By PRIYA KULASAGARAN
It is impossible to live in a state of fear, but early childhood education providers are taking greater precautionary measures to keep their premises safe.
IT is unfortunate that certain issues only seem to merit serious widespread attention after a tragedy occurs.
The recent horrific attack on three children at Tadika Sinario in Muar, Johor has sparked questions on just how safe children are in their schooling environment.
A man armed with a hammer had barged into the kindergarten and bludgeoned three six-year-olds, after attacking the kindergarten operator who was present.
While the pupils survived the ordeal, the violent episode has only worried parents abouthow they can protect their children from it.
Johor State Women, Family, Health and Community Development Committee chairman Dr Robia Kosai had earlier this week called for all kindergartens in the state to hire at least one security guard, while State police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Shariff urged for the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.
But as an early childhood education provider in the Klang Valley quips, “No system is 100% foolproof. If some psychopath is bent on harming children, he will find a way to do so.”
Malaysian Association of Kindergartens chairman Jayawathi Perera thinks that in such unprecedented situations, parents and teachers should be careful to not play into knee-jerk solutions.
“While the Johor case was a brutal example of how twisted some individuals can be, this does not mean we should lock up our children in cages,” she says.
“We can’t live in a perpetual state of fear, because that will be equally damaging.
“The best measure is to be alert and vigilant all the time, to never let your guard down.”
She thinks that a blanket rule to enforce safety in kindergartens and preschools might not be entirely appropriate.
“The basic precautions aside, such locking up gates and employing security guards, each preschool is different and therefore each will have its own individual needs.
“This is where parents and teachers can work together in discussing the most effective solutions.”
Jayawathi adds that safety is a continuous community effort.
“We can’t just talk about the safety of children, as it also affects everyone in the neighbourhood. We need our communities to be close-knit and supportive to combat crimes like these.”
Angela Toh, the principal of Tadika and Taska Kinderland in Ipoh, says that many parents have voiced their concerns about her kindergarten’s safety precautions.
“We’ve already had in place plenty of security measures,” she says.
“This includes restricting who goes in and out of the compound and making sure that all pupils are escorted by a teacher during dismissal time.
“All our staff stay involved in maintaining the safety of the children.
“But of course, the parents’ worry is understandable, so we immediately responded by hiring a full-time security guard.”
Madeleine Kindergarten director Jeffrey Chew has even stricter procedures enforced at his kindergarten in Petaling Jaya, including CCTV cameras.
“We have one security guard each for the day and night shifts, and parents have to sign in to get a visitor’s pass before they can enter the premises,” he explains.
“If the parents don’t inform us that someone else will be picking up their children, we will not release them until we get clearance from the parents.
“Also, we have an intercom system that links all the classrooms to the main office, so that everyone will be immediately alerted if anything goes wrong.
“In the future, we hope to connect this intercom service to the nearby police station.”
He adds that he has yet to receive comments from parents questioning the safety of their children.
“This may be because before the semester begins, we request for parents to attend an orientation so that we can brief them on all our security measures.
“Having this sort of cooperation with the parents really helps us enforce our safety system.”
Parent Theva Rajendren agrees that parents should do their part to protect their children.
“Even so, this doesn’t absolve kindergarten operators from taking responsibility,” he says.
“We are entrusting our children in their care, so they should take every step necessary in ensuring their safety.
Lum Soon Heng meanwhile, is concerned by parents enrolling their children in what he deems to be “dodgy” nursery schools.
“It’s well and good to say that we must enforce security measures, but what if these kindergartens are illegal to begin with?” says the father of two toddlers.
“How will the authorities adequately monitor the security of these places when they are operating without a licence to begin with?”
Parent Fatimah Karim echoes this sentiment, but says that cost is an issue for a significant number of parents.
“Measures such as installing CCTVs and employing enough security guards will obviously be good, but are additional costs. Most parents will ultimately feel the pinch as it will be incorporated into the fees.
“I just hope that steps will be taken to ensure that every parent is able to send their children to a kindergarten or nursery that is safe.”