligned all behind the sacred word Ramayan. Not just that, in a rare stroke for this party and its supporters, he cracked an in joke! This was the remit of left-liberal-intellectuals, and look, how he showed them that he could play them at their own game. One needed to know the Ramayan to know who he was referring to – and yet left enough ambiguity in it to allow his supporters room to play. Denial, demurral and other such cat and mouse games, for once, it was the religious who were able to gain the upper hand. And did they have fun.

The feminists of course, had to rise. If not as one. Modi’s feminist credentials are debatable, as are those of most men in power today. His schemes support women’s education, his cabinet has very powerful women and he is not afraid of women talent and power when it supports his causes. He does not exclude women, nor does he seek them, which is fair in my book. Yet, his party and supporters have consistently been denigrating of women which has riled – hopefully – everyone, not just women. Outrageous statements have been tolerated. This jibe too, was like the fine Indian game of kabaddi. It touched the line and raced away, thus gaining points and staying safe. Just a mention of laughter and the Ramayan, and no more.

In the Ramayana, the story of an ideal king, essentially illustrating ideal behaviours in specific roles, there are few occasions were there is laughter, especially in adulthood. The ‘bhadralok’ (see what I did there?) do not laugh, they smile gently. Control, including self control being one of the themes of the book(Valmiki version, let us say. Not that the party or the country demonstrates much self control, but then Ram Rajya is a distant utopia, not here and not now. Laugher is seen as uncontrolled, thus represents evil, or the asura tendency. The most famous laughter is that of Shroopnakaha, the asura sister of Ravan who was assaulted by Lakshman (Rama’s brother) as he chopped off her nose and ears in response to her sexual aggressiveness. This – is as retold and reinterpreted. (Yup, don’t outrage, we were not there. All we have is interpretations)

In any case, laugher was allocated to the ‘other’ side in the Ramayana. As in the tale of all victors, the other is bad. I will not even dare to do more than mention the intersectionality of gender and caste/level issues that emerge here – there is much literature on that. Laughter, in the text, is an act of othering. Just like in racism, mocking a behaviour creates a line between sides, often leading to aggression, mocking laughter is used as such an othering device, and eventually builds the narrative to war. Modi, with impeccable timing, used this laughter to remind us of this, and emphasise his declaration of war on the ‘other party’, in this case via elections expected soon. It is no coincidence that the language of elections used colloquially often is the language of war. Now, the bugle has been sounded, and a classic milestone in the narrative towards the battle has been achieved. Laughter, or mocking across battle lines always starts the face-off.

The laughter of women in Hindu mythological literature has always been seen as an act of unwarranted aggression, and has been a milestone towards war in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, where it was Draupadi’s laughter that angered Duryodhana. Women thus, seen as overly aggressive, as the cause of war, but surprisingly this is not seen as power. They are the blame holders in the narratives, for failing to rein themselves. For women must always be seen in restraint.

All of this, the discourse and the chatterati were triggered by this one remark. Now, I too join them, but I am enjoying myself hugely in exploring the ideas and understanding the reactions. Modi’s masterstroke was in deflecting the chatterati from the mega defence contract conversation that his opposition were trying to lead, and he was trying to avoid. This, the throwing of a pebble into the shallows has achieved exactly what he needed.

How much better can it be, a seemingly impromptu remark, the gleeful support of those who had scattered but now return to the rally, the riling of those who annoy him with their pretentious superiority and serious issues of both gender and war sidelined as the ripples inevitably settle. I believe, in this round, it is Modi who laughs last.

(Standard Disclaimers: This is my personal blog. It is not my professional space. Look at the tagline: Pretentious, unending gab. Look at the name: Aantel-adda. This is fun)

Counterpoint: https://wordpress.com/post/thepointofatangent.wordpress.com/793

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The Arrogance of Ignorance

Go to the profile of meeta sengupta
meeta sengupta
Jan 27
The Arrogance of Ignorance
There is the ignorance of those who know, because they have worked hard at knowing the world. Maybe even peeked over the parapet, dizzying as it can be for first timers.

