So, You Want to Send Your Child to a Boarding School? Ask these Child Protection-focused Questions(4)

6th Question: Still as part of Child Protection measures, what are the safety measures put in place by the school? Safety is a major issue within and outside the school system. What measures have the school put in place to ensure the safety of the children? An 11-year old student of leading school in Lagos State drowned on May 8, 2009 at the swimming pool of a hotel in Lagos in the course of a school-organised swimming class excursion. Facts gleaned from the reports of the Fact Finding Committee set up to investigate the incident reveals that Fifty two students took part in the swimming lesson; the Head Medical Unit and Housemaster stated that no list was sent to him for the students who were going on the outing that day, though that was usually the procedure, stating that he warned that ‘the weather was not too good for swimming because it was cloudy and generally cold’… he was however persuaded to allow the children to come out of the hostel and go for swimming and that ‘they will be taken good care of; the Head Medical Unit  stated that no list was sent to him for the students who were going on the outing that day, though that was usually the procedure, stating that he warned that ‘the weather was not too good for swimming because it was cloudy and generally cold’ and that he was however persuaded to allow the children to come out of the hostel and go for swimming and that ‘they will be taken good care of; the group of 52 students and one teacher was transported to the hotel in a 27 seater school bus. The school arrangement was for the bus to convey the student in two batches, but the teacher  and the boys interviewed confirmed that they have always gone in one batch; the name of the child was not found on the membership list of the Swimming Club under which umbrella the students went swimming as the school could not substantiate by producing the child’s membership form in which the consent of the parents was obtained;  fifty two students all swimming at no segmented order in one pool, with at least forty pupils swimming at the same time; the swimming instructor was not present on that day,  no safety experts, no first aid equipment, but the person known to as a life guard was present; the students’ activities while they played in the pool were allegedly supervised by two adults  and neither of them was appropriately wearing swimming trunks;  when the child was found under the water, the two adults, who were said to be supervising the pupils only responded at the second round of call for help by fellow pupils, meaning that the alleged supervisors were not close to the pool at the time of the ugly incident; above all, the consent of the parents was not sought before the children were taken out of the boarding house and the school for swimming.

The parents of the child alleges that the school is grossly negligent and have now set up a Foundation in memory of their son, to promote among other objectives, public awareness about the importance of child safety, the dangers of negligence and the need to make recreational facilities safe.

I have related this story and the facts revealed in the report of the Fact Finding Committee to help you know some of the questions and investigation you must do on safety matters within the boarding school system. The story, though covers one aspect of safety, could become a template for measuring the commitment of the boarding school authority to the safety of the pupils under their care.

The Daily Independent Newspaper of Monday, November 28, 2005 reported the pathetic story of ‘twenty-two pupils of All Saints International College, Kaduna, whose young lives were brutally terminated in a stampede occasioned by false fire alarm in their school.’ The report further revealed, ‘thick smoke produced by sawdust being burnt in a nearby carpenter’s workshop had created the panic, as the pupils thought their school building had caught fire. These twenty-two students had jumped to their deaths while trying to escape. Several others were badly injured.’

It is characteristic of us as African to conclude that this was an act of God. But sanity demands that we ask some questions, using this as a template for safety issues within the boarding school system: first, is there an internal Fire Drill Regulations. What is Fire Drill? According to Wikipedia, it is ‘a method of practicing the evacuation of a building for a fire or other emergency. Generally, the emergency system (usually the fire alarm/smoke detector) sounds and the building is evacuated as though a real fire had occurred. Usually, the time it takes to evacuate is measured to ensure that it occurs within a reasonable length of time, and problems with the emergency system or evacuation procedures are identified to be remedied.’ In developed climes, Fire Drills for schools must occur in certain regulated intervals and it is governed Fire Drill Regulations are set by government and must be followed to the letter by the schools.  Does the school have these regulations and related others in place. Second, is the school properly situated? Is it is right to situate as school close to a factory or an artisan workshop? Could there be environmental issues emanating from such localization? Besides the fact that the children panicked and jumped to their deaths, could the ‘thick smoke produced by sawdust being burnt in a nearby carpenter’s workshop’ constitute health hazard to the children? Third, curiously, where were the custodians of the pupils when this tragedy struck? The story did not tell us their whereabouts. Could they have been unavailable to control and bring order to the situation? Lastly, what preventive measures are put in place to prevent a reoccurrence of this kind of ugly incident in the near and far future? Does our tragedy take us beyond grief and regrets to learn the hard lessons and put the lessons learnt to use?

In countries like America with the rapidity of gun violence within the schools in the country, there lockdown drill, aimed at preparing the students and teachers on how to respond to gun violence within the school system. It may not be a bad idea for our schools to begin to think in this direction considering the recent and exacerbated Boko Haram attacks on boarding schools in the Northern parts of Nigeria.

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE.

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