It has taken a tragedy and heartbreak to bring the issue of safety to the fore again. We refer to the horrible accident which took away the life of the little baby of kindergarten in a school near Hadapsar. There is no way to imagine the deep despair and sorrow of the parents and his teachers. Our hearts go out to them and we can only pray that in our lives we are spared sorrow of this nature.
Regarding safety in the buses:
1. Schools have to take an active role. All schools. The children are ours too.
2. Every school needs to monitor the buses, their maintenance and the basic safety features.
3. Every school needs to monitor how the buses are driven and where they stop
4. Every school needs to ensure that the drivers are rested and comfortable.
5. The staff must be made sensitive to the fact that we are handling children and no amount of caution is enough. We have to educate them.
Last month we have installed a GPS tracking device on every school vehicle. We now have a record for every vehicle: its speed, its stopping points and the routes it travels. We will get a report every time the bus exceeds specified speeds. But how far will all that go towards increasing safety?
Despite everything we do, some days the bus staff have a “bad day” – a sick family member, money problem, dispute with a colleague or whatever And suddenly we have a situation on our hands. We have to monitor continuously – through staff, teachers and children.
At the same time we need to recognize our limitations. While our drivers and attendants have been doing a very good job, we can hold them responsible only up to a limit. The bus attendants are largely uneducated and illiterate. They get paid Rs.4,000 a month at Vidya Valley (and half that with private contractors). We don’t expect too much from them. Honestly, we are surprised how well they take care of our children. We try and talk to them regularly to emphasize safety and zero tolerance.
What about children’s behaviour on the bus? You will be surprised at the number of times our drivers have to stop the bus because the children are too rowdy. They call us on the phone and we scold the children. Next day it is the same thing. One day a passing motorist stopped our bus on hearing the noise/screaming to check. Children have been known to throw water and eraser and paper on passing cyclists.
It saddens us to mention this incidence of two days ago. We had to send SMS to parents of Std 10 students, and personally called up a few, because of their rowdy behaviour while on their return from the board exams.
In the morning we see some Vidya Valley parents driving on the wrong side of Sus Road to save 50 meters distance. (Must be other roads too – but we can’t see it). What could they be teaching their child? There are at least two parents who fight with the bus driver to drive on the wrong side of the road because other buses do so. There are some parents who get very upset if another child corrects / pulls up / scolds their child on the bus and will make a minor issue into a fight. Not even the attendant can point out misbehaviour without getting it back from them. A form of “road rage”.
At some bus stops in the morning, the children rush towards the bus - under the indulgent, watchful eye of their parents. What are their parents doing?
Some of the smaller children are the worst behaved. They fight, destroy the seats and are very rude to the older children. It is inexplicable! Maybe it is because there is not enough stress at home on teaching them how to behave. That is a social problem – and we can glimpse it on Sports Days and Grandparents’ days at school.
But this bad behaviour does not happen when the child is in your car – because you will not tolerate it. You have taught your child how to behave around you. What does it prove? The child CAN be taught - and YOU can do it.
Behaviour does not happen by chance. It has to be taught.
So what about taking the responsibility for good and safe behavior in the bus? What about talking to the child for two minutes EVERY DAY on this matter – asking whether she or he behaved well on the bus, did not get up from the seat, did not fight or scream or distract the driver. So that the child knows that it is important to you and that YOU will not tolerate mis-behaviour. After all, what could be more important in our lives than the child’s safety?
We don’t want to police children all the time. That is neither our nature nor our calling. Nor is it possible to monitor every child and every bus. But if that is the only solution maybe we should be doing so. Receive a complaint and throw the child out of school. Problem solved !!
This letter is not a typical letter from Vidya Valley. It is replete with anger and shame. And a tinge of despair. The situation which caused it is worse – a baby fell out of the doors of a bus and was crushed under the rear wheels of the bus. Horrible to say it. But that is the nature of road accidents.
Bad behaviour on the bus is not the same as being naughty at school. The consequences are completely different. Distracting the driver could hurt children in our bus or an innocent passerby. It can cause injury or worse: death.
That is why the bus is a ZERO TOLERANCE zone with regard to mis-behaviour. Maybe our mistake has been that we have not been strict enough in the past. Time to change. Out with the Yellow Card and the Red Card.
There are too many times when we point fingers at others as the cause of problems. We could be right or we could be wrong. But it does not matter. If something has the potential to hurt my child I will first protect my child, regardless of whose fault it is.
Nothing can justify the demise of poor Shiven. The best that we can do is to protect our children by teaching them the right things: safety and good behaviour.