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JustHere | August 23, 2017

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Parents express concern over safety in school buses in Qatar

Parents express concern over safety in school buses in Qatar

While a majority of parents in Qatar depend on school transportation for kids, safety always remains a primary concern. JustHere spoke to a few parents to find out what they thought about school bus safety in Qatar.

Jessica’s* two sons study at the Stafford Sri Lankan School – one in Grade 6 and the other in Grade 2. While she drops off her kids at school every morning, they take the bus back home. “The bus comes too early in the morning because it has to pick up a lot of kids. So I decided to drop them off myself as we get to leave an hour late from home and still reach school on time,” she says.

“The buses are safe. There are female attendants in every bus who know every kid by name. Attendants don’t drop off kids back home till there’s a parent or an adult waiting at the drop-off point to collect them. If the parent is late, they continue with their rounds and come back again to drop off the child.”

No Seatbelts

However, the only problem, she says, is that there are no seatbelts provided for the seats. “Sometimes, kids can fall off their seats. My youngest one knocked his face once. We raised our concern to the driver who said that since the school is a community school there were financial constraints because of which they were unable to implement the seatbelt policy.”

But the school is working on this issue, she added, as seatbelts have been enforced in two school buses.

Another parent, Blake P. whose kids go to Newton British School also complained about lack of seatbelts. “The school doesn’t really care. They told us it’s not their problem but the company’s problem who provides them the buses.” When JustHere contacted the school, a staff member also gave us the same comment.

Safety checks by schools

It’s been three years since the tragic death of a four-year-old student from DPS-MIS after being locked in a van that was hired by the school to pick students up from Al Wakrah. Though a school official was not available for comment, JustHere spoke to a driver at DPS-MIS who told us that the school has been holding weekly meetings to guide the transport staff about student safety.

“We are required to follow a procedure where the bus is checked by three persons, including me, after drop off, to ensure no child or belonging is left behind,” said the driver.

While some schools have their own transportation facilities, other schools hire a private company to ferry kids from home to school and back. The American School of Doha, for instance, has hired Trilogistics for its transportation services. The buses that they provide are equipped with fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. “Every seat has a seat belt. And there’s a lady attendant who monitors the students in the bus,” said an official from the company.

Is it enough?

Though schools in Qatar are taking up measures to maximise safety of students in the bus, there are a few parents who don’t want to take the risk.

Ezdihar I, whose son used to study at Al Noor Language School, stopped using school transport citing the inefficiency of female attendants to handle students. “Sometimes kids, especially boys, get into a fight, and start screaming and hitting each other. How can just one female attendant control so many students at the same time?

“Also most of the times the windows are kept open, which is very dangerous when little children are in the bus.”

Her son is now enrolled in a Sudanese School, but she still prefers to drop and pick him herself. “Independent schools generally don’t have safe buses. Firstly, they are never punctual. Secondly, their air conditioners never work. It’s either to cold or too hot, which can affect the health of kids. But most importantly, windows should never be left open. I once saw two kids jumping out of the window from a bus that was parked nearby. That scared me and I decided never to send my kids in a school bus.”

Not just due to safety, interestingly some parents also prefer private transport because it is cheaper than the transport fees charged by schools. “We have kept a private driver for our kids. It’s cheaper than what schools charge. Moreover, commute time can be cut short too. My kids used to reach home late, almost two hours on the road, and be totally exhausted, when they used buses. Having a private vehicle is convenient,” says Sherif E., whose kids attend the English Modern School.

JustHere is yet to receive response from Mowasalat, which runs the school bus service for most independent schools.

In addition to safety on buses, schools also need to address the way drivers are being treated. Yesterday, students at DMIS, Cambridge School Doha and the Cambridge International School for Girls were left stranded at school when bus drivers went on strike citing “ill treatment by management” and “pay hike” as the reasons. Last week, students at Qatar Foundation also faced a similar transport crisis when bus drivers went on strike owning to the delay in payment of their salaries.

*Name changed on request.

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