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Cameras keep guard on school campuses

Some of Calcutta’s top schools are going big on video surveillance, buying into the assurance of foolproof vigil that comes with the bonus of better discipline among students and fewer headaches because of baseless complaints.

La Martiniere is installing about 140 CCTV cameras across its two campuses, bringing everything from play areas to corners of corridors under surveillance. The south Calcutta institution had installed its first lot of cameras about five years ago.

La Martiniere for Boys is expanding its 15-camera network to put corridors and even the staircase landings under electronic vigil. The corner area adjoining the swimming pool will also have a camera eye.

“The idea is to ensure that no area of the school is left unmonitored. It’s for security and mainly to monitor the entry and exit of people visiting the campus,” said Supriyo Dhar, secretary of the La Martiniere schools.

Several other English-medium schools are increasing CCTV surveillance. The Heritage School installed its first cameras three years ago in Classes XI and XII and has since been adding a few every year.

At last count, the campus had 52 cameras.

Mahadevi Birla World Academy has increased video surveillance in its sports complex, adding 15 cameras to its network of 17 last October. South City International School already has 180 cameras installed in the corridors and classrooms. The two Apeejay schools plan to put up cameras during the next academic session.

“The operational areas of our school have increased and the few cameras we had over the years were insufficient. Even if we traced suspicious movement anywhere, we would fail to identify the people involved because of the low resolution of the old cameras. Now we have more of them and better ones,” said Sunirmal Chakravarthi, principal of La Martiniere for Boys.

Chakravarthi said cameras could make a big difference to discipline.

Some schools are using CCTV footage to solve problems arising out of classroom disputes and handle complaints from parents based on what their children have reported.

“A lot of teasing and bullying goes on in the classrooms. A child who slaps or hits a classmate often gets punished, but what and who instigated it remains hidden. It’s convenient to check the footage and decide,” said Seema Sapru, principal of The Heritage School.

The footage isn’t monitored in realtime, though some principals randomly scan the recordings.

Not just students, even teachers are forced to be extra careful because of the cameras all around. Sometimes, footage is the best tool to counter a complaint.

At South City International School, the parents of a Class IX student recently lodged a complaint with the principal about cuss words on the blackboard. The CCTV footage revealed their child was the culprit.

Mahadevi Birla World Academy suspended four senior students for a week after they were caught on camera vandalising school property.

Schools insist that the cameras are primarily there “not to keep watch on students but for their security”. But nobody denies that video surveillance has other benefits. “We have male coaches and children staying back after school hours for sport. So we installed 15 more cameras at Krida Kunj, our sports complex,” said Anjana Saha, principal of Mahadevi Birla World Academy.

Cameras create moments of mirth, too. When a teacher at South City asked a primary-section student to complete his class task quickly because the principal was watching, he retorted: “Why? He has no other work?”

Why do you support/oppose video surveillance in schools? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com