Then, there is the ignorance of those who do not know, because all they wanted to know was their world. It was only their world view that was important, and the rest of ‘them’ would have to fall in line. This is what was demonstrated by the now infamous French journalist who asked the celebrated Nigerian (I will not call her American today) author Chimananda Adichie if there were libraries in Nigeria. The breathtaking audacity of the question only served to highlight the unwillingness of the Frenchman to look beyond his little parapet. A frog in the well indeed.

I would apologise for the pun, but for the fact that it actually illustrates the point I am making. The cliche of a frenchman as a ‘frog’ reminds us that the English too, and so many others have used the arrogance of ignorance for the purpose of ‘othering’ their interlocutors.

There I go again, a newsy reference to Shashi Tharoor’s use of the word ‘interlocutors’ which has a very precise meaning but caused him to be ‘othered’ by the ignorant who were arrogant about their ignorance. It is the purpose of a language, of words to have meanings that convey a precise visual and emotion to the reader. To be ignorant of that is no matter of pride, but has always been the source of arrogance. Because ignorance combined with power begets this arrogance.

The Arrogance of ignorance is a force, a storm that blows often through the history of mankind. A species that prides itself in surviving because it is smarter, sentient and has the ability to progress based on cumulative knowledge, a people that pride themselves on the ability to think, feel, imagine and then respond is now facing a similar storm. It has led to great destruction, witnessed by the library and Alexandria amongst many others. The Dark Ages came upon us led by these storms.

The Arrogance of Ignorance was a fundamental tenet of colonialism too. The ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire had a long and rich history of Empires that came and went, most of them originating in its own soil. The ‘Akhand Bharat’ idea postulates that all the land between Iran and Australia was India at some point of time in history. The ebb and fall of conquerers and empire builders was part of its history. Then came the Company Bahadur, and that too slowly adapted, like other attackers into the rich and comfortable cultural soil. Mulched, they too would have become a part of that soil. But a Colonising force could not allow that to happen — and thus was fostered wilful Ignorance and this was given the cloak of Arrogance. The denial of all that was good in the ‘native’ was intended to declare the aggressors superior. The ‘burden of the white man’ was born of this intent, to bring the morally affected into the fold of this force. Arrogance of Ignorance was the source of power, and it lasted centuries.

The rise of ‘common sense’ is to welcomed, but not when it comes at the cost of sensibility, and indeed of expertise and erudition. We progress on wisdom and knowledge, and this is not a simple aggregation of ‘common sense’, but a complicated architecture of opposing forces designed for good. Imagine it as a brick building. There is a difference between a single tower of simple bricks laid one upon the other and the grand brick architecture of the Bishnupur temples or the Grand Duomo of Florence. The single brick upon brick structure is also building, common sense tells us. But till the bricks were put together in intelligent juxtaposition of opposing forces, we do not arrive at anything that is either useful or beautiful. The wisdom of opposing forces brings us to greater heights of achievement, even literally.

The Arrogance of Ignorance will continue to ignore truths that are above their current capacities. How much easier is it to be lazy and strong, to not work hard to figure out complex stuff like architecture. Look we have bricks and stones, let us throw them! It is fun and we get to win! Some of us are bewildered, as we find ourselves in the middle of such stone throwing parties. This is not a world that we want to recognise, but if we don’t, we too would be giving in to the Arrogance of Ignorance. We have evidence of the Brexit vote, of the American election and so much more to tell us that the common prevails now, and wields power. Do not underestimate the power of this Arrogance. It is purely rational, self serving and solid. And predatory.

It would serve us well to be prepared for this storm that is heralded by the Arrogance of Ignorance. It has brought dark times in the past. It may do so again. It is ironical that those who refute Darwinianism (thus implicitly dumping the idea of linked up thinking and chains of evidence) also prove to us that it still holds true. For those of us who consider intellectualism and imagination a virtue, heed Darwin’s theory of adaptation in order to survive these times. Historically too, the wise have adopted many guises in times when the arrogance of ignorance held power. Courts have had their jesters and fools, the only ones permitted to speak truth, for who could take a fool for more. If we let the Arrogance of Ignorance prevail, then we should welcome again the Age of the Fool.

