School safety should be a priority for our Education Leaders
I went to school over 30 years ago. I remember my mom prodding us to get out of the house in time with my school backpack and packed lunch in hand. My walks to school were always enjoyable. The only thing better was the walk back after school! I distinctly remember the sense of freedom I had then. There was one simple rule — “Don’t break the law”. Everything else was discounted as just “kids being kids”. Every family along the route kept an eye on the kids walking. Life was simple. School safety was never a concern.
Today, that utopia we lived in during our school days seems to have been long gone. Things are different. Challenges faced by our school administrators are unique and unpredictable. Threat perception is at a new level. Gun violence in schools is almost a daily occurrence. Cyberbullying and social media shaming are affecting our children in more ways than we can fully understand. Yet, when I look around for solutions, I feel disheartened by what is being peddled around. Our teachers and school staff do not seem to have the right tools to address the problems. It just feels like they are using vintage weapons to fight today’s battles.
On the other hand, our children, parents, and schools have some of the best hardware that money can buy. School budgets have more than quadrupled over the past 50 years, even after adjusting for inflation. They are wired up with the best Internet available and all our parents and teachers carry the best smartphones on the market. So, the question that begs to be answered- what is wrong with our system? Or is it just our mindset?
What stopped our adaptation?
This would be a good time to briefly touch upon how the big profit-driven education companies dominated the technology sector and prevented growth. This handful of companies had a virtual monopoly and stifled grass-root level innovation aimed at solving real problems faced by the teachers and school staff in the field. Most of the unsuccessful changes were motivated by profits from the top-down and did not address the actual problems happening at schools.
Enter the era of ‘democratization of innovation’. Today, we not only expect & demand solutions, but we want it instantly. Never before was it easier to create innovative solutions, go straight to market and directly reach your consumers. The power of influence on the side of yesterday’s corporations & high barriers to entry into the Education market is fast waning. The grass-root level thinkers are no longer buried under corporations, and the true solutions to our student safety crisis are emerging aplenty.
So, why are we still stuck in our old ways?
School safety has almost become an oversight. Shouldn’t we have a set protocol laid out for Emergencies using the latest technology so we can address any situation as and when they arise? Shouldn’t we have a seamless visitor management solution at every school? Shouldn’t we use Artificial Intelligence effectively to parse social content to preempt tragedies before lives are put at risk? Is it too much to ask for a parent to receive an instant update when their child gets on a school bus, in a car or starts walking home? If a parent is stuck at work, do they have to restrict their pickup options to the person they put on their ‘Emergency contact card’ at the beginning of the school year? Why do teachers have to spend up to an hour every day in the sun and snow, dodging traffic to manage daily dismissals?
Can all these be bundled together in a cost-effective solution running on school’s existing platforms with no additional hardware to purchase? Could we call it a ‘Comprehensive School Safety Platform?’
What is out there?
Every time a violent incident happens in a school, a lot of ‘experts’ are paraded on the news channels and talk shows with ridiculous solutions to these problems. Talking about a bizarre solution, I remember reading about a school that is selling bulletproof shields designed to be inserted into the backpack of toddlers! For the low, low, cost of $120 of course. Really? Is that the best solution we can come up with as the most advanced nation on the planet? And That is just the tip of the iceberg.
I am sure we can come up with an effective, actionable and affordable solution. But before any of that can happen, our mindsets as parents and stakeholders in the education system needs to change. We demand more accountability in all aspects of our professional lives. We demand more efficiency from our industries, transparency from financial institutions, fiscal prudence from our politicians, even better coverage from cell phone companies! But when it comes to our schools and our children we accept status quo.
School Safety- What needs to be done
When it comes to student safety, are we getting the best bang for our buck? The technology, funding, and innovative solutions are out there. Now, we just need our education thought leaders and decision makers to step into the game. Investing in new technology is scary, but we need to make that leap to address the aggressively evolving threats that our children face every day. Let us first acknowledge this problem and then start a conversation about how we can use technology to keep our children safe at schools. ‘Inaction’ is not a solution.