Driving Improvements in School Safety: A Story from Tumkur
A year ago, while we were coming to grips with the advent of a pandemic, the reality of school closures confronted us. The fact that schools could become avenues for the spread of the virus forced us to look for alternative solutions to ensure students continue to learn while away from their schools, their classrooms.
However, the pandemic, as we know it, is temporary. We’re preparing for a time when students return to occupy their classrooms, their preferred spots, watching their teachers at the front of the classroom facilitating their learning journeys. Preparing for such a time, while in the midst of a raging pandemic with its host of uncertainties, has been the battleground for school leaders and teachers across the country.
Case in Point: Tumkur, Karnataka
Let’s take the example of schools in Tumkur, a district in Karnataka that’s home to over 2000 public schools.
In January 2021, before the second wave of COVID-19 hit India with an unexpected ferocity, the Department of Public Instruction, Karnataka issued a detailed standard operating procedure for schools to reopen.
Every school in the state would have to ensure safety protocols were being followed to avoid the spread of Coronavirus.
The focus was clear. A safe environment makes for safe schooling. So, leaders within the district’s education system began to visit schools in their respective clusters. After a series of visits, 86% of these 109 leaders or Cluster Resource Persons recorded a variety of improvements brought about in schools.
These improvements, driven by school leaders (HMs) and teachers, while guided by the CRPs included – creating a timetable for safety checks, setting up a Shaala Mantri Mandala (School Cabinet), engaging parent-led School Monitoring Committees (SMCs) to oversee safety precautions – Government-run schools across the Tumkur District put in place several measures to ensure their schools were safe to welcome students back.
Improving Interactions – The Actors
The process of improving the safety in schools saw school leaders (HMs) and Teachers working collaboratively with Cluster Resource Persons (CRP) across the district. This led to an interaction between the school stakeholders and the CRPs towards building safe learning environments for the children of Tumkur.
The interaction between the two groups of education system actors provided an avenue for them to address challenges faced while setting up safety measures. Additionally, CRPs were in a position to guide schools in the process.
One CRP stated, “Some schools in my cluster did not maintain regular cleanliness in the school premises. Following the safety check and addressing this as a challenge, we were able to plan the maintenance of the school with clear delegation. Now, the toilets are regularly cleaned and there’s a greater emphasis on social distancing norms.”
For some schools who were already practicing these measures before a safety check was conducted, it was a matter of pride to showcase what they had put together to ensure the safety of their students.
“I found all HMs and teachers in my cluster taking up the responsibility with a lot of enthusiasm. When I conducted the safety walk, they were excited to show me the safety amenities in their schools. The amount of planning and execution that went into this process amid such challenging times was a very clear indication that the school did well,” said another CRP in the district.
Enabling Interactions – The Tool
While working with the system, we focus on the improvement of interactions between two or more stakeholders. These interactions are meant to create value – an improvement in the school’s environment where ultimately children come to learn. The more insightful this interaction is, the more likely it is going to lead to making real improvements.
For a CRP, who has to monitor safety measures of all 10-14 schools in the cluster, a manual data collection and analysis process would lead to days of work and little improvement done.
This time, however, with the rapidly changing COVID climate, CRPs were quick to move onto a digital observation tool – a School Safety Check form aligned to the Karnataka Government’s Vidyagama program, which takes them around the school to record information on:
Availability of safety resources
Maintenance of cleanliness
Practicing of CoVid safety norms
Community engagement with respect to school safety
After filling the form which records both objective and subjective information about school safety, the CRP was able to analyse dashboards of data indicating the overall status of safety measures in their cluster, as well as each school’s individual score card.
The Form came as a break from conventional methods – earlier, CRPs walking into a school for a visit lacked a common understanding of what needed to be observed and assessed. School visits were random and frameworks to identify improvements were absent.
The School Safety Observation Form eases the data collection process for a CRP making multiple visits – even to remote localities where internet connectivity would be an issue – spending on an average at least 2 hours in each of the 10-14 schools they oversee. It helps the CRP prioritise schools on the basis of those most in need of support and resources. It also allows the CRP to celebrate milestones while witnessing improvements take shape across schools in their cluster.
“The data helps me clearly see improvement or lags. I am able to compare schools in my cluster and witness the growth or improvements in each of them,” said another CRP.
Simultaneously, the teacher or school head receives inputs from a CRP and ensures that resources provided to them would be fully utilized or irregular processes for cleaning and temperature scanning would be regularised. Having such a tool makes it possible for a system leader such as the CRP to spend less time collecting information and more time coaching and guiding the schools.
109 out of the 150 Cluster Resource Persons in Tumkur used the school safety form to assess the readiness of schools in their educational clusters. The form was piloted to identify if interactions between the system leaders led to improvements and if the stakeholders found it to be a better alternative to the existing processes. The pilot was conducted as part of Mantra4Change’s District Transformation program. The form was made available to the CRPs on an assessment application – Samiksha by ShikshaLokam, an Education Leadership Platform.
Among the CRPs interviewed post the pilot, every single one of them shared that the form would prove extremely beneficial to assess and improve lower primary schools in the District when they reopen.
The Safety Check form is a tool that allows for interactions between system leaders to improve. Reaping the benefit of this improved interaction, are the 56,000 odd students of the District.
For the schools of Tumkur, improvement doesn’t stop here. As we ride out the second wave of COVID-19 and the mission to keep engaging children in learning; CRPs, school leaders and teachers are continuously preparing to welcome their students back.
Published by mantra4change