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

PostScript

Someone said this was the Dunning Krueger effect. Not quite. That is about stupidity. I am talking about a wilful choice to ignore or work away from getting to know complex things better. The smartest people choose this path to power.

LazyChef Goes Keto

I know!!!

I know!!!

A diet. What am I thinking!

They promised me cakes, and fat and proteins.

And magical stuff like it would reverse memory loss and cancer and of course obesity.
Small print says maybe.

But now I’m starting this. So sharing the stuff I’m planning to make. And making.

It’s actually quite easy.

And no, one doesn’t feel hungry at all though eating very very little.

It’s the fat, people.

Hmm. Is this a bit like poison to kill poison? Coz I’m still wondering how eating fat will make me less fat.
Ya ya, Ketones I know.

Drink water, y’all. Recipes marked Keto.

A few Home Truths about History

1. Your history was not as perfect as you think

2. Your history was never documented accurately, so no one will ever know the truth

3. Of what was known, a lot could not be reconciled – your history is full of contradictions

4. Your history is not what was taught to you.

5. They will continue to discover new things about history – and re-interpreting it. Each lens that looks at the same facts will do so in a different manner.

6. History evolves, and it depends upon many many things.

7. History has always been a tool to manipulate the emotional gullible.

8. History, as taught, history as written, history as retold, and history as believed are all different animals in the jungle of influence.

9. History is written by the victors, is re-told by the losers, is embellished by storytellers and is believed by the simple.

10. There is no right and wrong in the past. Just like today, there are people, powers, interests, survival, greed, ideologies and resources. Nothing and no one ever really wins or loses. It doesn’t really matter. They were all people.

11. Any wins in the past (zero, chola empire, nasal surgery, gravitation) are all commendable and must be remembered but if they have not continued to evolve and grow, then all they are is stories. A culture, history and tradition of science and progress is useful only if it has been sustained. It’s value today is to encourage freedom and endeavour.

12. History’s job is to stop stupidity in the future.

13. One cannot dwell in the past. However you remember it. Neither in victimhood, nor in glory.

14. Unfinished battles of the past belong there – in the past. They were done then. Do not fight in the name of the past because it will cost you your future.

Unless you are using and manipulating the stories of the past to build your future. Then do it, knowing that it is a low game that uses the good in others for your own good.

15. History is usable as the storehouse of emotions – watch out for yours.

The Story Teller

Imagine the hostile lands around the Silk Route, a road that connected many countries. There was work to be obtained along that route, because the route sustained trade, which made money. There were caravan makers, and camel traders, and silk merchants of course, but also cooks, and washermen and clothiers. There were bandits and protectors who worked the long caravans that traveled together for safety. The terrain was often harsh, icy deserts, sharp climbs and immense flat sands, the only consolation coming in the cities that were far flung. Villages could feed but a part of the caravan, the steppes were good for hunting sometimes but not always.

The people of the silk road were often hungry and very tired. There was fortune to be made on the road, both good and bad. Some days were good, and workers got paid their wages, and traders sold their wares. Other days were bad, if the wind swept away your cargo, or it fell down a hill side. A desert storm could destroy much, as could the robbers – there was plenty of the bad as well as the good. There were days of hunger and becalm.

But in the middle of it all, was the relief of the story teller. The story teller turned up uninvited, for who would not want to hear a story. A small coin from each and some food and drink, the storyteller was always welcome.

He would tell tales of great kings, and their brave deeds. Of princesses and their beauty. Of ministers and their magic. Of traders and their adventures. He soared above what was real, and his audience soared with him. The aches and pains of the journey, the sorrows of loss melted away in the hearing, the joy of gains was raised manifold. The night passed in ease, with the comfort of the fire and the company, the storyteller lulling us all to dream of a better time and place.

