Kids boarding the school bus at their first day of school after the holidays at Discovery Gardens, Dubai on Sunday, 06 January 2013. KT Photo by Leslie Pableo
Dubai - For many parents here, the consensus is that school bus quality and service is definitely up to scratch
School bus commute is a blessing for working parents in the UAE, but many students may not agree, because many are spending as many as three hours a day on the commute.
For 5-year-old Next Generation School student, Hassan, the ride from his home in IMPZ to his Barsha 1 campus should take just 20 minutes by car, but instead, he spends nearly four times that amount on the schoolbus.
"We had to choose the bus service due to our office timings," his mother, Farah Manzoor, told Khaleej Times.
With a school start time of 7.30am, that means a very early rise for Hassan - 5am everyday - because the early morning run takes three times more time than the end-of-day run.
"Because of the usual peak hour traffic, the bus arrives at 6.15am in the morning and the journey takes about one hour and 15 minutes. But it is different for the end-of-day commute as the school ends at 3.30pm and he reaches home by 3.50pm - just 20 minutes in total."
On an average day, Manzoor said Hassan spends between one-and-a-half to two hours on the schoolbus. But although it can often be exhausting for him, she said she is satisfied with the service.
"I would say I am very satisfied. I get a message alert when my son is on board the bus and when he is dropped off at the school or at home, too. It's a service that offers great peace of mind."
She said with four SMSes everyday, it's a very "safe service", which assures her that her son is in good hands. And with previous tragic stories grabbing the headlines where schoolchildren have tragically lost their lives after being left on the schoolbus, it's an added extra she very much welcomes.
Spending Dh6,800 annually on the transport service, Manzoor does admit she was very skeptical at first.
"Frankly speaking I was very hesitant in the beginning to use the bus transport due to all the stories and long travel timings. But I chose a school which was nearby, so it was less distance for my child to travel. Even though the tuition is slightly higher, it's a decision I am content with."
Mother-of-three Hena Khan is another parent who chooses the schoolbus as her children's mode of transport. Firstly because it's convenient, but mainly because she feels "it's safer".
With all three children attending Sheffield Private School Dubai, the distance from school to house is just 5.5km - a journey which takes about 35 minutes (each way) via car during school rush hours. But that journey increases to about two hours, 40 minutes in total - nearly triple the commute time - when riding the schoolbus.
Although the end-of-day commute takes just 40 minutes because her children are the first to be dropped off, it's the morning run - which lasts about two hours - that often takes its toll on her kids, who are in grades 2, 12 and 13.
"For me, I have no concerns about the quality of the service provided, but I do have an issue regarding the amount of time spent on the bus. I really feel it needs to be reduced," Khan told Khaleej Times.
Catching the schoolbus at 5.40am everyday, Khan said it can be a big ask for students to rise so early in the morning. But paying around Dh2,500 each month on the service is definitely worth it in terms of convenience.
For many parents here, the consensus is that schoolbus quality and service is definitely up to scratch, with many willing to pay out substantial annual costs for the privilege. But when it comes to commuting times, decreasing the hours spent on the bus would be welcomed by all - especially the students themselves.
A breakdown of Hassan's daily commute:
> Total time on bus: 1 hour 35 minutes (on average)
> Total time if travelling by car: 30 to 40 minutes
> Morning commute
Bus arrives: 6.15am
Bus reaches school: 7.30am
Distance travelled: 13km
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Route: IMPZ to Barsha 1
> Afternoon commute:
Bus arrives: 3.30pm
Bus reaches home: 3.50pm
Distance travelled: 13km
Total time: 20 minutes
Route: Barsha 1 to IMPZ
Five tips for a safe schoolbus ride:
> Pick-Up/Drop-Off: When approaching the pick-up point of your schoolbus, cross the roads safely. The same is true at drop-off. Never run to or from the bus, but just walk normally
> Outside of the bus: Don't stand in the danger zone (if a child can touch the bus, he or she is too close!)
> Take your seat: Take your seat promptly, buckle up and sit properly, facing forward at all times.
