How safe are our schools?

Parents often take it for granted that their child is safe from predators at school. But when TAN CHOE CHOE and SONIA RAMACHANDRAN visited some primary schools recently, they were concerned with what they saw

THE school bell rang and scores of children burst out of the school gates, running helter-skelter out onto the road. Some loitered around in small groups outside the school compound.

Some of them were only as young as 7 but they were milling about unattended by adults while waiting for their transport to arrive.

A few were meandering through the throng of cars outside their school.

Surveying a few primary schools in the Klang Valley over the last two weeks, the New Sunday Times found that most of these young children were not only on their own, but were more than willing to talk to strangers.

Asked what he was doing, a Year One pupil sitting alone by the roadside opposite his school said: “I’m waiting for my mother. I think got traffic jam, so she’s late.

“It’s always like that when she comes to school.”

Then he countered the journalist’s question with a string of his own: “Why are you taking pictures? Did you shoot one of me? Can I see?”

It was 10 minutes after the bell rang to signal the end of classes for the day.

A lot of things could happen in the space of 10 minutes.

Left unsupervised, this child or any of his schoolmates could be snatched or pushed into a car by those with ill intentions. No one would be the wiser until it was too late.

A graver source of concern was that journalists could walk in and out of the schools without anyone bothering to stop them.

Although there were security guards stationed at the gates at some of the schools, they paid scant attention to those who walked in.

No one bothered even when the team whipped out a camera and started snapping pictures inside the compounds, like in the case of one primary school in Jalan Kuchai Lama.

The gates were wide open but instead of manning the gates or monitoring the comings and goings of adults and students, the security guard remained seated in the guardhouse.

In a school in Brickfields, the main gates were manned by security guards but there were side gates that were open and left unguarded.

On stepping into the school through one of the side gates, the team asked one student if they could enter.

“Go in-lah. No problem,” she said with a flick of her wrist.

At another school in Taman Desa, people were seen parking their cars outside the school and walking inside but no one took notice of them.

A social worker, Shoba Aiyar, said even kindergartens were easily accessible to the public.

When she was distributing leaflets in Petaling Jaya and Jalan Klang Lama late last year, she found that the main gates of most kindergartens she visited were not locked.

“I could walk straight into the classrooms, which were also not locked.”

There were a few classrooms that were locked electronically but almost always, on seeing her, a child would happily unlock the door as the teacher was occupied elsewhere.

“They don’t even know me but I could stroll in and out as I liked. Perhaps, we are lucky in that there are not that many people with ill intentions around. There are so many opportunities for them to strike. It’s all a question of whether they want or don’t want to.”

by Tan Choe Choe and Sonia Ramachandran.

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