When the fires dimmed, and the embers remained, the story teller was satisfied. He was paid, and fed. He had enough drink to warm his belly. He had spread some joy, eased some pain and helped them all to another day.

The storyteller was always welcome, as he went on his way.

Teacher’s Day Salaams

“It’s not about my, or my passion for education”, I blushed. “It’s about the students, the teachers, who are on the frontline of this battle day in and day out.”

I sounded like the cliche our education system had become. I used to write essays like this at school. And then helped my son and my nephews with those. Great King? Write about his land reforms, he built roads, dug wells and did great things to get justice for the poor. Climate Change? Write about land erosion, tree roots, ecosystem, microclimates, ozone layer and extremes of temperature. We knew our ‘seven points for five marks’ formulae. Everything was a formula. Running a classroom session? There’s a standard method to that. Teacher’s Day? Write an essay.

So I did. To reflect.

There is no one standard formula for quality education at scale for a nation as large as India. And as each year, September 5, Teacher’s Day comes as a day of celebration, and of reflection. The road ahead is long and troubled, true. But the road traversed was no mean feat indeed. India, today, stands at the brink of success. We can do it, in one great push, all together. It is time for India’s Educational Dunkirk.

The good news first? We have so many metaphorical boats ready to reach out in the education sector. Today, on teacher’s day, I want to salute these navigators, who kept themselves afloat and reached out to do so much good in the land of teaching and learning.

I salute those teachers who landed up at school everyday, professional and perfect, holding fort and ensuring that nothing stops the journey of education. They too must have had tough days, but they did not give up. Some commute for hours to get to school, some fight battles at home to get to the classrooms, and some fight inner demons to control themselves to stand and deliver in the classroom. My first salaam to them.

I salute those school heads who hold things steady so that teachers can build real learning for their students. Those who lead from the front and take the risk of saying, “Let’s try this”, and when it works, celebrate the moment of happiness with their schools. To these great leaders goes my second salaam.

Then, I salute those who work in education for less pay than they would get in the world outside – the volunteers, the NGOs, the interns, the researchers and so many more who dig deep into their well of resources to give to every learner they meet on the road to good. Some are teachers who are not rich, but will buy school books for their students, some are people who will go deep into the jungles and set up village schools, some are professionals who set up help centres to encourage more to follow in their footsteps, and some are students themselves who reach out to other students. Each giving a part of themselves, for we are in it together. We raise the tide for us all. My third salaam goes to them.

But more than these, I salute the silent warriors of education. The people who quietly teach one or two students each year in their neighbourhood and charge nothing. The ones who quietly create class notes and put them online for all to share. The ones who stop on the way, even when their lives are so rushed, and share a bit of their learning with those who need it. And do it for no credit and for no money. These quiet soldiers are the ones who create magic – and my deepest salaam is theirs.

They are the ones who build the fabric of the future. When times are tough, I think of them and I am inspired again. When stories of cheating in exams, of plagiarism in reports, of teachers that beat students, of sexual assault in schools, of university shut downs and falling standards hits the stands, then I think of these – the recipients of the four salaams – and I know, it will be fine. For every corrupt soul who lets greed and laziness create ignorance and stupidity in the country, there is another who is lighting the lamp of critical thinking, of debate, of curiosity and of personal growth.

This is why my last salaam today goes to teachers who are learners, and to learners who are teachers. Not just within the classroom but to each one of us who converts a moment into a learning moment. To the everyday people who devote time to tutor a needy learner around them. To the quiet free tuition classes, reading rooms and libraries for the neighbour hood.

But equally, to to the everyday inquisitiveness of the aunty who wants to know your salary, and the uncle who wants to know how much rent you pay, to the random person who knows where you are going on a train or a bus – and to all of them who join in to tell you of a better way. To all the teachers within them, a salaam. A salaam to those who will join in the public debate on which route is better, whether it is about getting to a place or a career. And one to those who will walk on past their destination, because they are curious to see what is next. Another to those who will jugaaad their way to the goal, regardless of the means, and then to their neighbour who will tell him how useless his quest is – competing quietly and so encouraging each other to do better. To each of us who learns, so that we can tell each other how much better we are than them, another salaam.

