Student Well-Being Policy

Over the past couple of years, Bangalore has become infamous for several incidents of child abuse in schools. February 2017 witnessed the most recent incident of child sexual abuse that got the local media into a frenzy debating and crucifying the school management with what clearly seemed like very little clarity or authenticity of the information. After a couple of days of mudslinging and noise, it settled down like it did in all the previous occasions. In all fairness, we must admit that there is no smoke without fire and the school management has for long sidelined this very critical issue.

Considering the fact that student well-being is an important and urgent issue on the agenda for school leaders, what is startling is that very little action has been taken on ground to address the issue. It seems obvious that most school leaders and managements don’t seem to learn lessons from mistakes of other schools, else these incidents would not have been recurring so often. During several of my interactions with school leaders over the years I have learned that schools have had innumerable discussions and debates on policy making when it comes to sensitive issues like student well-being. Almost every school seems to have a policy in place. However, communicating the policy is where very little action has happened. There is an urgent need for school to set this right.

A two-way strategy should be a good beginning in this direction:

    • Policy Making

The key here is not to create a verbose policy to satisfy the regulatory authorities, but to create a usable practical guide. Immense care must be taken to create different versions of the policy for various stakeholders like leaders, educators, support staff, students, parents etc. The content should not be a heavy long document. This in fact, should be replaced with crisp content in the form of info graphs, images, films, videos, voice notes, etc.  The content should be adaptable to print, digital and social media for it to be impactful.

     

  • Sensitize the Team

Once the content is in place, the next step is to have an effective Learning Program and not the run of the mill training program. Existing teams must have a different version of the learning program compared the new recruits. The versions of the learning program must be different for all the stakeholders to ensure effectiveness. The learning program cannot be a one-time affair, regular touch points to reinforce the learning must be enforced.

While it is imperative to have the policy, and sensitize the community, it is equally important to have an action plan or reference of occurrences with the steps in place. This would be an organized and effective way to develop and further implement the policy. As most schools across India come to the end of another academic year, I hope this is one action that we will be taken up on priority for the upcoming year.

Shaping Policies

The idea of a ‘Private School’ in India is very misleading as the government has a lot of control and interference in the manner in which schools function. School managements over the years, have figured out ways of working around the system rather than doing their bit to change the system. It is fair to comment that in India the manner in which the government makes laws is quite ambiguous, especially when it comes to educational policy. A lot of policies that are made, lack basic common sense and logic and in most cases don’t even remotely consider researched methodology as a foundation for policy making. In a scenario like this the private education fraternity in India is at the receiving end and they believe they have very little option but to toe the line.

Private Schools in India have always been reactive to the situation rather than being proactive. They come together and form associations with very narrowed short-term goals like safe guarding their interest after the Right to Education Act, or putting their weight behind fee regulations. This approach has not yielded any significant results and I do not see any major changes in their impact in future too, since these associations are not proactive and lack vision.

I believe that one of the reasons why these associations are not effective is because whenever they meet governmental representatives or policy makers they normally tend to put across views, suggestions, opinions, experiences and thoughts about how things should be. It is very difficult for the government and bureaucracy to be swayed by views of an association. It then becomes a debate of ideologies since there is no factual data or researched findings that are available.

Since the government does very little research before making policy, it presents a big opportunity for private school associations to initiate research on issues that matter. This research can be approached from 2 different perspectives – one from the grass root level in-school research and the other macro perspective of independent research by private bodies.

Every school can set up a research team comprising of a few teachers who can explore and analyse issues that matters to them like – ways to engage parents, understanding discipline issues among children, impact of excess information on children etc. In addition to these topics they could play an integral part in supporting research for policy making by delving into topics like – Impact of RTE, CCE etc.

This could lead to the creation of white papers and research data which when shared with the public and media at large will help shape public opinion. Public opinion backed by research findings is a great way of shaping the minds of policymakers. This approach would be more impactful as you can argue with opinions and perceptions but not with data.

Energize Education – Infuse Youth!

Two decades ago, I started my career in Bangalore, as an engineering student who was keen on working with schools. My first work stint was that of a Debate Teacher in Sri Kumarans Children’s Home. It was an amazing experience for me and I learned a lot for I loved working with schools and students. The more I enjoyed the role, the more I realized that I managed to influence students and to infuse in them a love for public speaking and communication. The experience of working in a school completely transformed me as a person, I grew by leaps and bounds picking up innumerable life lessons! Today when I look back at my eventful life, I can very safely point to my work experience in college as life changing. I have spent my life thereafter, working with schools, adding value to the education system and doing my bit to make things better for students.

One is at the prime of health, energy, confidence and excitement between the age of 18-25. The so called ‘youth’ this time, has the potential to change the world. History is proof that the youth have been responsible for some of the biggest changes that have occurred over millennia. Even the experienced ones that bring about change had the seeds of change sown in their minds and hearts while they were young. Somehow in India, we as a society do not recognize this potential in the youth and expect very little from college students. We are happy ‘relegating’ them to be ‘just students’. I use the word ‘relegating’ very responsibly as we have such low expectations from our students, we just expect them to study and do well in academics. However, youth in most parts of the world work while studying. Somehow in India as a society, we do not encourage our college students to work.

I started my career as a college student and over the years I have had the privilege of working with thousands of college students in innumerable cities across South Asia. I have always been inspired by their energy and enthusiasm. The college students who have worked as part of my Krayon team over the years have helped us create some of the biggest children’s events like Horlicks Wizkids, Dell Champs, NSE Funancial Quest, Spellbee and many more.

Working with college students has taught me that they can be very responsible if we trust them and give them the freedom to express. I have never been let down by any college student that has worked for me throughout my career.  College students can relate to school students a lot better and can be effective change makers if we create a proper system to engage them with school students.

Schools across India find it difficult to source specialist teachers/faculty for skill-based programs like art, music, dance, drama, sports and so on. Some schools use their alumnae effectively to support their programs but most schools do not look beyond experience. Youth can and have played a great role in making a difference in the learning of students!

Do you have a plan to engage with college students to improve your school?