The recent week-long jam and disruption in Suez Canal waters showed us how intricately global trade is connected and the engineers responsible were able to clear the blockage without significantly unloading the mega-ship, partly thanks to a celestial event called the supermoon, where the latter was closest to Earth at that point of time, thus augmenting the gravitational pull on our planet leading to higher tides. This tidal effect in turn created a strong buoyant force and hence the salvaging of the giant vessel. The said disruption taught us an interesting lesson in risk management. As container ships, crisscrossing the ocean and canal waters, increase in size, they pose a significant danger both to the crew onboard and communities residing in the nearby areas. Piloting these ships with surgical precision, particularly in narrow stretches of water isn’t an easy affair. Even a small mechanical failure could result in similar incidents in the future. The focus should then be on imposing navigational restrictions based on the size of vessels and strengthening the communication and coordination channels between the shipping crew, port authorities, and meteorological stations.
Although K-12 schools aren’t major victims of weather-related events in this part of the world, most institutions have decent health and safety plans to mitigate risks emanating from the environment as well as human actors. Regular natural disaster and lockdown drills instil a sense of reassurance among school communities, although the current public health situation made it difficult to carry out these practice drills on a regularly basis. The risks in schools come in a variety of dimensions, ranging from slippery floors in the corridors, particularly during these times of increased attention to health and hygiene, and chemical hazards in the science laboratories to freak accidents in the playgrounds and collateral damage during school trips abroad. So, how do we think ahead to make strategic investments to maintain normalcy? If schools were to liaise with their chief risk officers, what will be the latter’s role in imparting a safe education and put the required defences in place to respond to unexpected threats? In my two decades of overseas teaching experience in the private sector, I haven’t personally encountered a school that went bust due to liability, although I did read about such incidents in the media.
An important goal of a sound risk management policy will be to enhance safety literacy in schools, where all stakeholders are part of the loop (a phone-chain/ texting service) and they have the tools to quickly access the information without a serious time lapse. Updates on school websites and social media pages also provide alternative routes to verify the facts relating to emergency situations and actions taken by schools, thereby minimising anxiety among students, parents and faculty. Students could be formatively evaluated on their awareness of emergency response by involving them in hands-on activities. For instance, IB chemistry students have to carry out a formal risk assessment before they begin to work on their 10-hour Individual Investigation, where they have to consult accredited sources to identify the dangers relating to the use of a chemical or disposal of experimental waste. Accordingly, they design a methodology that doesn’t pose a significant risk to their personal safety or the environment. From an instructor standpoint, I do not approve my students working with concentrated acids and toxic metal salts made from, say barium, chromium, lead etc., which could trigger a severe allergic reaction or even long-term carcinogenicity. When learners do their due diligence, they could apply some of this acquired safety knowledge to make intelligent choices in their day-to-day living (avoiding drinking tap water running through lead pipes designed in a pre-World War 2 era building). I still remember how an elementary school girl from the U.K. saved scores of people by alerting them to seek higher ground during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, all thanks to the foresight earned from a geography lesson she attended a few weeks before she went on a holiday to the ‘Land of Smiles’ with her parents.
Not all risks emanate from external sources. Those that fall in the curricular and psychological realm will require appropriate attention and creative strategies to earn students’ trust. In any given classroom, there will probably be a handful of students who struggle with low self-esteem, and as a result, they don’t take full advantage of the opportunities available both inside and outside the classroom. Helping these students realise their strength requires employing a positive academic framework and language and recognising their struggles with empathy and optimism. The need to highlight the role of diligence in accomplishing major tasks and celebrating their successes should instil a sense of belonging in learners. Dr. Ken Shore, a psychologist with the New Jersey Public Schools believes that peer learning network in schools can be leveraged where struggling students could be paired with easygoing classmates whom they find approachable and doing so should lessen some of the curricular anxieties among the former. He also suggests that educators should praise students creatively by focusing on specific aspects of their work or behavior, rather than generic applause.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is another group of learners that has an inordinate amount of energy and their challenge lies in channeling it correctly for their personal advantage. Having a flexible approach to their seating plan and understanding their needs and behaviour, rather than finding fault with the individual will be paramount. For example, the Individual Investigation is a steep learning curve for students transitioning into final high school years in the IB Diploma program. Each one of them are expected to manage a variety of tasks and control a set of variables to produce experimental results that make sense. For some, it could be genuinely frustrating when the experiment doesn’t proceed as per their plan. It could be due to weaker strength of the raw materials, lower operational temperature, or improper mixing of the ingredients, but pausing for a moment and reflecting on the procedure should help them figure out where the source of error lies. They also should be encouraged to develop structured protocols that could be used to build a solid routine and reinforce their understanding. I encourage my students to maintain a reflective journal, where they not only record their successes, but make note of the errors and troubleshooting strategies they used to overcome these roadblocks. This strategy also enables them to build an original narrative when they communicate their scientific work to external examiners, thus enhancing the integrity of their assignment.
The strength of any risk management system can be measured by the clarity of guidelines and the speed at which they are disseminated in moments of crisis and reviewing them periodically by taking a variety of stakeholders into confidence and offering them the required tools and training so that they know what they are doing when a calamity strikes.
Jones, Rory, and Amira El-Fekki. “How a Supermoon Helped Free the Giant Container Ship From the Suez Canal.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 29 Mar. 2021, http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-a-supermoon-helped-free-the-giant-container-ship-from-the-suez-canal-11617040923.
Shore, Ken. “The Student With Low Self-Esteem.” | Education World, http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/shore/shore059.shtml.