Our quirks make us who we are, and who we are at our core is a nation of teachers, (Let me tell you what to do…) in one way or another. Here’s to the learners within the teachers, who learn indefatigably, so that we can all tell each other how it should be done. And so we all learn and grow together, in our own Indian way.

Assessment, Moderation and Boards

Part 1: Fundamental Fix

“To have one examination determine a future pathway for a generation of youth is folly akin to forcing them to put all their eggs in one basket”

The Class 12 Examination of the various boards are one such hurdle. They have been since living memory, and thus, it seems they will continue. Each student is bound to a particular board by the school they sign up to – and there is no other way. One could of course step out of the schooling system and go the NIOS way, but then, very few in India take the results of that board seriously. Already, even before we have begun talking about these – we are hit by the fact that all boards are not created equal.

Nor do they need to be. But they do need to be able to calibrate on equivalent examinations.

For a student, there is no greater prison than to be beholden to one exam, one board, and one set of criteria for success.

My appeal is to the Universities to expand their range of requirements, my appeal to the MHRD is to allow students to take multiple exams across boards, and/or, start a series of professional exams at the level of Class 12 that are voluntary, inexpensive and accessible nationally such as the SATs and other certification exams. Each subject could be a separate specialist examination board, or each industry… these are discussions going forward. These break the monopoly of specific exams, and are more inclusive – lifelong learners can join in anytime and upgrade their basic qualifications. Let each student have more chances at success.

The current situation must never be repeated – and from this should emerge some policy level changes. (1) One needs a national level examination designed professionally to be able to calibrate the various papers and examinations. At this time there is no data that allows the standard statistical tools of adjustment across various boards to be applied. The statistics and the tools exist, and are relatively easy. The data is not there. (2) All Senior Secondary Boards must be asked to declare their methodology for aligning the level of questions, their marking schemes and their moderation policies. Most boards globally do this so that there is informed participation in an examination. (3) The various boards need to build transparency in their goals, and in their redressal mechanisms. Finally (4) Build a free flow of information and learning in assessment sciences – the current education boards have some excellent faculty and knowledge in the area that is not visible to the direct consumers of their work. This is unfair to both sides and must be fixed.

There are other suggestions that will improve the Senior Secondary Exams, but these are basic – and we must make a start.

Part II:

Assessment and Moderation

(i) Tweet collation
(ii) Principles of Assessment
(iii) Principles of moderation
(iv) Governance

Part III:

Policy Reform Opportunity

Five Principles to Keep Children Safe at School

(First Published: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/five-principles-to-keep-children-safe-in-schools/)

