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  • Home > News > Details
    Students' way to schools turned into journey of perils

    Some of the 59 children who were crammed into an 11-seater minivan that was recently pulled over by traffic police in Nanyang, Henan province. The children, all primary and kindergarten pupils, were accompanied by a teacher. Police say overcrowding and poor conditions on school buses across the country are risking lives.  [China Daily]

    "School bus safety affects thousands of families," said Yuan. "But even though it is one of the most important factors in the development of education in China, the issue is being neglected."

    Although the blame lies firmly with irresponsible drivers and the administrative departments that are failing to guard against overcrowding and poor standards on school transport, "the key point is the issue of who actually owns the bus", he said.

    Li Luxin, deputy secretary-general of China Youth and Children Research Association, agreed and said that efforts by some education departments to farm out school bus runs to individuals or private companies have only made things worse.

    "In a few cases, government departments invest only a small proportion of the running capital, while most comes from the families of students who use the buses," he said, adding that when profits are involved, overcrowding, high prices and lower quality service are inevitable.

    "Some schools choose to manage the bus runs on their own but they need strong financial support," he explained. "Although some charity organizations and funds donate money to schools, once the support from the government and others stops, few can afford the maintenance costs."

    In some areas, parents pay private vehicle owners to transport their children "but this too has huge safety risks and it can be hard to get compensation after accidents," added Li.

    Experts are now calling for the governments to foot the bill by setting up a system that would allow school buses to be part of well-regulated and integrated public transportation networks.

    In some countries, like the United States, special laws set clear terms guaranteeing the standards of school buses. Yet China has none - even in the Law on Road Traffic Safety - meaning that the nation is sorely lacking in a firm management and supervision system, said Yuan.

    "Some local governments have set rules to make school buses uniform, such as demanding they all be painted the same color, but these are rarely compulsory measures," said the professor. "It's time China worked out a law just on school bus management, which will ensure officials to change their attitude from passive management to active supervision."

    Rural struggle

    A pilot program that will offer free school transportation is to be launched in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, this year and will cover not just urban areas, but also villages on the outskirts and further into the countryside.

    "If the experiment goes well, it could be spread to more cities," added Yuan.

    School buses operating in rural areas are arguably the most in need of greater supervision.

    Analysis carried out by Yuan and his students on 74 school bus accidents over the last five years showed almost 75 percent of the victims were rural children - 49 percent primary and middle school pupils and 50 percent kindergarten.

    "When we did the research in the countryside of provinces like Yunnan, Henan and Jilin, we often saw a dozen or so children standing on the back of tractors or crammed into minivans," said the Beijing professor. "We also saw people using tricycles, four-wheeled farm vehicles and even scrapped cars to transport students."

    Unlike in many urban areas, students in rural areas often have to travel many kilometers from their village to get to class every day. Although some schools provide dormitory beds for pupils, not all village families can afford the fees, while the accommodation itself can be poor.

    "It means these families have no choice but to rely on low-quality vehicles to solve the transportation problem," said Yuan. According to a study by Huazhong Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei province, the long distances that rural students must travel has now surpassed poverty and study difficulties as the No 1 reason why village children drop out of school.

    As other countries have proven, the best solution is either to improve school transportation services or school accommodation. The former is likely to be the cheaper and more flexible option.

    "Rural schools need to focus on two aspects," said Yuan. "The government needs to update the conditions in school dormitories and hire more management staff and teachers.

    "Meanwhile, free buses need to be introduced in the countryside as soon as possible."

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