What we can learn from the school hammer attack

By Lilly Wong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/9 12:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

 It has been a harrowing time for many parents in Beijing since a man injured 20 children in a hammer attack at a primary school on Tuesday morning.

The attacker surnamed Jia is 49 years old and is a migrant worker from Heilongjiang Province. He was contracted to perform routine maintenance jobs in the Beijing No.1 Affiliated Elementary School of Xuanwu Normal School in the city's Xicheng District. Jia targeted children's heads with the hammer, which he used as a tool to perform his job. People wonder what made him perpetrate the monstrous act of targeting innocent children.

Another school worker said Jia took revenge on children because the school would not renew his contract. It sounds absurd but points at unresolved issues.

In big cities, migrant workers have not been treated equally. Wage arrears, discrimination, house demolitions, and violent eviction have caused resentment. Unemployment aggravates the plight of migrants who harbor suppressed rage. Those with mental health problems don't get support. 

Indeed, children are vulnerable targets. Thanks to tight gun laws in China, ownership of firearms is strictly controlled. Hence, mass shootings are rare, but knife attacks and other forms of violent assault are increasingly becoming common. 

Ironically, a blue paper released one day earlier said security on Beijing campuses is "pretty good." 

In recent years, China has seen several attacks on schoolchildren. Last April, a man with a knife killed nine students and injured 10 at a middle school in Shaanxi Province. In June, two middle school students were stabbed to death in Shanghai. Last month, a man drove a car into a crowd of children outside a primary school, killing eight people and injuring 20 in Liaoning Province. 

For grieving parents, the loss is irreparable. Apologies, sacking officials will not bring back the dead kids. Instead, schools need to strengthen campus security. 

More importantly, should teachers and parents worry more about children's safety than scores? How could children be made more aware of their sense of security, and how are they to be trained to react to attacks and defend themselves? 

A friend, who is a primary school teacher, said parents come to him seeking ways to improve children's grades. They are worried, upset, and even furious. However, they never ask about the safety aspect. Children may face different problems in life and the solution doesn't lie in higher scores, he reasons.

In Japan, schools often organize drills for earthquakes, fire and other emergencies. Sometimes, parents are required to participate. The exercises are written into compulsory education plans. Why cannot our schools start safety training for schoolchildren? It is essential to begin with classes to help victims get over the trauma of the previous attack and provide emotional support for both children and parents. 

The press conference on the Xuanwu school was delayed to eight o'clock in the evening. Head of Xicheng District, Wang Shaofeng, bowed to apologize and said no injuries appeared to be life-threatening. 

The incident shows the efficiency of the administration in handling a public crisis that happened in China's capital. 

On Weibo, many images, videos and comments about the attack have been censored to curb rumors, but questions of anxious users were left unanswered.

According to a video on the website of Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post, the head teacher informed panicked parents, "20 kids were beaten. It is not what everyone is saying, he did not use a knife." 

Besides punishing the criminal, it is urgent for authorities to work on preventing similar incidents and release the right information in time. That will prevent rumors and infuse confidence in the public. 

The author is a Beijing-based journalist. She lived in Sydney from 2014 to 2016. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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