Five principles to keep children safe in schools
May 5, 2014, 12:11 PM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | India, Lifestyle | TOI
Whether you see it as childcare, or a place to learn, or about meeting friends – the entire premise of schools revolves around safety. We send our children to school to learn all this because we know they will be safe there.
Sadly, we know that this has not always been so – children have been hurt and abused at school. Whether it was an explicit MMS sent out by school bullies or a child being abused by the caretaker and bus attendant. These were sexual – there are other kinds of abuse that our children face from classmates, teachers and even school heads. Often we forget that our harsh behaviour can have serious consequences for young minds – take the example of the poor young girls who committed suicide in Bangalore after they were punished for playing Holi. They clearly felt unable to deal with the consequences of the humiliation meted out to them and the school failed in providing them a safe place to learn from incidents. The school failed them thrice – once in not providing them a safe place for self expression, two -in giving them disproportionate punishment, thus becoming an aggressor (even if they thought it was okay, and had precedence), and three, in not providing them a safe place to deal with their feelings.
There have been multiple incidents since then. Some sexual in nature, some due to negligence and others due to willful harm inflicted on our children. Are our children safe at school? Will the rules help keep them safe? They may, but safety is an attitude. A safe school builds a culture of safety where there is both awareness and alertness with sensitivity. This is signaled in many ways, not just in watching out for sexual abuse. It is the task of a school to provide a safe, caring, nurturing atmosphere.
It is not easy at all. Especially for large schools the challenges are immense. There are distant nooks and crannies in large schools where anything can happen. There are times when all children cannot be supervised – for example – as they go from a specialised classroom to another, or from a sports complex to, say, the library. Children have always found ways of bunking out of school. Unless one establishes a police state within the school there is only a limited degree of control that a school can have over every moment for every child.
Some places have resorted to that. There are metal detectors outside some schools in the UK. Some schools have cameras everywhere. Other schools insist on specific routines to be maintained that restrict the freedom of students.
They are not wrong in setting up routines. It is these routines that will ensure that the school becomes a safer, more caring place. Here are some things schools do to ensure that schools are safer places:
Ensure that every part of the school is supervised by a teacher especially during break and sports. Corridor, Break and Sports grounds duties to be assigned separate from teaching duties (a teacher cannot be in a classroom and be teaching at the same time)
Create a buddy system where children are paired up, or are in groups of three. They are responsible for knowing where their buddies are at any point of time, and preferably staying with them. Another version of the buddy system that has seen a reduction in school bullying is assigning an older child to look out for a younger child in the playground. If the younger child feels any danger they have a person to approach who is responsible for helping them. The choice of the system and the specific design depends upon the needs and circumstances of the school, and the details must be designed with care. The idea is to create a watchful, caring safety net for children.
Awareness. Educate children and make them aware of their own rights over their bodies. Nobody can command them to do what is not right. (It often bothers me that when we train our children in unquestioning obedience we put them at risk. Anyone in a position of authority then must be obeyed, regardless of what they ask children to do.) Teach children about good touch and bad touch. Tell them that they have the right to say no. Teach them that their ‘no’ must be respected. Show them what to say and do to save themselves.
Include parents in the safety community. Share their tools of keeping children safe. Help them understand that often sexual abuse comes from known people. Share the statistics and the stories. Engage experts to run the communication and workshops with parents – because these are issues that are about fears, vulnerability and hurdles – and must be handled with sensitivity.
Create an atmosphere of open communication within the school. Let children chatter freely with teachers, with head teachers and each other, sharing their fears and hopes. This is no guarantee that there will be no abuse in the school but healthy and open conversations can often identify potential flash points and early action can be taken to save children from harm.
There are more lists available for school leaders that will help them keep their school safe. Even with the best of care, and the best of intentions there is no guarantee that something bad will not happen. Even so, with care, with vigilance and with supervision the school can be made a safe space. It takes effort, and this effort must be put in by the schools. At the end of the day, for a school leader – there is no substitute to management by walking around.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Five Tasks for a School Safety Committee

(This was first published: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/5-tasks-for-a-school-safety-commitee/)

