On the one hand, we will have President Droupadi Murmu presenting Avinash Parkhe, a teacher at Disha Special Children’s School in Altinho, Goa, with this year’s National Awards to Teachers with 75 other educators on September 5, 2023.
On the other hand, we are gravely worried about the increase in incidents of alleged sexual harassment, molestation, outraging of modesty and harassment of children by teachers from elementary school to university level.
Just last month, on August 7-12, 2023, as part of the first phase in collaboration with SCERT (State Council of Educational Research and Training) and Arpan, an organisation that has won awards for its work in the field of child sexual abuse prevention in India, the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPCR) introduced one of the largest prevention of child sexual abuse programmes, Training of Trainers – Personal Safety Education (PSE) in Goa.
The purpose of this programme was to equip teachers with knowledge about children and their rights, different forms of child abuse and child sexual abuse, statistics, the short-term and long-term effects of child sexual abuse, and the POCSO Act and its guiding principles.
The hope was that this would ultimately create a safe environment for our children.
However, the growing number of cases being registered against teachers paints a bad picture of our teaching fraternity.
Therefore, teachers and school administrators need to improve support to identify sexual harassment and abuse, and confidently discuss related topics with students.
Both preventing abuse in the first place and giving prompt and considerate care to those impacted must be prioritised.
Pope Francis said, “We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected.” And therefore, protection is possible only when we try to prevent such untoward situations.
Prevention is better than cure and in this case, we must look for prevention rather than a cure as we aim to avoid these cases happening in our schools and universities.
To stop sexual harassment and abuse, it is essential to put preventative measures in place. This includes thorough educational initiatives that start kids off with a foundation of knowledge about consent, healthy relationships and internet safety.
Continuous and ongoing training for teachers is necessary so that it becomes ingrained that they ought to be beacons of knowledge and enlightenment rather than predators. This will enable them to stay up to current with best practices as well.
Teachers and school administrators need to learn how to see the warning signs of abuse and harassment as well as how to react politely and responsibly when such instances are reported.
After the incident has taken place it is sure to work on the mind of the victim. One would look at the student from now on as a victim and a survivor. So there is a need to support the student sufficiently.
Schools must offer a secure and encouraging setting where abuse victims can come forward and ask for assistance. This entails providing counselling services, maintaining privacy and enforcing appropriate sanctions against offenders.
Establishing and encouraging reporting in a free-flowing, judgment-free environment and a well-communicated process for employees, teachers and students to use when giving an account of instances of harassment or abuse is a must.
Engaging parents in conversations about preventing abuse and making them aware of the school’s policies and practices concerning these matters is vital.
Collaboration with child protective agencies, law enforcement agencies and other local authorities by schools and universities to address situations of abuse and harassment and to guarantee students’ safety is needed.
After having come up with prevention initiatives, there is a requirement to keep a close eye on the effectiveness of these prevention and response initiatives. Based on comments and results, the appropriate modifications to policies and programmes should be consistently made.
Having said that, I truly believe, that teachers who have contributed immensely to enhancing our future and the future of our children should be honoured and respected.
One must also show appreciation and admiration for the efforts and commitment of educators in raising the next generation.
I feel blessed to have had wonderful educators and instructors who didn’t just teach us and feed us with information but also taught us values that sustain us and keep us going to create a better world.
Pope Francis said, “Teaching is a beautiful job as it allows you to see the growth day by day of people entrusted to your care. It is a great responsibility.”
May those getting into the profession of teaching realise that this is a special calling that has a drastic influence on students and society. The impact that it leaves on the lives of the students is commendable and the future generations that are nurtured due to this profession make it a dear and truly rewarding one.