Parents waiting for their children at the school hall in SJK (T) Mount Austin in Johor were robbed at knife-point by three men who entered the school earlier this month.
The suspects reportedly barged into the school compound with their car as the gate was open at the time and the security guard was not stationed at the post.
Security lapse in schools has been a matter of concern as anyone can easily enter a school on the pretext of picking up the students, as a short survey by StarEducate shows.
StarEducate journalists Kang Soon Chen and Rebecca Rajaendram went to several schools in the Klang Valley during peak hours such as during dismissal time for schools, to find out about the measures taken to safeguard the security of the school and the students.
The bad examples
It was pretty easy to slip into one school during those hours.
Although both security guards saw our journalist when she went to the school, neither made any attempt to ask her to register at the guardhouse.
A parent who was interviewed, made an attempt to enter the school and was not stopped too.
She later returned to the guardhouse, registered herself and was given a visitor’s pass so she could enter legitimately.
According to the stipulated regulations, visitors to the school have to register and obtain passes at the guardhouse before entering. Vehicles that enter the schools also have to be recorded.
Although this school had more than one entrance, the security guards were only stationed at the main entrance.
Before school started and after its dismissal time, a smaller side gate was opened to allow pupils to enter and leave the compound. No teacher was seen at the entrance of the school to help the pupils when they enter or leave.
There was a sign outside the school stating parents are to pick up or wait for their children outside the school but there were parents waiting in a “waiting area” meant for pupils located near the smaller entrance.
Furthermore, students from a nearby secondary school were seen entering the school through the gate and heading straight to the drinks vending machine next to the girls’ washroom.
The male students bought their drinks and left the school compound unhindered by anyone. Although they did not pose a security threat, someone else who could walk in unchecked may turn out to be a security risk.
“I do understand the security measures taken by the schools and have no qualms abiding by them but if the security personnel do not do their job well, there’s nothing much that we can do either,” said a parent.
Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh recently announced that school security would be made a key performance indicator for school heads.
He said it was the responsibility of school heads to ensure that security guards stationed in schools carried out their duties.
Security guards are to be blamed for not being vigilant but school teachers should also be on the alert.
After slipping past the guardhouse, our reporter walked around and was not stopped or questioned by anyone including three teachers she walked past.
Only a pupil spoke to her and told her that there was another gate for teachers to drive in but a check revealed that no one was manning the gate.
When asked about a past kidnapping case involving a pupil from a school in Subang Jaya a few years ago, a teacher from the school said the child was nabbed outside the school gate.
“Security has been tightened at the school since the incident, parents are not even allowed to enter the school to pick up their children. They have to wait outside the school for their children to come out,” said the teacher.
Nevertheless, most schools still allow parents to drive in to drop their children during rainy days. Is that a security loophole that allows intruders to enter undetected?
A parent who wished to be known as Cliften said it was a “win some and lose some” situation.
“I have spoken to the school authorities, asking them to stop peddlers from selling food and drinks in front of the school. The peddlers tend to draw the children to leave the school and loiter outside while waiting for their parents,” said Cliften.
To prevent unauthorised individuals from entering the school, Cliften suggested that class teachers issue passes to parents at the beginning of the school year.
“Every time the parents enter the school, they will be bringing the passes that have been issued. Those who do not have the passes will not be allowed to enter,” said Cliften.
Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation exco member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said schools should be strict towards their guards to ensure they understand the importance of upholding and maintaining the school’s security.
He strongly suggested security guards conduct more stringent checks on visitors.
“They should conduct identity card checks and find out if the parent or guardian really do have children in the school,” Lee added.
He also said schools with multiple entrance points should close them and just open the main gates to make it easier for guards to monitor movement in and out of the school.
“It is purely a matter of how you manage a school compound.”
Some parents have taken the proactive step to bolster security in school.
The Parent-Teacher Association of SJK (C) Ladang Harcroft has set up the volunteer “Caring Parents” unit to patrol traffic before school starts and during its dismissal hours.
“The parents are very dedicated and come as early as 6am to help direct the children to the school.
“Although a security guard is already on duty at the guardhouse, he will be too busy keeping an eye on the children while monitoring the incoming traffic. So we feel that we have to step up as parents and play our part,” said the school’s PTA chairman Yap Bau Sang.
The good examples
While the security lapse in the schools that StarEducate visited did raise a few eyebrows, we found that a majority of schools placed a heavy emphasis on the security aspect.
One particular primary school in Kuala Lumpur went as far as keeping all their entrances closed (only one was unlocked) during school hours with visitors having to register before entering.
They even had closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras honed in on all their entrances with another four cameras, donated by a parent, to be installed soon.
The CCTV surveillance system was placed inside the school office and monitored by school staff. This school also had two security guards on duty during the day and night shift.
The guards at this particular school were also alert and stopped our journalist when she walked in.
After enquiring why she was in the school and having her sign the logbook, they let her in with directions to the office.
Our journalist later found out from a teacher that these guards took turns patrolling the school grounds hourly and were told to ensure they cover quiet and lonely spots in the vicinity.
Monthly reports on the guards’ performance were sent by the school to the local District Education Office.
The report included a score given for their punctuality, attire and the number of rounds they do.
The guards in this school were also given strict instructions to pay attention to those leaving the school grounds. They were told to be on the lookout for children who looked distressed while leaving the school compound in the company of adults.
As an added security measure, parents were allowed to walk their children into the school and head straight for the canteen if they arrived before 7.15am.
This was to ensure no pupils were wandering around while it was still dark. Canteen operators who came in early were also roped in to help keep an eye on the pupils.
Teachers were also seen at two entrances at dismissal time to ensure a smoother flow of traffic and to greet parents and pupils.
Parents were kept outside by the guard in designated waiting zones at dismissal time.
These parents can easily spot their child from this waiting zone as the pupils are asked to wait in an area according to their respective years.
If they were there to deliver lunch, the pupil had to come out and collect it as the gaps between the fence were too small to pass food through.
Another primary school located in the residential area had a security checkpoint near the entrance of the school. All vehicles entering the residential area had to pass by the security checkpoint.
Tamil School Headmasters Council chairman P.S. Doraisamy shared that it is now a requirement for there to be two guards stationed during the day and another two at night.
“Back in the 1990s, there was only one guard,” he said.
Doraisamy said that although these monthly reports on guards’ performance are a requirement, they should be more comprehensive as the current one was too general.