5 tasks for a school safety commitee
July 21, 2014, 10:13 AM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | Bangalore, India | TOI
“But how could it happen?”
The school in question this time denies responsibility. Then accepts it. More reports are printed – of there being a dark room for punishments in the school. Of painkiller injections being given to children without parental consent. A girl was raped in school by staff. The horror and disgust – and disbelief is overpowering. What is worse is that it could happen anywhere. Unless we step up.
Parents now reveal that at the time of admission they sign on a document that absolves schools of responsibility for the safety and security of a child.
How can this be legal?
Schools are first places of safe learning before being anything else – certification agencies or funnels to higher education or anything. They are safe places. They exist to provide safe environments to children to explore, be curious, to learn, to be taught. This is why schools have walls, fences and gates – to keep their wards safe. This is why access to schools is restricted – only people who have been authorised to work with children, having been tested for their competence and abilities are allowed into the fenced area where children play freely.
Schools cannot run away from their responsibilities. They cannot simply shrug and walk away.
Enough lazy governance, schools. It is time you step up and did the job you were hired to do. Simple. Safe Learning Spaces. This is your business.
blore5
The current case has occurred in a private school in Bangalore, there have been others previously in government and private schools too. Our children’s safety does not seem to have become part of the daily concerns of either schools or parents. How many of you as parents accept the fact that you have to jump over an open ditch or walk over half made steps to get your child into the school? How many of you have checked the police verification certificate of the transport operator that takes the child to school? As teachers – do you react in shock that children are not supervised often on the school premises?
Granted, accidents happen and mistakes get made – there is no system that is 100% foolproof. But the lack of a safety system for school age children is an abdication of responsibility. Building the conversation and seeking action on school governance is a mission – this is the only way such episodes can be minimised.
There is much parental anger and disgust now because of the horrible incident that has occurred. This needs to translate to better parental engagement in schools – and please – not just the mothers. The best schools are able to engage parents in school processes in meaningful ways. Some have a parent escort in school buses, where parents take turns. Some have parent reading programs, parents help with changing for swimming, with supporting remedial sessions, some play sessions, school book fairs, fund raising activities and more.
The engagement of parents in school boards is vital – if the school does not have a formal mechanism for parents to be part of their management committee or board, then parents could make a start by creating a parental advisory board that engages with the school. No, this is not like a trade union of yore where you go and fight for your rights – this is about creating constructive engagement with the school to improve the safety and learning that will help our children. All children.
The RTE act mandates a school management committee – and this should be taken up by all schools, not just the ones that have been forced to by regulation. The composition and powers of the school management committee are crucial – the SMC must have community engagement. Parents, teachers, senior local community members, staff from peer schools and subject matter experts based on the needs of the school. The SMC sits above the school management and has the power to advise and instruct the school leadership.
Start small – start with a School Safety Committee if the SMC and the school governance structure seems too tough to do (it is easy, really)
And what should this school safety committee do?
1. Assess the risks that are facing the school. (For example physical risks to children, non availability of good teachers which will hurt learning.. etc.)
2. Ask the school high they mitigate those risks. (Do they have a school safety plan? Are drains and ditches being covered? Is the canteen checked for hygiene regularly/ Is the food from the canteen and water in the tap tested for safety? Are teachers and workers police verified? Is there a safety training system to make sure that at least one person per floor is trained in first aid, fire safety etc.?Are school toilets cleaned regularly so that they don’t spread disease? Are they inspected to ensure that unsavoury activities are not going on in closed spaces? Are there fire extinguishers in every zone, sand buckets easily accessible? Are wires all taped up? Are electrical inspections done regularly? Is the school building safe? Does the school guard check entry authorisation? And so on. (Comprehensive list available))
3. Ask and verify how the school safety checks are documented and reported by the school. Every school is responsible to a number of people for doing the job it promised to do – and therefore must have proof of having done so. This responsibility – indeed – liability- cannot be wished or delegated away.
4. Create a system for inspecting the school in a friendly, informal and comprehensive manner to verify the truth of the reports, and to report anything untoward. Parents can report to each other informally and document whatever they find at the school and have a civilised conversation with the school to agree a plan to resolve the issue. Good schools will always agree to make things better and will appreciate well mannered support from the parents. Bad schools may not like it and will call it ‘interference’ – and then a parent knows that they have to make tough choices about feeding a monster or finding alternatives.
5. Ensure that the school environment is open and transparent. Let there be lots of dialogue between schools and parents, let everyone in the school know that they are watched all the time. Ensure that supervisory rosters are visible, and that parents, students and school managements can check on them every time.
Is this creating a police state inside the school? No – this is creating an atmosphere where we look out for each other and create a chain of care. If one person – say the poor girl who was hurt and abused at her school – is missing, then her buddy, their chain buddy, their teacher, their supervisor, the visiting parent – all must create an instant alert. Some one in the system will care enough to make the right thing happen. Someone must care to keep our schools safe.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Five Principles to Keep Children Safe at School

(This was first published here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/five-principles-to-keep-children-safe-in-schools/)

