29 August, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 2, 1435
A girl attends a class at a makeshift school in Islamabad. — Photo by AP
A girl attends a class at a makeshift school in Islamabad. — Photo by AP

When she was five years old, my granddaughter failed to reach home from her Gulshan-i-Iqbal school. It was a burning summer day, and her mother thought, maybe, the van was caught in a traffic jam, or perhaps the school management had delayed the kids’ departure for some reason.

When she rang up the school, she was told that the van had departed on time. Panicky, she rang up other parents, and they told her their daughters had all reached home. What happened to her daughter, a desperate mother wondered.

The girl was safe and sound, though at the wrong place. Unknown to her parents and to the driver, she had fallen asleep and slumped in her seat. She was not visible to the driver.

After dropping other kids at their homes, the driver must have taken a look in the mirror, found the van empty and took the bus to his home in Federal B Area. Luckily, a cleaner entered the bus and found the child asleep.

Suppose the cleaner had never entered the bus, or suppose the bus had been locked for the weekend. Could one guess what would have happened to the little girl --- and the family?

On another occasion, the van dropped her and drove off, without realising that the child couldn’t enter her home because her hand didn’t reach the bell, while she stood in the deserted street in May heat. Luckily, a neighbour saw and helped her.

The death of 14 children in their school van in Mungowal near Gujrat on Saturday is too horrible to visualise. But, besides the usual condolences and the arrests that followed, the tragedy should prompt lawmakers and education authorities countrywide to inject a bit of care and tenderness in the way our kids are herded in school vans and picked and dropped without some elderly hand helping them. The most criminal aspect of the pick-and-drop system is that there is no chaperon; it is the driver --- invariably uneducated and uncouth --- who is in charge of the kids’ destiny.

It is rare that he will wait and see a student disappear into his or her home before driving off. In most cases, children themselves get in or jump off without any assistance.

I am not an educationist, nor a lawmaker, but I have some ideas which I expect them to note while making a new and comprehensive law whose principal aim should be the safety of school students. Whether the provincial governments should make this law or it is Islamabad that should prompt the federating units is a technical issue that should not be allowed to torpedo this idea.

I suggest:

One, school vans should be standardised in every respect, including colour. In the US, we can spot a school van from miles. Everywhere they have yellow colour with black stripes.

Two, through a media campaign, the public should be told to show regard for school vans and let children board or disembark in peace.

Three, it should be a criminal offence to have the kids onboard without a chaperon. Every school must have a chaperon with a roster. It would be her or his responsibility to help the students get in and get out.

The chaperon must have a roster with students’ names, addresses and phone numbers.

Four, the van will not drive off, until the chaperon sees the kid enter his home safely. The chaperon should tick mark every name on both occasions, and finally hand over the roster to the school management. The roster should mention the time a kid was picked up and dropped.

Five, the van should have no petrol, CNG or any inflammable material in the bus.

Six, Suzuki vans must be banned as school vans; instead, there must be standard-size buses, whose fitness must be regularly verified.

Seven, the law must make it the school management’s responsibility to ensure the students’ safe journey both ways, except in cases where parents have made their own arrangements.

The Mungowal school tragedy is one aspect of the callousness and disregard of human life characteristic of South Asia. While society cannot change overnight, we can at least make a dent in these attitudes where possible.


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Comments (9) (Closed)


Waqas
May 29, 2013 08:01am
I hope, wish and pray that Nawaz Shareef reads this....and do some thing similar.
Asim
May 29, 2013 09:42am
Good article. However, some of the suggestions are less realistic for the context of the country. Good effort though and for raising the issue of children's safety.
Agha Ata (USA)
May 29, 2013 12:28pm
How could they make such laws when law makers themselves carried fake diplomas.
Atif
May 29, 2013 03:04pm
I think we should demand our ways out of what isn't realistic for our country. It's a very good article and until we stand up for our rights the situation won't change.
Waqas
May 29, 2013 03:48pm
Nawaz sharif is busy giving jobs to his extended family
Rahul
May 29, 2013 06:17pm
Y everytime I read a newspaper of pakistan,regarding their fault deeds, somehow engulf India in it.This writer has also mentioned south Asia.When ever they write something good abt Pakistan they never mention abt South Asia.Y so India biased.U will never find this kind of reporting in Indian newspaper.If they write against Pakistan or India or any country they are specific
Qureshi
May 30, 2013 03:32am
I don't know how can you say Pak media is biased when(and this has became a famous joke in Pak) even a housefly dies in india, Pak is blamed by your media even before investigating the matters. Grow up and be a bit logical.
Sue Sturgess
May 30, 2013 06:15am
Most of these suggestions are extremely impractical. It would be a waste if buses that transport school children during the morning and afternoon, are left idle for the rest of the day. Many children do not live near a bus stop - it is unrealistic for a chaperone to watch each child reach home. If children cannot walk together from the bus stop, then a parent, or other responsible adult should be waiting, when the bus arrives. The problem in this case could be simply resolved, by the driver being made responsible for checking the bus is empty, on completion of the journey
Imran
May 30, 2013 01:08pm
Chill out yaar. Calm down