Teachers highlight to students learning points

The Tanglin Trust School says the school compound in Portsdown Road is heavily guarded. ST FILE PHOTO

WHEN it comes to safeguarding schools from terrorist attacks, or the fallout from one, international ones here are stepping up security, while one aspect of local educators' overall approach is education itself.

The Education Ministry is tightlipped on actual security measures in public schools here, saying only that teachers and school leaders highlight current issues and world events for students to discuss pertinent learning points.

Insight understands the ministry's Character and Citizenship Education branch regularly puts together packages based on current affairs - such as the Paris attacks - to educate students in primary and secondary schools and junior colleges.

Teachers say such packages help set the guidelines for educators, as not all are experienced in leading discussions on current affairs and world issues.

But it seems Singapore parents have other concerns. Mr Gerard Hooi, who has two daughters in secondary school, says he worries more about them getting into road accidents.

"Terrorist attacks are not something I think about every day," he says, adding that schools now also employ security guards, when they did not used to in the past. "We have strict gun laws here and I trust the Government to fend off attacks," he says.

Schools came under the global security spotlight last month, when Taleban gunmen killed about 150 people - most of them children - in the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attackers gained access to school grounds by climbing over its boundary wall.

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says schools are increasingly targeted as terrorist groups aim to create fear in the community. "No one wants their child to be hurt. So attacking children is the ultimate harm a terrorist group can do to anyone," he says.

He adds that schools should ramp up their security efforts, instead of leaving it to the authorities. "Protecting soft targets is a challenge to the Government, because there are just so many of them," he adds.

The University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database, which records more than 125,000 terrorist attacks in the world since 1970, showed that attacks on schools in the last decade have risen. In 2004, the database recorded 25 attacks against educational institutions. By last year, the figure had risen to 371.

The National University of Singapore says it works closely with the nearby Clementi police division. Staff and students can also contact the campus security office via a 24-hour hotline.

Its spokesman adds that faculty and students are free to study a wide range of topics, express their views and debate ideas.

"Nonetheless, issues concerning race, religion and politics can be contentious and sensitive, and members of our community should always be mindful to show due care and respect with their words and actions," the spokesman adds.

One international school here that has stepped up security is French school Lycee Francais de Singapour in Ang Mo Kio.

Mr Thomas Bondiguel, first secretary of the French Embassy, says: "Following the tragic terrorist attacks in France last week, the embassy, in close cooperation with the Singapore authorities, has taken measures to step up security at all the French installations in Singapore."

He adds that these include the French school, the embassy, the ambassador's residence and the Alliance Francaise, but did not elaborate on specific measures.

The Tanglin Trust School, which has 2,770 students across 50 nationalities, says the school compound in Portsdown Road is heavily guarded. Visitors are required to sign in, while all cars without a school decal are checked, says chief executive Peter Derby-Crook.

The school also has an infra-red beaming intrusion system and bomb suppression blankets, which can be used to contain a blast. Its staff are also trained to handle bomb threats.

"We practise regular lockdown exercises involving different scenarios...," says Mr Derby-Crook. "Both children and staff are aware of the protocol and have practised what to do."

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