By Natasha Sim | Parents Avenue’s Writer
Netizens are reeling after mum-of-four Michelle Seng shared a photo of her 5-year-old son Alex* who was missing from his classroom for almost an hour.
Her son only returned to his classroom at the Inanam kindergarten after kind strangers picked the boy up at the Petron gas station nearby the school. He was seen walking alone towards a shopping lot area.
The worst part: the school failed to immediately inform Michelle of the incident on 22 January 2020. Instead the 30-year-old momma found out about her missing son through a forwarded message in a WhatsApp group.
Parents Avenue spoke to Michelle after the incident to hear what she had to share about the shocking event. Here, Persatuan Tadika Sabah (PTS) President Mdm Agnes Chin and past president Sonia Chin also offer their comments regarding security in schools.
“According to the school teachers, Alex was going to the toilet. But instead of heading back to the classroom, he slipped through unnoticed from the school’s main gate,” Michelle said.
The little boy walked all the way past the busy main road and Petron gas station before onlookers at the gas station noticed him.
After that, the kindly Petron station manager requested her son, who was around at that time, to trail the boy from behind. The station manager and her son intervened when they realised Alex was not stopping and walking even further ahead.
They brought Alex back to the station and proceeded to call the school. The incident happened around 11am.
When school ended at around 11.45am, Michelle had yet to find out about the accident. According to her, the school did not inform her sister-in-law who was the one that picked up Alex from school and did not call her either.
She called the school after she checked her phone only to find out a stranger had forwarded an image of her son in a WhatsApp group chat. The image was shared with the group at about 11.40am.
According to Sonia, there are regulations and guidelines offered by not one, not two; but several bodies in Sabah and Malaysia that are in place to safeguard children in schools.
Schools do have to follow these general guidelines set up by the Ministry of Education, Social Welfare Department and Fire & Rescue Department to ensure safety of staff and students.
“Checks will be conducted on the premises of the school in order for permits and licenses to be renewed each year.”
“However, what needs to be said is that individual schools themselves need to take safety very seriously as the child is in their care at that time,” Agnes opined.
“Furthermore, because every school premise has a different makeup, some of those general rules may not apply. So it is up to the schools themselves to ensure utmost safety,” Sonia added.
“For example: some schools have a tagging system for parents; others may require parents to register at the front gate before they enter the school’s premise; some schools even install an intercom system. Therefore, schools are required to conduct a briefing with parents to explain all of these.”
On the same note, Sonia says that safety education really begins at home.
“For example: I am a mother myself, so I teach my kids to stay put wherever they are if they feel lost. I emphasise to them that ‘mummy will come look for you’,” she said.
Also, if not for the Petron station manager who noticed Alex, something untoward may have happened to the child.
In that manner, safety is therefore the responsibility of everyone at all levels of society.
PTS believes that parents and schools must be able to work together to achieve a common understanding that will benefit their children. This comes through parent-teacher meetings, school safety briefings and any such event that involves both school staff and parents.
Unfortunately, in Michelle’s case, the school was dismissive toward her feelings over the incident. She had asked the teacher why her son was not accompanied to the bathroom, seeing as the school toilets were at a separate building from her son’s classroom.
She said Alex’s teacher merely said, “your son wanted to go toilet, so I just let him go lor.”
“Immediately after I was informed of the incident, I called the school. My husband and I headed to the school to find out about what happened. But I was met with a less-than-professional response throughout the entire ordeal.”
“Over the phone, the Principal informed me that they were about to end the day and were not ready to receive visitors. However, I argued back that this was a matter of emergency,” she said.
“My son went missing and no one noticed. I wanted to know why the school gate was unlocked in the first place. It was extremely careless,” she added.
“Whatever happened is a lesson for the school to take note of. More so, something we can use to emphasise the need to improve the quality of teachers in kindergartens,” said Sonia.
As for Alex, Michelle has pulled him out of the school and plans to transfer him to a different school.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the child.
Edit at 7:59pm: “12.30pm” to 11.45am; and “school staff” to Principal. Originally, the author stated that school ended at 12.30pm; and it was the school staff that informed Michelle of the school was about to end the day.
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