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11 December 2008 10:12 pm

School buses have parents fuming

Khalifa Al Haroon
Khalifa Al Haroon
Your friendly neighborhood Qatari
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Children as young as four years old are getting up at 4.30am in order to catch school buses that pick them up at 5.15am – some two hours before their lessons even start. The result, say parents, are classes full of tired and fed-up children struggling to keep their eyes open let alone absorb information coming from their teachers. However, several schools have defended the practice – arguing that the buses are an added benefit rather than a right. It is an argument that has failed to impress an increasing number of parents. “My wife and three kids of pre-school age, Grade 1 and Grade 3 respectively, wake up just after 4am every day as the school refuses to reschedule the pick up time telling us to take it or leave it,” one frustrated parent told Gulf Times. “Almost all the buses of the school are overcrowded, with the number of students in some buses exceeding 85, despite us paying QR150 every month for each ward.” Other concerns voiced by anxious parents include bus drivers performing “erratically and dangerously” and drivers refusing to pick up students from their homes – meaning half-asleep children are left standing on main roads. Admitting that the love-hate relationship between parents and schools have taken on a new level, the principal of MES Indian School – the largest expatriate school in the country – F M Basheer Ahmad called for “rationality to prevail”. He said: “As a matter of right, if they (parents) question the quality of education and curriculum, then it makes sense, but not transportation. That’s something that we offer as an extended facility. Besides it’s not all that bad. We actually offer fee concessions to our toppers, our athletes, and to children of our bus drivers.” Transporting some 7,000 students from areas as far away as Dukhan, Wakrah, Madinat Khalifa and Al Khor, MES has a massive fleet of 98 buses with five more being added “as of now”. The drivers are hired based on their past experience and undergo localised training for between 15 days and one month, according to the school’s transport official. He maintained that the buses only start their engines at 5.15am and despite “what parents say and what the morning traffic has become still manage to be punctual”. “The cost of adding another bus that will be half-filled on existing routes is not even going to break even unless children on that additional bus want to pay extra to make up for our costs,” added the official. Over at the Pakistan Education Centre (PEC), the engines roar into life about the same time every day with an aim of picking up “one child a minute”. “The pick-ups are based on one thing – commonsense. The kid who lives close by will be picked up the last in the morning but will be dropped off as the last in the afternoons,” the school’s administrative official said. “It’s basically a just system. If and when some parents continue to argue they are duly reminded that we are educationists and not transporters,” he added. The Philippines School Doha’s transport in-charge echoed similar views and explained that both their drivers and conductors were hired locally or from abroad based on their past experience. “One problem the drivers have is their constant race against time due to the traffic. And with different class timings for various sections and impossible requests by parents that their wards be dropped off right at the doorstep, they are increasingly working under pressure,” he explained. Qatar does not have laws restricting the amount of time a child spends on a school bus. Although some schools have their own transport others have out-sourced the problem. Christine McPherson, the Operations Manager of Trilogistic – which runs about 60 buses for American School Doha, Compass, Doha English Speaking School and recently Newton International – maintains that offering a bus service that picks up “your child not more than 45 minutes before school time and has friendly drivers” is possible. She said: “You just have to spend some time to schedule rightly, add the routes properly and plan according to the school’s strength. Also, the drivers should be trained for at least six months; extensive reference checks be made; and background and police checks be obtained. And no cell phones should ever be allowed for them on board. “If you are willing to serve and invest in both planning and buses, there is no way why you can’t make the whole bus time enjoyable – and less.” GT These 'educationalists' deserve a smack. "We are educationalists not transporters." Here's a freaking solution. DONT OFFER A BUS SERVICE and recommend a third party service! As long as you are offering the service it is part of your duty and responsibility. I will also add that they say "we need to break even" as if the institution is living on the edge. If they are offering the bus service, that means that it's part of the revenue pool of the school, meaning that if the bus loses 100 riyals, it's a cost which should come out of the school fees anyway! In Bahrain, I used to go with a bus driver from a school. I was in the 4th grade. One day one of the children was being naughty and putting their feet on the roof of the van. The bus driver stopped, thinking it was me, he came round and punched me on the side of the head. I arrived home telling my father who threatened to beat the crap out of the bus driver next time he sees him. The next day there was no bus driver. We reached the end of the road where the new bus driver moved over and the old bus driver got in. He was the worst, hit children, threatened to do more if they told parents, and drove erratically. That was the first time in my life I had such loathing in my heart. Going back to these school heads, they come off as arrogant and talking as if it's parents vs the school. Without those parents there would BE no school. Common Qatar bring on the competition!