Experts are divided over whether increasing surveillance is the ultimate solution to ensure children’s safety in schools.

CCTV cameras in schools A knee-jerk reaction for childrens securityImage for representation
news Child safety Friday, January 19, 2018 - 17:28

In November last year, a shocking murder of a seven-year-old child at a school toilet in Gurugram shocked the nation. In the aftermath of the Ryan International case, there has been a lot of hue and cry about making schools secure for children.

The Supreme Court is even hearing a PIL on Friday, which seeks guidelines for safety of school children across India. And on Thursday Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that parents would have access to the CCTV camera feed from the devices which will be installed in government school classrooms in the national capital.

However, is installing CCTV cameras and increasing surveillance the ultimate solution to ensure that our children are safe in schools?

Prone to misuse

Jayaprakash Gandhi, a career consultant based in Salem, Tamil Nadu, believes that there is no harm having CCTV cameras in classrooms if they are used for positive reinforcement and not to target children and their mistakes.

“I think it’s okay to give parents access to the CCTV feed. But they should be counselled and made to understand that it is to enable students to learn in a safe environment, not to monitor them,” he says.

Prince Gajendra Babu, an educationist, holds a different point of view. “Not every action can be understood through a camera. What we need are mechanisms for effective supervisions – regular visits by the principal, or vice-principal, for instance. They should keep the teachers and students in check instead of having CCTV in classrooms.”

He adds that having cameras at the entrance of schools to monitor who is entering and leaving, is completely acceptable.

Jayaprakash also says that children should be under surveillance in common areas such as playgrounds and cafeterias. “They should be allowed to be kids. If a girl and a boy are sitting together in a cafeteria for instance, that footage can easily be misused to target the children,” he cautions.

Encroachment on personal freedom

Another reason why Prince is against having cameras in classrooms is because he believes it will hamper the personal freedom of students and teachers.

“There has to be some kind of trust between the two, and even between the management and parents, and parents and teachers. If that trust is not there, the CCTV cameras are not going to help,” he says.

Dr Sangeeta Saksena, co-founder of Enfold Proactive Health Trust, an NGO working with child sexual abuse survivors and their families, agrees. “Many children have told us that it (CCTV surveillance) does not allow them to be themselves.” she says.

Vandhana, a Chennai-based clinical psychologist says that from a psychological point of view, if a child knows they are constantly under surveillance, they may suppress their actual behaviour, which will ultimately lead to bursts of aggression.

"And installing cameras is not going to ensure that children are sensitised or taught values, which is what would ultimately contribute to a safer environment," she adds. 

A change in approach

Dr Sangeeta says that it is not possible to cover every nook and cranny of the school with CCTV cameras, and that this is more of a knee-jerk reaction than a comprehensive approach to ensure children’s safety - and it is this approach that needs to undergo change.

She was part of the committee Karnataka had put together to come up with a child protection policy last year. It also had members from UNICEF and other non-governmental organisations. "There was consensus on the fact that policies like CCTV cameras do not work in keeping children safe in the long run. The abusers, who can be staff, teachers, or even other students, usually know the areas which are not monitored by CCTV and can commit the crime there," she says. 

What can help, is a change in approach, which can happen in a two-fold manner. "Firstly, children should be taught life skills such as communication, assertiveness, awareness and conflict resolution. Secondly, they should be enabled to report abuse. Usually a child knows that the other person is showing them something they shouldn't or are touching them in a way she shouldn't. It's just that they should be empowered to feel they can tell an adult that their personal safety is being violated," she says. 

Dr Sangeeta also says that teachers and parents should be taught to observe the child's behaviour which can often indicate if they are being abused - physically, emotionally, or sexually. "For instance, if the child is hitting another, consider the fact that it could be a learned behaviour and the child could be going through this or witnessing it too."

Enforcing other policies

The cons aside, CCTV surveillance can help address issues like corporal punishment in classrooms, Dr Sangeeta says. 

CBSE had also come up with security guidelines for affiliated schools in September last year, which Dr Sangeeta believes are quite comprehensive. These guidelines cover setting up of committees for parent/staff/student issues, Internal Complaints Committee for sexual harassment issues, as well as committees for POCSO cases. The guidelines also mandate background checks and psychometric evaluation of the staff employed.

Dr Sangeeta says that apart from background checks, school management should call the previous employer of the potential employee and have an informal chat about whether it is safe to have them work in close proximity with children.