I have been watching developments in our sister school’s transport scenario with growing disquiet, because of the total power of labour unions, even to the extent of compromising on children’s right to safe and secure transport between home and school. The school management tried to persuade the transport contractor to sack drunken and rash drivers, but their labour union prevented this. So, the school tried to end that contract. The legal outcome of that is an impasse, with the Hon’ble Courts ruling that the same drivers be taken back by the new transport contractor, the school saying that only those drivers who fulfil the Supreme Court safety regulations can be taken back, and the labour union insisting that all the drivers must be taken back!
Why am I sharing this with you? This ultimately concerns every school, every parent and every student in Surat. You all know how much you depend on the school bus for your wards to reach school and home, safe and sound every day. I have also shared with you, at various times, my deepest fears about the bad state of traffic on the Surat roads and the drivers’ tendency to cut corners on issues regarding child-safety. Workshops on safe driving, on anger-management, on child-safety, etc. have had not had any visible effect on the contractual-drivers of our school buses. They continue much the same as they were. Memos to the transport contractor only result in the response that these drivers are union members with political backing and no one can/will do anything. After all, why should they? The school is accountable if our students suffer, not the union. Even the media and judiciary who indict schools for any bus-accident, simultaneously side with the drivers and their right to employment, whenever school authorities do try to take action.
You as parents, bear the impact of this state of affairs. While the school does everything possible to ensure safety by selecting the best available transport contractor, checking driver credentials, insisting on SC transport safety regulations being followed by the contractor, and putting our own teacher-escorts on every school bus to ensure child safety – ultimately, parents, students and school are all at the mercy of the labour union run by political honchos who trample on the safety rights of school children, with the support of the judiciary and media!
Given the gravity of the larger scenario, I hope you will understand why the school does not mindlessly increase bus stops, bus routes, etc., because with every addition, more parents and students are indirectly subject to the whims/demands of the labour union. When a driver does not wear his seat-belt, knocks another vehicle or tampers with the speed regulator, then only a memo can be issued to him, which he even refuses to accept, as per the union-leader’s advice! I still remember one horrific day in 2010, when all our drivers went on strike with the students sitting on the bus, waiting to go home! I had to personally cajole, request, threaten and negotiate to get the buses moving (over 30 minutes late) and have the children dropped home – a very unpleasant memory. Given this ‘labour-union mindset’ in the contractual drivers, which can be interpreted as no-accountability-with-total-immunity, you need hardly be surprised that most of our attention is kept engaged by transport problems, when I would prefer to focus completely on academic and co-curricular projects for our students. My personal belief is that labour unions should be confined by law to the industrial sector and kept out of education, where their interests conflict with those of students. Schools should run on the first principle of student welfare.
The school insists on student discipline on the bus and low-decibel levels to avoid disturbing the driver and leading to an accident. Some escort-teachers are mild by nature and students take advantage of this to create such disturbance, that the driver stops the bus till the children quieten down. There are parents who create a scene when they miss the bus, setting the wrong example for children! Their argument is, if the school bus can be late, then so can parents. There is no denying that due to unavoidable factors, the bus or the parent may be late. The bus being late is inconvenient to all. But when one parent is late, should the bus wait beyond 2 minutes, delaying all students on that route?
DPS rules forbid students to be dropped/picked at stops which are not their own, because of the precedent of accidents caused by trying to overtake and stop the bus. Escort teachers who occasionally, out of consideration, pick up a tardy student at the next stop, find that the same student repeats this until the rule is enforced, despite parental protest. Out of consideration for parents and to save them the drive to school, students are picked up or dropped at the last bus stop, if they occasionally miss the bus. The school rules clearly state, however, that you must actually pick up the child from school or admin. office, according to the bus route.
What I am trying to say here, is that most of our time and planning seems to go into transport-related problems – detracting focus from teaching-learning. Ultimately, students lose, no matter who wins the petty squabbling. The Green Book clearly states what school/parents should do in certain unavoidable situations. I firmly believe that if we all follow the GB, it will save frayed tempers all around. I wish to frankly submit before you, that my main concern is education, not transport. My focus will continue to be in ensuring that teaching-learning dominates in school, and not transport issues.