From time to time, we hear various forms of safety and health concern news at all levels of schools. In recent times the news that has been more in the headlines is the news about kidnappings and most recently the abduction of over 200 girls in the Northern part of Nigeria. This abduction has attracted attention from all works of life both locally and internally. The Federal Government of Nigeria has gone a step further to launch the Safe Schools Initiative by a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, former British Prime Minister and United Nations Special Envoy for Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, and the Global Business Coalition for Education. Projects like this are very laudable and must be commended. Aside this, there had also been some Road Safety Initiative for schools in Nigeria by some well meaning Nigerians in the Private Sector.
In an unsafe climate such as the one being experienced in Nigeria today, initiatives such as the ones mentioned above are most welcomed. However, while the issue of terrorism has taken the front burner, it should be noted that a lot more unsafe things happen in the school environment which expose everyone in the environment to the risk of being harmed. The fact remains that before the recent insurgencies in various parts of Africa and in Nigeria in particular, government had not given the deserved attention to safety in schools.
For this reason, while more attention is being given to terrorism in Nigeria and especially in the school environment, other areas of safety must not be overlooked. From day to day, school children and workers are exposed to various hazards that sometimes harm or in worse cases kill them. In schools in Nigeria and elsewhere, there have been various incidents including cases of drowning, violence among students, falls, release of toxic substances around school environment, sudden collapse by either a student or a teacher, cases of stampede and more.
Between 2011 and 2013, I was privileged to participate as a facilitator in a World Bank sponsored project for secondary schools in Lagos State, tagged: Eko Secondary Education Project. The project was originally initiated to help to improve the standard of education at the secondary level in Lagos State. What impresses me more about the project is that the State Government deemed it fit to include occupational safety and health awareness among subjects in which participants (academic and non-academic workers) must be trained. This implies that with this World Bank sponsored project, hundreds of teachers and other workers in Lagos State Secondary schools have acquired a good level of knowledge and skills in the area of safety and this would help them to know what to do to keep their school environment safe. Nonetheless, one may still ask: if World Bank’s sponsorship of this project ends, will it continue for more schools and more stakeholders in the secondary school environment to benefit? Can this project be extended to nursery and primary schools? Can’t a project like this be extended to private schools?
The point here is that efforts toward safe schools must be holistic and sustained. It should not come to an end with the cessation of funding from the international aid organizations. African governments and Nigeria in particular must take ownership of the safety of its citizens by providing/sourcing the needed funding for safety projects. They must ensure that safety projects cover all levels of schools from nursery to the tertiary level. It must be a nationwide effort not only in select states. The right technically qualified experts must be engaged to execute safety projects for schools and society in general.