That a seven-year-old was killed within the precincts of an upmarket Gurgaon school is horrifying on several counts. Evidently, Ryan International School, Gurgaon, failed to follow several safety guidelines issued by the city’s police department. According to reports, the bus conductor who allegedly murdered Thakur, used the same washroom as the students. This is in clear violation of the Gurgaon Police’s Guidelines for Safety of Children in Schools: “For bus drivers and conductors, whether employed by the school or contracted out, access area must be limited to just the bus area, and specific instructions must be given to them on which areas are out of bound for them”. Ryan International must also answer why it allowed the alleged murderer to bring a knife into the school premises.
The safety lapses in a well-resourced school in the National Capital Region raise serious questions on basic infrastructure and protocols — rather, the lack of them — in the country’s schools. Students, who spend nearly a third of their day in school, must be provided clean and secure washrooms. It should also be incumbent on the school management to provide well-maintained toilets for its employees. But much like Ryan International, most Indian schools — many of which charge exorbitant fees — pay short shrift to this basic necessity. Schools also accord low priority to another essential requirement — safety audits. Last year, another student of a Gurgaon school died after being hit by a speeding car after the school bus — without an attendant — allegedly dropped her on the wrong side of the road. In August, a student died after he fell from the second floor of an upscale Ghaziabad school.
There have been expressions of public anger after every such incident. However, that schools can go on as usual, as if nothing happened, shows a worrying lack of regulatory oversight. The school inspection system has been defunct for decades. Parents’ associations are toothless bodies. When the demand-supply situation with respect to school education is skewed against the school-goer, expressions of outrage by parents never set off more than an episodic ripple. The police have assured a speedy investigation of Pradyuman Thakur’s murder. But without effective institutionalised corrective mechanisms, a safe learning environment will continue to elude the country’s schoolchildren.