It’s said that your school years are the best years of your life, although not all would agree, especially these days when anything can happen in school. Can one then say that school years are the safest years of children’s lives?
Well, one would like to think so, as each and every school clearly has a duty to care for its charges. Yet, as we all know too well, accidents happen in life. School, if anything, is more likely to be the place children suffer injuries because it’s there that they spend most of their time.
Where school transport safety is concerned, everyone has a role to play: education authorities, parents, pupils, transport operators, motorists and other agencies like the police and National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). There has never been, and will never be a single solution to improving school transport safety in Kenya or elsewhere.
However, transportation accidents are among the worst tragedies that could befall a school, having ramifications not only for those injured, but also their families, friends, and the school fraternity. And while the human cost is significant, school bus accidents have acute financial tolls as well.
That’s why the recent surge in road traffic accidents involving school buses is cause for worry. Data by the National Transportation and Safety Authority (NTSA) shows a rise in traffic accidents involving pupils and students. It is just the other day when 10 primary school children from a school trip to Mombasa died near Mwingi Town, barely three kilometers from St Gabriel Primary School, their final destination.
What’s the challenge? Most of these deaths occur against a backdrop of new guidelines issued by the NTSA. Like most rules and regulations, implementation is the challenge.
For example, the regulations dictate the behavior and responsibilities of the driver, his helper, students as well as the teachers on board. The regulations also ban all forms of night travel for school buses. It is telling that the St Gabriel bus crashed at 11pm on its way from Mombasa.
This clearly shows that human error causes many school-transportation-related accidents, especially distracted driving. Texting drivers have increasingly become the prime culprits in accidents. Although school bus accidents may result from the negligence of other drivers, they also involve driver inattentiveness.
While the challenges of driving a passenger vehicle differ from those of driving a school bus, both automobile and school bus drivers confront similar distractions. Our school administrators need to develop driver training programs and adopt policies that prohibit bus drivers from eating, drinking, and using cell phones behind the wheel.
Schools also need to adopt a school bus code of conduct. Students’ conduct on school buses can be a significant and dangerous driver distraction. Many schools rely on established discipline policies to govern student behavior, but those may prove inadequate because school bus drivers face different circumstances than classroom teachers.
When a misbehaving student diverts a driver’s attention from the road, lives are at risk. An approach specific to student behaviour on school buses is needed to increase safety and curb driver distraction.
There is also need to provide students and parents with information about school bus safety and conduct policies. Although Kenyan parents may dismiss this, it is important for schools to educate students on school bus conduct policies periodically. These policies can be posted to a school website as well as sent home with students in hard copy each term. Increasing parental awareness about the school bus code of conduct and scrutiny about the same is important to reduce disputes over punishment given to a student who has misbehaved on a bus.
Our schools should provide school bus drivers with additional training and resources for managing student behavior. Schools should include student management and conflict resolution in their bus driver training.
Teachers and administrators should be part of these programmes. Providing this training to bus drivers highlights the important role a bus driver plays in ensuring student safety. Unfortunately, our schools do not take school drivers seriously, yet they can make a big difference.
The best school safety schemes demonstrate good communication between school authorities and other parties involved; from transport operators to the students themselves. Open lines of communication with concerned parties, from the driver to teachers and students, can play a bigger role.
Additionally, school authorities should clarify and document their responsibilities for school transport safety and detail what is expected of parents, pupils, schools, teachers and road safety officers. The time to act is now.
Prof Mogambi, a Development communication and social change specialist, teaches at the University of Nairobi: hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Standardmedia.co.ke