‘Nigrani’ Of Schools – How Rural Communities Come Together For Safety In Schools
Child protection committees (CPC) are informal citizen’s group located at the level of communities, which work for the safety and protection of children. The members include parents, teachers, child and youth representatives, community level duty bearers, and PRI/urban equivalent members. These CPC work alongside the child protection system, supporting families, providing linkages to the formal protection services and mechanisms, facilitate discussions in the community on complex issues, serve as pressure groups in creating demands and measures for keeping children safe.
In the aftermath of the recent spate of violence against children in schools, parents and the government are discussing solutions to children’s safety. Leher brings you an example of how efforts involving collaboration, dialogue, and contribution of time between the CPC and school administration, brought success as resolving issues around keeping children safe at school. These stories are told from our field pilot project in the district of Madhubani, in Bihar which works in 36 villages.
From blame game to monthly ‘nigrani’ visits to school.
At the time that CPC began their work, they identified a lot of problems in an around schools. Parents alleged corruption—administration the Mid-day meal scheme, scholarships; run down infrastructure, teacher absenteeism, inadequate supply of education/play materials. Corporal punishment was acceptable and widely practiced. Teachers pointed out negligence and disinterest on the part of parents with regards to children’s education, alleging that parents were only interested the material and financial benefits received through the school.
These issues were discussed over and over. Finally, it was decided that every village CPC would undertake to prepare a report-card of each school. It enabled them systematically identify problems related to the schools in their respective villages. After going through this process of preparing the school safety report card came much reluctance and hesitation. Nobody felt they had the time. Parents were very busy with their household chores, and agricultural work. “If the Anganwadi didi and teacher receive salaries for doing their work, why should we parents be doing this for free?”, some parents questioned.
They decided to try. Here is what they found:
- The trust between the school and parents grew.
- Parents began to understand the limitations, and practical problems that school staff face
- Teachers and parents both became less negligent. As parents began to get involved with school, teachers and principals delivered better.
- The corruption around administration of Mid-day meals, and scholarship money gradually faded away.
- Parents began to realize the value of education.
- Parents were proud of what they were able to achieve as part of the CPC. The demand for financial compensation disappeared.
- They learned that if they were able to give some of their time, willing to dialogue, and get organized, they could achieve a lot.
Here are some testimonies to the collaborative approach:
“The girl’s group in our village complained to the CPC, that one of their friends had stopped coming to school, as the route to school was not safe, and there were men/boys who would sexually harass girls. The CPC got together and discussed with the community members on how to ensure the safety of girls without compromising their school attendance and education. It was decided that parents will take turns to accompany children to school and back.”—CPC member
“In one of the monthly visits in a village, the school visit committee observed a low hanging bare electric wire which the children could easily reach to, from the terrace of the school building. The CPC flagged it to the head master during school visit and took it up at the CPC meeting. The school authorities acted and got the wire insulated.”-Student from a village school.
“A ‘dabang’ (notorious) person from our village, decided that he would squat over the school play-ground, treating it as his personal property. He used it to store some construction material. Due to this the children were not able to make use of the playground. The school authorities were scared to take this up with the person in question. This was raised with the CPC during the monthly school visit. The CPC decided to take it up. The CPC approached the person and asked him to clear his materials from the playground. He refused many times. It took multiple meetings, and and the involvement of the community to finally get the man to agree to move out his materials from the pay ground.” –Community member
CPC now undertake a routine visit once a month to the village school. The schools-teachers, students, and management, look forward to it and it has become a forum to share, support and work in partnership. More and more parents are becoming aware about the CPC and the work it undertakes in schools, and it has raised the profile of the issue of safety of children in the community as a whole. Children also bring problems they face to the CPC directly.
As conversations around school safety in cities veer towards blame games, and aspects of policing—CCTV and electronic chipped tag, let us remember that these quick fixes don’t really solve the problem. What we need is for attitudes to change. For schools and parents to own the problem together. A lot can be achieved through working collaboratively, getting organized, and through dialogue towards keeping children safe, in school, at home, and in the community.