School safety and security incidents, tragic as some have been, are now too many and too often to ignore the underlying lack of appropriate preventive measures within the school environment.
The lack of incident reporting and analysis tools means only the major incidents get public attention — but hardly enough of it to warrant adequate outcry for long-term action. I doubt whether there is real and reliable data on the many incidents to allow decision-making and continuous improvement of school safety programmes.
Commendably, the Ministry of Education has a Safety Standards Manual for schools, published in 2008. It is a great document, 78 pages long, with some of the best safety guidelines. Regrettably, even after piloting it in about 60 schools in 2008, the programme has failed to scale and become common and expected practice.
There are many reasons for this. First, the complexity of the subject matter makes the guidelines a safety and security expert’s domain. But while the guidelines are made for implementation by teachers — and rightly so — its depth and requirements require the assistance of safety and security experts. The latter would unpack and guide teachers on the subject matter, provide the knowledge and skills required as well as capacity to develop and use the tools required for its implementation.
The second major factor is the lack of an implementation plan. Guidelines, in themselves, are not enough. A robust and universal plan that ensures all schools apply the basic minimum standards.
Such an implementation plan can, again, only be developed with the help of safety and security experts. But with appropriate monitoring and evaluation tools, it is necessary to ensure safety and safety checks are habitual, not one-off like the pilot programme was.
How will schools operate in a world of threat and risk and yet provide a safe and secure environment for learning? In risk management, one does not simply wait for the government to do it all. Players in education and safety must jump in to set out deterrence, prevention, response and recovery measures. It is these plans that must be consistent with government regulations.
How, for example, do we equip teachers with the knowledge, skills and tools to conduct a simple threat and risk assessment if safety and security experts do not chip in? Risk is something we live with every day but many are preventable and others can have their effects mitigated.
Our teachers should be equipped to lead the school community in putting in place preventive measures and leading response and recovery before professionals arrive at the scene of an incident.
A special teacher designated as a safety and security marshal in a school, as required by the ministry guidelines, therefore becomes the risk manager, who must anticipate every imaginable scenario and prepare properly for it.
The hazards in the school environment are many and the risk of occurrence is real. There are hazards in school transportation, food poisoning in feeding programmes, natural causes like floods, lightning and landslides, fires, collapse of buildings and, recently, as we found out in Kakamega, stampedes. These are the old and traditional threats.
But new threats are emerging. Terrorism, for example, has become a major concern and, as events show, schools are now actual targets. Cyberbullying and online shaming are other threats, brought about by technology. Children’s privacy and dignity is now at real stake. We have seen numerous videos of children in compromising situations recorded and shared in public just to cause shame.
Personal data protection is also important with the enactment of the Data Protection Act, as learning institutions are big data controllers required to adhere to the regulations. The risk of children’s and parents’ personal data being compromised and used for other reasons other than identity is real.
The cost of implementation also comes to mind. There is a lot that schools can do within their available resources. There are, however, certain aspects that will introduce costs that most schools, especially the public ones, may not afford immediately. This calls for a broad range of partnerships. Schools’ partners could extend their charity to cover safety and security programmes.
Mr Nkaari is the country director, Elite Safety & Security Academy. [email protected]