Schools should take adequate attention of children’s welfare, health and safety

Another Lagos private school is in the news. A student of Chrisland School died under circumstances that are yet to be established at the venue of the school’s inter house sporting event in Agege, a Lagos suburb. Culpable negligence on the part of the school’s management has been imputed by parents of the 12-year-old high school girl, Whitney Adeniran, who insist that she was electrocuted. While the Lagos State government has ordered an investigation, what has come into greater public focus with this death and other recent tragedies is the question of oversight by the management of elite private schools in our urban centres.

We commiserate with the parents of the deceased girl. When parents entrust their children to the management of a school, it is assumed that the school would act in loco parentis while the children are in their care. This assumes that in all activities and events involving these children, they would take every necessary step to ensure that the critical issues of safety and welfare are not left to chance. In the case of the Chrisland student’s death, the school authorities acted in a regrettably lackadaisical manner. Yet, the crisis of our educational sector becomes more perplexing when parents can no longer send their children or wards to school without fearing the worst.

For a sporting event taking place at a public stadium far from the school premises, there was no presence of paramedics to administer first aid assistance in the event of a medical emergency. Even when the unfortunate child needed medical attention, according to the school account, she was merely taken to a nearby immunisation centre rather than a hospital. It took the arrival of the bereaved and shocked parents to ascertain the location of the deceased child and later establish the cause of death. Overall, the conduct of the management of Chrisland School left much to be desired.

We are concerned because this is not an isolated incident. Last year in Lagos, there was the unfortunate loss of another student of Dowen College which again resulted from inadequate attention to the health needs of a child left in the care of a private school management. In these repeated incidents, the Lagos State government authorities have been quick to shut down the affected schools and conduct cursory investigations only to soon reopen them. There is scant evidence that these knee jerk actions reach deeper than playing to the gallery of public outrage.

What these school accidents indicate is a serial absence of adequate attention to matters of children’s welfare and safety even after charging parents exorbitant fees. Often, private school proprietors have tended to pay more attention to architectural edifices and other external marketing gimmicks than the peculiar managerial competences required to manage children and the emergencies that could arise. Properly conceived, a private school is both a business and a public trust. Proprietors ought to match their profit motive with meticulous attention to the safety and health of the children entrusted to their care.

In the case of state governments, there is a challenge of proper regulation and transparency. State ministries of education ought to maintain regular oversight surveillance on private and public schools to ensure that standards are maintained. Even ahead of approval, it is imperative that basic facilities like a school ambulance, sick bay, fire extinguishers and paramedics should be in place. The Lagos authorities must make public report of the investigation into this tragedy so that appropriate lessons can be learnt. A school, public or private, is a place of learning and character formation. It is not a place of death for children or anguish for parents.

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