The recent incident of an eight-year-old student coming under the wheels of his school bus has raised multiple questions on how “budget schools” may be compromising on safety.
Budget schools is a term broadly applied to unaided private schools that cater to the lower economic strata and charge an annual fee of around Rs10,000-12,000.
One of the blind spots for such schools that operate on a bare minimum is transportation safety due to the absence of departmental scrutiny plus, unfortunately, the financial aspect of it.
“Instead of the normal Rs40,000 cost of the bus services, budget schools avail it for Rs20,000,” said Santosh Jog, president of School Bus Owners’ Association. “Bus owners make it financially viable by plying their vehicles at three different schools on the same day rather than being embedded with a single institution,” he said, adding that they strongly discourage membership for such bus companies in their association.
“The bus is then perpetually running from one place to the other picking up students from every by-lane and hence they don’t care about keeping a conductor or ensuring that a teacher is accompanying the bus,” said Jog.
He said all their members follow the guidelines strictly and have CCTVs installed as well.
There are safety guidelines issued by the court and also separately by CBSE which says that every bus must have a conductor as well as a teacher on board. If an incident occurs and neither of the two is on board, then the principal has to take responsibility according to the Headmasters’ Association (Nagpur district). Madhusudhan Mude, president of Headmasters Association (Nagpur district), said, “The reason for an accident is part of the investigation, but for schools, the immediate responsibility is to ensure compliance of the guidelines. I strongly feel that principals must be held accountable if they cannot ensure the presence of their teachers on these buses.”
He agreed that budget schools need to be supervised more aggressively.
The traffic police have already ramped up their actions against violators. Chinmay Pandit, DCP (traffic) said, “We will be proceeding with a two-pronged approach. First, will be action against violators while the second will be to create awareness. On Monday itself we took action against 215 violators. Now we will be interacting with schools and fleet owners to ensure that they are aware of the guidelines.”
There are just over 1,500 schools in the city with an overwhelming majority of them being budget schools. They run in congested by-lanes or residential areas with no playgrounds, proper safety or qualified teachers. But they cater to the aspiration of the lower economic class to send children to English medium schools. The downside is a compromise on safety features, especially with transportation by bus. Parents can’t afford to pay more and schools, in turn, can’t provide value-added services.
(With inputs from timesofindia)