How not to be like Queens College

Schools should be a safe place for children. However, with the recent epidemic at Queens College which left over a thousand students ill, 3 dead with many of them admitted in various hospitals in the country, one is left to wonder why an institution with such “supposed” grace and permit me to say, now living on past glory could fail their students and parents.

Queens College recently came under critical observation when two of her students Vivian and Bithia were reported dead, due to the unhealthy/unhygienic environment and facilities of the school. Infact, they were shut down due to an epidemic which the principal and responsible individuals classed as insignificant after all, “ONLY 2 have died”. Only?! Did they really say only? So the human life is now something to be referred to as “only”?

This issues has been on-going for many weeks now. I have resisted the urge to write about it due to the sensitivity of it but boy I should have written about it longgggg ago! Another student just died (making it 3 deaths) and no one seems to be held accountable for all the safety failings and death of these innocents. Or are they being held accountable in private?

This is not to make Queens College appear bad as there are other schools who have also failed to protect their pupils. We hear of stories of pupils returning home from top school critically ill. Unfortunately, some never make it and these schools are left to keep running and admitting children.

Why are parents not making noise about it? Why do we keep quiet? Is it because this is Nigeria and many things seem to be swept under the carpet hopefully to never resurface?

Reports have it that the students were fed in highly unhygienic environment with unhygienic plates and what have you! The borehole that supplies water to the school was located very close to the sewage disposal unit (soakaway)! So these children have been drinking highly polluted water?! Well as expected, they ended up having infections, diarrhoea and food poisoning with many of them struggling to survive it.

Food poisoning usually occurs within 1-36 hours of eating contaminated food. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever which in some cases lead to death. Reports from Bithia’s siblings (one of the dead students) have it that the illness wasn’t a new thing. Infact Bithia had been ill for a while and it was only when it became critical that her parents were called. By then it was already too late.

Queens College was shut down so that the issues can be properly dealt with but the JS3 and SS3 students were asked to return as day students so that they can continue to study and prepare for their upcoming exams. I understand the need for continuity but is this ideal? They have been asked to bring their own food and water which shows they have done some thinking but they have failed to consider toileting. Have they provided mobile toilets? Or have the toilet situation been properly dealt with before asking them to return to school?

I see their students on the streets. My office is just minutes away from Queens College. Parents have willingly sent their children back to school afterall they weren’t part of those in danger. Right? I understand the need for continuity but the truth is, this tragedy could have touched any child and affected any family. No family is special in this case.

If Queens college have not sorted out these deadly issues, wouldn’t it have been better for them to approach other schools in the area to help with the JS3 and SS3 pupils so they can study, practise for and pass their exams? Good examples, Our Lady of Apostles, Yaba Tech and Reagan Memorial. I think this option would have been better.

Why do most schools not bother about safety though?

I have been to countless schools and many even the supposedly top ones ask you why teachers need health and safety training. They do not understand the need for it. Afterall, education is not like construction or oil and gas! They see no need for it. They forget that a school that is unsafe and unhealthy can never thrive. A school that is prone to avoidable accidents can never grow. The word of their failings will spread quickly.

School safety is an undervalued and highly ignored aspect of a school’s core system. However it is not late. You can start today by putting a lot of things in place – one step at a time.

As a school, the first thing you should do is to care. Genuinely care about your pupils and those who work for you. Place their lives first, way before profit. When you care, it is easy to put the necessary measures in place. It is easy to spend whatever it takes to make you’re your school is a safe haven.

You can start by having:

1. A Health and Safety policy.

Not one you copied off the internet, but one created specially for your school. One that meets the needs of your school. Make sure it is one that assigns responsibility to everyone from the director to the students. Yes including the students!

2. Risk assessments.

You can have one that deals with each task, area, and activity etc, that your school is involved in. One that identifies hazards, who the hazards could affect and how, and ultimately how to control them. Make sure they are easy to access and are reviewed regularly.

3. Child Protection Policy.

One that shows clearly how committed your school is to child protections issues and how you protect them from abuse of all sorts such as emotional, physical, neglect and sexual. Bear in mind that the child protection policy is not limited to abuse only. You also have to consider security, wellbeing and other child safety issues.

4. Policies

Different policies around sickness, incident reporting, transport, excursions/trips, playground, sport/recreational activities, food services (especially if you provide food for your pupils), emergencies, security, training, staff welfare etc. You should also have policies on the physical environment such as ventilation, sanitary and rest facilities, medical facilities (sick bay or in bigger/remote schools a health centre with medical staff), playground, refuse area etc.

5. A sick bay and first aid box.

Every school must have this. It is compulsory and necessary. Children do get hurt from time to time. How do you intend to provide immediate treatment if you do not have your first aid box nor a first aid trained staff? Do you keep record of these treatments?

Why bother though?

Are you a school seriously considering putting safety measures in place? Those are some things you can consider putting in place right now. With all of this properly implemented, I strongly believe you can’t go wrong.

There are many organisations that work with schools when it comes to safety including us at Safe Schools. Safe Schools is an initiative I started in 2016 to educate children and help schools achieve a safe and healthy learning/work environment. We work with schools to help put the above mentioned in place. We train your staff to make sure they are informed as information helps them be compliant.

Are you a parent wondering how to identify a safe and secure school for your children? A good school should have most of the above mentioned criteria with evidence. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Your child’s life is more important than that fear or the need not to come across as “problematic”. Ask questions and make sure you get authentic answers.

Got questions? You can send them to hello@safeschools.ng