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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Columnist: Ajala Abdul-Rahman Taiwo

Call for urban planning solution to school safety

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

I am writing this article in response to Abimbola Adelakun’s article titled: “It should never take more than one disaster” which she used to call for urban planning solutions to school safety. I quite agreed with her that the threat to school children is on the increase due to several incidents that are manifesting in the country. Hardly could a day pass by without reports of security incidents such as kidnapping, rape and bullying, likewise safety incidents such as road crashes involving school children. Children are extremely vulnerable; their limited knowledge, physiological and physical capability make them more vulnerable. Hence, the United Nations Child Rights outlines the need to protect them, specifically article 19 of the UN Convention on Child Rights and the Nigeria Child’s Rights Act of 2003 provide for the protection of children in and out of the home. In spite of several efforts, the situation seems not to be improving because of the recurring cases of school children safety and security challenges.

According to UNICEF, six out of every 10 children in Nigeria experience some form of violence, either at home or in school; the most recent report shows that more threats to children happen on the way to school and in the school, such as road traffic crashes and kidnapping. To corroborate this, Ajala and Kilaso (2019) conducted a study on the safety and security considerations of school pupils within the neighbourhood. The study which has the ancient city of Abeokuta as a case study revealed that the vulnerability of pupils in terms of safety is 83.7% while in terms of security it is 82.1%. The study identified road traffic crashes and kidnapping as two major factors affecting pupils’ safety and security. This suggests that urban settlement is becoming eviler to live in and the concern is how can urban settlement be secured and school children protected from existing dangers and crimes. Hence, there is a need for critical analysis of the school system in Nigeria, with a view to understanding the porosity and factors that have contributed to exposing school children to various forms of danger.

The Nigerian education system is a collaborative effort of the public and private sectors. The public took the larger share in basic primary education, probably because of the need of the government to provide free universal basic education. Even at that, the private takes a share of not less than 30% while at junior secondary school level the private owns not less than 60% (Nigeria Digest of Education, 2016). This is also the trend at the tertiary level. The increasing number of private investors in the school system with weak regulation and control has contributed immensely to the vulnerability of school children. This can be viewed from two perspectives: first, the locational analysis of school and secondly, the design of school facilities.

Private schools are commercial enterprises. Their location is influenced more by economic reasons; accessibility and visibility are often considered more than any other factor, schools now compete for central commercial urban space with other commercial uses like banks, shopping complexes and others. Over 50% of private schools located within urban areas are on premises whose use has been changed. Little consideration is given to environmental factors and urban planning standards, such as restriction from through traffic and zoning within the residential catchment area. On the other hand, school buildings are to be laid out with adequate consideration for play space and the arrangement of buildings that will enhance supervision and coordination of the school population. Contrary to this, buildings built for purposes other than schools are commonly used by private schools, which of course provide a lot of hidden space for perpetrators of crime.

Where schools abut highways, school zones are expected to have traffic calming scheme, to minimise the impact of traffic on school population. Not very many highways in the country have traffic calming schemes; pedestrians and of course school children are left to their fate in traversing the highway to and from school. It’s equally important to note that schools no longer have catchment areas; parents enrol their wards kilometres away from home depending on their interest and other factors, thus exposing the pupils to the traffic hazard daily.

This situation is worrisome. It calls to question the role of regulatory agencies such as the Ministry of Education and, of course, physical development planning department of government. Setting up of schools must not be without the approval of the regulatory agency and use needs to be certified by the Ministry of Physical Planning. There is a need for synergy between these two agencies of government.

The planning standard practises for which school safety and security is ensured is rooted in the neighbourhood concept of Clarence Perry. He identified that schools should be based on catchment areas, and centrally located within residential neighbourhoods, where they will only be serviced by local streets while traffic is restricted outside the neighbourhood area. Individual state planning laws and building codes take a cue from Perry’s neighbourhood concept. There is a clear deviation from these standards, hence the attendant road traffic crashes and other environmental hazards affecting school children.

School approving authority should consult or integrate the physical development planning department into the process of approving schools.

The planning department also needs to be alive to their responsibility of controlling development within urban and rural areas and, more importantly, initiate traffic calming schemes in all school zones within the urban area in addition to employing traffic officers to coordinate children on the highways. Safety education is part of the rights of every child. Parents, schools and governments should facilitate effective safety education.