We’ve all heard the all-too-famous proverb: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. Indeed, being cooped up within the four walls of the school, listening to endless lectures, can drive a child to utter boredom. Luckily, a fun trip in the sun is all it takes to put the zing right back in children’s steps - whether in the form of a fun outing or an educational field trip.
Keeping this objective in mind, schools in India organise field trips at least once a year, and students look forward to them with much excitement! But, what happens when the joy is marred by accidents and other unfortunate incidents? With regular reports in the papers of students drowning or meeting with accidents in theme parks, school excursions need to be looked at in a different light. The fatal drowning of 24 engineering students from Hyderabad in the Beas River in 2014 while on an excursion to Manali is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Last year, a 12-year-old boy drowned in Queensland - an amusement park in Chennai - while on a picnic organised by his school.
These instances just go to show that beyond the fun, school excursions should be taken very seriously too from the safety angle. Yes, teachers, supervisors and the schools themselves are often to blame for such incidents, but after a mishap occurs, there is little point in playing the blame game. So, as a parent, what can you do to prepare your child ahead of a school outing? What ground rules should you instruct them to follow on their fun trip?
I tell my children to follow what the teacher says and not try any daredevil stunts. I also instruct them to not wander off alone and avoid fighting with other kids,” says parent Arunmozhi Villalan. “If they are not comfortable doing something, they should not do it, even if their friends tell them to. Likewise, they are to not force other children into doing things.”
Malini Gowrishankar, a Bengaluru-based parent, reveals that her kids have been instructed against talking to strangers or eating any food they offer. “They’ve been told to always stay in the vicinity of the teachers. Parents also need to teach their children about good touch and bad touch as there are a lot of child abuse cases these days,” she says.
Additionally, parents need to be actively involved in making sure schools take adequate steps to keep their children safe.
“Before they go on an excursion, I usually ask for details on where the trip is going to be, the time of departure and return, and what kind of activities will be conducted,” says Arunmozhi. “If there are water activities involved, I also ask how long they will be in the water. Teachers need to ensure that the water isn’t too deep.” Malini adds, “I usually ask what the teacher to child ratio is and if there will be any helpers around, as well as if the bus organised is from the school or from outside. Drivers turn demons sometimes there have even been cases where drivers have raped students.”
While parental involvement is a must, the responsibility of ensuring children’s safety usually falls on the school.
“Most field trips are done in accordance with what is being covered in the syllabus. A month before the trip, we inform the police about it so they can keep an eye out too,” explains Vilma DeSouza, principal of St Michael’s School, Goa. “Before a field trip, children are given a rough set of rules on what they can and cannot do. We then divide them into groups with two teachers keeping an eye on each group. We also get all the necessary information from parents with regards to the health of each child; for example, if they suffer from motion sickness, etc., and ensure that we take along emergency numbers and first-aid kits.”
DeSouza adds that well-organised games keep kids busy throughout the day. “We give them just about half-an-hour to relax and unwind. Not that they mind. They are very happy as long as they are not in class,” she smiles.
However, some schools feel that it is still difficult to keep children under check. As a result, they have put a stop to such trips. “In the last six to seven years we haven’t taken children on even local excursions. We keep parents informed about what’s being covered in class and advise them to take their kids to educational sites themselves,” says Ms V Krishnan, a retired principal from Chennai. She illustrates some instances from the past. “In one case, we had taken about ten kids to watch a match. We noticed that one boy was missing and later came to know that he had gone off to his relative’s place without telling anyone. Another time, a child drowned while at a scouts’ camp. The boy had gone swimming without anybody’s knowledge. To what extent can we (school authorities) control them?”
What then can be done to avoid further loss of innocent lives? “Children can get over-enthusiastic during a field trip, without thinking about the consequences of their actions. Teachers should be alert and try to calm them down,” advises DeSouza.
On the other hand, Jayant Jain, the president of Forum of Fairness in Education, Mumbai, believes that the government is at fault. “Many such incidents take place but are not reported, as the school authorities ask parents not to go to the press or police,” he says. “There are certain norms that have been laid out by the government. Schools have to seek permission from the deputy director of the education department before undertaking such trips but many don’t do this because there are no rules and regulations in place for checking this.”
Jayant also calls for more active parental involvement. He states that parents are not aware of the safety of the bus - if there are railings or if they have been checked for road safety. “They need to find out if there will be a lifeguard if there are going to be water-based activities; similarly, the depth of the water and its quality should be checked. “PTA meetings are where parents can decide on a place and ask for more details. But, most parents just say ‘yes’ to everything the school authorities say. They fear their children will be harassed, otherwise,” he laments.
All said and done, children’s safety is a collective responsibility. From your side, equip your children with the right skills so they get back home safe, after a super fun day with classmates!