Muscat: Every day thousands of children are ferried to and from their daily lessons by school buses, but two years after a fatal crash that claimed the lives of three young students from Pakistan School Muscat in Darsait, parents say little has changed to make children safer.
“Life on the buses is still full of fear, as senior students of Pakistan School have to travel from faraway places to Darsait for their schooling. Soon after the accident, school authorities had announced that they would ensure safer school-managed transport system, but later I was told that they were no longer pursuing the plan,” said Habibul Rehman, the father of Jawad Habib, who is still undergoing treatment in Muscat from injuries sustained during the bus accident.
The safety proposal was initiated after three students were killed when their bus hit a vehicle belonging to Muscat Municipality on Qurum Heights Road on January 22, 2014.
The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Pakistan Schools, Mohammad Adnan Shehzad, said the project had to be shelved, as only 1 per cent of the parents wished to participate.
“Out of the 2,500 parents, only 25 to 30 parents opted for the safe transport system when we conducted a survey in September and October 2015,” he said, adding that the Board will be again pushing for changes during the next semester.
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Meanwhile, the Indian Schools officials say they have drawn up plans for the safe transport system for all their schools, but so far only two of the 19 have witnessed the real change.
“We have already implemented the plan in Indian School Mabelah and Darsait, and will be doing it in Indian School Muscat and Indian School Seeb in the coming months,” said Wilson V George, chairman of the Indian Schools’ Board of Directors.
“Student safety is our priority,” Wilson added.
A senior official of the Ministry of Education (MoE) said that they are planning a safe transport scheme for all the government schools in partnership with the recently relaunched public bus service.
“With the help of Mwasalat buses, we are expanding the services to assure there are safer buses across Muscat. The work for this has already begun,” the official said. Recently, the Ministry has planned to replace the old model school buses with new school buses, in cooperation with Mwasalat.
“Mwasalat still offers services to schools throughout Muscat and continually boosts them with value-additions such as vehicle refurbishments, inside-out, and helping parents track a child’s bus in real time when not connected to the net.
“The safety of our little angels is of utmost importance and our staff members are specially trained to ensure that the seat belts are fastened and children are not allowed to move around when the vehicle is in motion. Safety measures ensure everyone is safe and sound onboard,” it said on its website.
Statistics issued by the National Center for Statistics and Information revealed that the total number of students are 358,095 males and 342,986 females in the Sultanate schools. This includes government, private schools and community schools.
In government schools only, there are 523,522 students while in private there are 97,465 students and in community schools there are 57,986 students, according to the NCSI statistics for 2014-2015. Regarding the condition of his son, Habibul Rehman said his son is improving, though “his left side is still not moving and he often loses his balance even after 24 months,” he said.
Habib was sitting in front after boarding the bus from Al Hail South when it met with an accident on Qurum Heights Road.
The condition of another injured student, Faizal Abdul Aziz, however, has not improved much. “I shifted my family to Pakistan some months back, and he is still lying senseless. He still cannot recognise anybody and has forgotten how to talk,” his father Aziz said.
Faizal received injuries to his head, chest, arms and legs during the school bus accident.
While Faizal and Habib were injured in the accident, three students, Fareeha, Owais Nasser, and Syed Fahad Abdul Haq, died in the crash. Meanwhile, safe school transport is what parents hope to see put in place. “It is always better that the schools run their own transportation systems, as we feel that our kids are safe when in school, rather than in the hands of private operators,” a parent, Habibul Rehman, said.
There are also concerns about private bus operators not picking up students on time.