Five principles to keep children safe in schools
May 5, 2014, 12:11 PM IST Meeta Sengupta in EduCable | India, Lifestyle | TOI
Whether you see it as childcare, or a place to learn, or about meeting friends – the entire premise of schools revolves around safety. We send our children to school to learn all this because we know they will be safe there.
Sadly, we know that this has not always been so – children have been hurt and abused at school. Whether it was an explicit MMS sent out by school bullies or a child being abused by the caretaker and bus attendant. These were sexual – there are other kinds of abuse that our children face from classmates, teachers and even school heads. Often we forget that our harsh behaviour can have serious consequences for young minds – take the example of the poor young girls who committed suicide in Bangalore after they were punished for playing Holi. They clearly felt unable to deal with the consequences of the humiliation meted out to them and the school failed in providing them a safe place to learn from incidents. The school failed them thrice – once in not providing them a safe place for self expression, two -in giving them disproportionate punishment, thus becoming an aggressor (even if they thought it was okay, and had precedence), and three, in not providing them a safe place to deal with their feelings.
There have been multiple incidents since then. Some sexual in nature, some due to negligence and others due to willful harm inflicted on our children. Are our children safe at school? Will the rules help keep them safe? They may, but safety is an attitude. A safe school builds a culture of safety where there is both awareness and alertness with sensitivity. This is signaled in many ways, not just in watching out for sexual abuse. It is the task of a school to provide a safe, caring, nurturing atmosphere.
It is not easy at all. Especially for large schools the challenges are immense. There are distant nooks and crannies in large schools where anything can happen. There are times when all children cannot be supervised – for example – as they go from a specialised classroom to another, or from a sports complex to, say, the library. Children have always found ways of bunking out of school. Unless one establishes a police state within the school there is only a limited degree of control that a school can have over every moment for every child.
Some places have resorted to that. There are metal detectors outside some schools in the UK. Some schools have cameras everywhere. Other schools insist on specific routines to be maintained that restrict the freedom of students.
They are not wrong in setting up routines. It is these routines that will ensure that the school becomes a safer, more caring place. Here are some things schools do to ensure that schools are safer places:
Ensure that every part of the school is supervised by a teacher especially during break and sports. Corridor, Break and Sports grounds duties to be assigned separate from teaching duties (a teacher cannot be in a classroom and be teaching at the same time)
Create a buddy system where children are paired up, or are in groups of three. They are responsible for knowing where their buddies are at any point of time, and preferably staying with them. Another version of the buddy system that has seen a reduction in school bullying is assigning an older child to look out for a younger child in the playground. If the younger child feels any danger they have a person to approach who is responsible for helping them. The choice of the system and the specific design depends upon the needs and circumstances of the school, and the details must be designed with care. The idea is to create a watchful, caring safety net for children.
Awareness. Educate children and make them aware of their own rights over their bodies. Nobody can command them to do what is not right. (It often bothers me that when we train our children in unquestioning obedience we put them at risk. Anyone in a position of authority then must be obeyed, regardless of what they ask children to do.) Teach children about good touch and bad touch. Tell them that they have the right to say no. Teach them that their ‘no’ must be respected. Show them what to say and do to save themselves.
Include parents in the safety community. Share their tools of keeping children safe. Help them understand that often sexual abuse comes from known people. Share the statistics and the stories. Engage experts to run the communication and workshops with parents – because these are issues that are about fears, vulnerability and hurdles – and must be handled with sensitivity.
Create an atmosphere of open communication within the school. Let children chatter freely with teachers, with head teachers and each other, sharing their fears and hopes. This is no guarantee that there will be no abuse in the school but healthy and open conversations can often identify potential flash points and early action can be taken to save children from harm.
There are more lists available for school leaders that will help them keep their school safe. Even with the best of care, and the best of intentions there is no guarantee that something bad will not happen. Even so, with care, with vigilance and with supervision the school can be made a safe space. It takes effort, and this effort must be put in by the schools. At the end of the day, for a school leader – there is no substitute to management by walking around.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.