> On the move: Keep the aisle of the bus clear at all times. Always keep your head, hands and arms inside the bus. Remain in the seat until the bus comes to a complete stop.
> Listen and obey: Always listen to the directions of the schoolbus driver and attendants. They are true experts and their word needs to be followed the same way as teachers'.
How do you find the schoolbus commute?
Delhi Private School
"Despite large roads and better buses, it takes me more than half an hour to cover a distance that could be covered in less than 15 minutes. Moreover my schoolbus comes 15 minutes early at my stop in order to avoid the Sharjah-Dubai traffic."
"The school commute for me isn't that long because I get off at the first stop. But I like the fact that my school day starts with my friends on the bus and ends with them, too."
Meghna Manoj Nair
Gems Our Own English High School Dubai
"I spend about 30 to 40 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes on my way back home on my school commute every day. These are the two times that I spend the most time with my friends. On my way to school in the morning I usually spend my time reading or revising the previous day's lessons."
Vinishaa Sri Govindaraj
Indian High School Dubai
"When it comes to the school commute, I use my time efficiently. Sometimes I get a head start on my homework, which might take half an hour or so, but I also take the time to learn the day's topic and organise my notebooks. It varies from day to day. Coming back from school I'm often lethargic and I start slow. On average I actually spend about three to four hours a day prepping before and after school, as well as travelling to and from school."
A lesson in schoolbus etiquette, safetyThomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE, is a huge advocate of introducing road safety awareness into the school curriculum. Here, he speaks to Khaleej Times about why it is important, especially for those doing the daily schoolbus commute.
Q. You're championing the introduction of road safety into the school curriculum. Why?
According to official data, road traffic fatalities are the number one cause of death for children below the age of 15 years, and about one child dies on the UAE's roads every week (2015 data). Hence, it is of paramount importance to anchor mandatory education elements in the UAE curricula for all years/stages, from pre-school/kindergarten all the way to year/grade 12. This is important for three strategic reasons:
> We must educate our children, so they can protect themselves now. For example: Every child must understand that the use of seat belts is a must.
> Educated children turn into ambassadors and they influence others, like their parents, siblings and friends, for example: think about the power of this statement: 'Daddy, I learned at school, that it is dangerous to drive in a distracted manner. Please put your mobile phone away when you drive your car'.
> Nurture the next generation of responsible motorists, meaning: Once we instil the proper behaviour in the kids of today, they will behave better when they get behind the wheel.
Q. What feedback have you had from parents/schools in the UAE with regards to introducing road safety into the school curriculum?
We received very positive feedback from very influential parts of the education system and we received very concrete signals, indicating the big interest to move forward with the critical matter. Parents throughout are positive and they are very supportive of this move. It is also noteworthy to mention the introduction of these curriculum elements has no impact on school budgets.
Q. Whose responsibility (at the moment) is it to brief children about health and safety on the schoolbus commute?
The core responsibility at the moment lies with the schoolbus driver and the schoolbus attendants.
Q. Whose responsibility should it be and how can we ensure this shift happens?
The responsibility needs to be broadened to the entire 'eco-system' of kids, meaning to all the contact points of children: Parents, teachers, as well as schoolbus drivers and attendants. The beauty is, that children can be exposed to proper behaviour in theory sessions in classrooms, and then in real live sessions while on the schoolbus. We like to refer to this as the 'extended classroom'.
Q. What are some of the biggest risk areas for students during the schoolbus transit?
The biggest risks are linked to the proper use of seat belts, safe behaviour while on the bus, the proper embarking/disembarking from the bus and safely reaching and leaving the pick-up and drop-off points.
Q. When it comes to schoolbus conductors, are parents' expectations too high? If so, why?
Schoolbus drivers and attendants are trained with regards to all related aspects of road safety. They are true experts and parents can and should expect a high level of professionalism from them.
(In partnership with School Transport Services (STS) - the UAE's biggest schoolbus operator - Thomas Edelmann recently launched a campaign called 'The Extended Classroom' to boost road safety and teach young students how to become responsible drivers once they get behind the wheel.)