On July 27, 2017, the Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS), a non-profit organisation, collaborated with Honeywell India to kickstart a school safety and disaster risk reduction programme across 50 government schools in East Delhi. Over the three years, the initiative seeks to benefit 32 government and 18 East Delhi Municipal Corporation schools.
Working in an advisory capacity, the three-year Honeywell Safe Schools (HSS) programme seeks to address challenges unique to each school and work towards ensuring a safe school environment.
Public conversations on school safety take centre stage only after a tragic incident. This was the case after last year’s horrific murder at the premises of Ryan International School in Gurugram. “When disturbance embeds itself in the school environment, every student is affected by it in some way,” says Manu Gupta, executive director at SEEDS. “A safe learning environment is essential for children of all ages, and without it, they cannot focus on acquiring the necessary knowledge in school.”
The concept of school safety has evolved over time. Recent discourse on the subject has moved from fire safety and natural hazards to setting up institutional barriers against civil disturbances and violent acts, bullying, substance and sexual abuse.
What does a safe environment for a school-going child entail?
Speaking to The Better India, Manu Gupta said that the HSS programme involves structural assessment of each school by engineers and architects; evaluation of risk perception among children, teachers and parents; and examination of preparedness in the face of any natural or man-made disaster.
“The structural assessments, non-structural mitigation measures, workshops, IEC and school disaster management plan will encapsulate identifying hazards beyond natural hazards like the safe commute from school and back, check on the accessibility of outsiders to school premises, identifying dark spots and recommendation to the school management committee for improving safety,” he said.
Interactive sessions, mock drills to prepare for emergency situations, peer-to-peer learning, risk assessment and lessons on non-structural mitigation are some of the ways in which students, teachers and other non-teaching staff are being trained. By the end of this programme, every school is expected to have a custom disaster management plan that address risks specific to it.
Before this programme began, SEEDS undertook a study to understand school safety and disaster-preparedness across a range of city schools. The objective was to understand the risk children in Delhi schools face, the community’s perception towards those risks and determine remedial measures.
“The study used spatial data analysis through Geographical Information System (GIS) tools, a campus-level assessment conducted by expert architects, participatory assessments by social science and media specialists, and validated data from the government. Thereafter, primary data collection was undertaken through various tools, including focus group discussions, transect walks, and key informant interviews. 1035 responses were collected and further compiled in a report based on the perception of risk and understanding of safety measures,” says Gupta.
Some of the key findings of this baseline study were astounding. Nearly 69% of children walk to school unaccompanied. Most people fear road accidents and bullying and do not even recall natural calamities such as floods (some schools are located on the Yamuna flood zone) and earthquakes as hazards, despite the physical, geological, and spatial setting of the city.
“Though the national capital hasn’t been subjected to floods or earthquakes in recent times, awareness among the people about associated risks can help them act in times of emergency that can end up saving thousands of lives along with valuable assets,” says Gupta.
Most respondents attribute the loss of life and suffering to inadequate response systems, but 99% were unaware of any helpline. The problem many respondents said were not lacking community preparedness, but inadequate response systems. Shockingly, only 7% people are aware of the government’s rule for schools to have mandatory Disaster Management Plan.
As part of Honeywell Safe Schools programme, experts from SEEDS are currently working closely with children, schools, communities, and civic agencies to raise awareness and train them in disaster-preparedness and risk reduction.
Currently, baseline assessments and orientation sessions are underway in 25 schools. Based on these assessments, SEEDS will offer recommendations and a plan of action will be devised for each school. Each school will soon have a safety plan tailor-made for them.
“Honeywell India has always been committed to supporting meaningful community interventions which benefits the society at large. Through our partnership with SEEDS, we seek to provide comprehensive school safety to the vulnerable children through structural and non-structural interventions. We are proud to associate with them and are certain that together we will be able to make a significant contribution in providing a safe and conducive learning environment for children in schools,” said Vikas Chadha, President, Honeywell India.
At the end of three years, these are the objectives that the HSS initiative hopes to achieve:
• A safer environment for children at 50 government schools in Delhi leading to a more conducive learning environment.
• Increased resilience of 25000 children, studying in 50 government schools, in Delhi towards disasters and daily stresses.
• Increased resilience of 100 children with disabilities towards disasters and daily stresses.
• Enhanced knowledge and capacities of 1000 teachers for educating children on disaster safety.
• Estimated 40000 parents will be sensitized and capacitated towards disaster safety among kids.
To find out more about the Honeywell Safe Schools programme, you can click here.