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Pune Campus Watch: Drowning tragedy brings safety issues during school picnics back to forefront

With schools set to reopen for physical classes, academicians say it is better to avoid trips to water bodies

“I think choosing the location is one of the most important things. In my two-decade career, never have we taken children to a water body because it is risky,” said the principal of CES’s Prerana Primary School, Nigdi. (File Photo)

Earlier this month, as interviews for hiring new school teachers were being held at Kothrud’s Seva Sadan School, a majority of candidates had one rider while accepting positions – they will not take students on school picnics.

“In school premises, children are disciplined but managing them outside is a huge task and a big risk as well. Teachers outright tell us they will work extra in school but won’t manage students outdoors,” said Radhika Ogale, principal of the school. “It’s a big headache to plan picnics. Choosing the right spot, preparing budgets, taking consent of parents, training staff, preparing children and so many other tasks, it easily takes a few weeks which no one looks forward to,” she added.

On Thursday, four students of a residential school who had gone on an informal trip to Chaskaman dam backwaters in Khed taluka drowned. While investigation into the incident is still on, it has been alleged that some school teachers were also present at the site. The incident is reminiscent of the drowning tragedy in February 2016 when 14 students of Abeda Inamdar College drowned in Murud whilst on a college trip.

As schools are set to reopen for physical classes after a long gap due to Covid, school picnics will also return. In some cases, academicians said that ‘ice-breaker’ sessions in terms of outdoor trips can be organised but both schools and parents will have to take utmost care while planning them.

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“I think choosing the location is one of the most important things. In my two-decade career, never have we taken children to a water body because it is risky. We choose places of historical importance like forts, palaces or even factories,” said Seema Mahajan, principal of CES’s Prerana Primary School, Nigdi. “Often children demand going to certain places and it is important that schools and parents don’t come under their pressure. Most importantly, while giving consent, parents should ask questions like how many teachers and support staff are going along, what is the training and safety training drill being done, has mandatory permission sought from the education department etc,” she added.

Ogale said that despite criticism from certain quarters, her school only organises trips to resorts. “There as well, we inform them to keep their swimming pools dry. Also, our teachers are not allowed to take informal trips. If they are sports enthusiasts, they can trek or run on their own,” she said.

After the mass drowning incident in 2016, the state education department had issued detailed instructions on school picnics. The first point itself says that schools should not take students to beaches, rivers, lakes, ponds, water parks, adventure parks or places that pose danger to them. Also, high school students are forbidden from taking part in trekking and water sports and no permission will be granted for out-of-state trips.

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Other instructions include taking along at least two trained staff for every 10 students, carrying a first-aid kit on trip and keeping numbers of local doctor or hospital handy, circulating itinerary amongst parents, asking for their suggestions and if need be, taking a parent representative along.

Taking consent of parents is mandatory. Once the location of the trip is decided, schools should inform students of the geography and challenges, train students to deal with any untoward incidents, allow students to carry cell phones etc.

Chandrika Banerjee, principal of Magarpatta School, had a few extra tips to share. “Teachers should take attendance of the students after boarding the bus, especially at the stoppages and starting and returning points of the journey. The picnic spot should be selected strategically, no water bodies should be around. Food should be checked by the school authorities. Teachers should carry first-aid kits and medicines for emergency purposes besides safety items such as torch, cell phone etc. Students should always be in a group and instructions should be followed. Parents should take all details from school, ask questions on safety and keep in touch with teachers,” she said.

First published on: 20-05-2022 at 12:10 IST
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