The camera trap

There is no guarantee that CCTVs will stop crime but can be damaging for classroom conversations

This is a double-edged sword that can be argued from all sides, the move by the Delhi government to install CCTV cameras in schools it runs, ostensibly for safety and transparency. These cameras would be linked to mobile phones of parents so that they can watch their wards in real time. There is no doubt that education reforms by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have qualitatively improved teaching standards and performances in the so far neglected government schools. And one cannot but deny the exigencies that may have prompted the move, namely the increasing spiral of school violence between teachers and students, learners themselves and staff, all of which put the schools under scrutiny rather than the offence. A big brother eye would act as a deterrent against indiscipline and ensure relief to worried parents, constantly fearing for their kids as school crimes go up the charts. Besides, they would also be assured about promised teaching standards in classrooms. But under constant watch, are we building a fortress education system, based on compliances than originality, and unwittingly forming a surveillance society that will produce, in the words of Pink Floyd, “another brick in the wall?” Are we embedding a fear psychosis and distrust over positive values and free will under prying eyes? Let’s consider if the cameras can guarantee the primary intent of preventing crime. Some US schools with cameras claim to have solved instances of vandalism, violence and student altercations. But they, too, admit that they would hardly arrest criminal intent. That could still be done in CCTV blind spots within the premises, particularly in washroom areas, or even outside where one can easily evade the camera traps. Not too long ago, a student killed another inside a washroom in a  Gurugram school. Besides, sexual offenders and criminals usually plan their moves well and could still work around how they wouldn’t get caught. Even if the footage of a violation is got, would it in any way work on the justice delivery system, which will still be stuck in usual processes? The advantages, therefore, are barely incremental.

But the disadvantages of subjecting children to a constant gaze are more disturbing in the long run. School is where children are away from home and find an alternative space to engage with the world, finding their way through it independently. This involves inter-personal relationships with fellow students and teachers and a certain amount of spontaneity and abandon that would help them open up and encourage creative freedoms. Under a hawk’s vigil, they would be coerced into behaving in a manner that is “politically correct” rather than reflect their own individuality. Besides, many students are believed to let their guard down in front of teachers and some teachers do employ unconventional tools of teaching that may not pass muster by the parents’ rule book. This, therefore, virtually amounts to crossing the lines of child rights and privacy. Besides surveillance would cage them and stunt their ability to communicate with others at large. Teachers are our first hand-holders of communication with the outside world and the delicacy of that trust and faith could be affected on either side with penetrative cameras. Particularly for teachers, they would not want to be too imaginative or enthusiastic knowing that parents could harass them. And at a time when schools are seen as commercial institutions, this step certainly wouldn’t help in developing respect, dignity or emotions and most importantly, the human touch. In the end, technology is only as good as the human mind conceiving it. So we should rely on that mind to help children be reality-ready by priming their natural abilities and helping them apply them in different circumstances. One should monitor all access to the premises by all means but cut out the camera in the classroom.

The Pioneer