At 4am on a cold early Monday morning, Najib Lutaaya, a school bus driver for a nursery school in Kampala is awake and ready to start his day picking up children from their respective homes and dropping them off to school.
As he makes himself comfortable on the driver’s seat, he pulls out a book containing a list of names of the pupils he is to pick up and their respective addresses. He has a conductor whom he hired to help keep the children (aged between 3 and 5 under control.
Lutaaya becomes restless whenever he finds some of the children he is supposed to pick up not ready, even though it is already time for pick up.
“I usually give the parent an allowance of 15 minutes and if that time elapses and the child has not fully prepared, I drive away and go to pick up other children,” Lutaaya says.
He always ensures the children he picks are at school before lessons start at 7.30am.
Lutaaya is among many of today’s drivers designated with the responsibility from either schools or private shuttle companies to provide transport services to school children.
They are picked up between 5:30am and 6am from their respective homes and dropped back at the end of the day’s classes.
There is need
Gertrude Ssali, a parent, opts for shuttle services because the family does not own a family car to drive their five-year-old daughter to kindergarten.
“I cannot allow my daughter to go to school, every day, on a boda boda (motorcycle). I have this mentality that they are risky and dangerous in terms of accidents and the exposure to cold air can easily cause health complications,” Ssali says.
After her daughter’s classes have ended at 12pm in the afternoon, the shuttle takes the little girl back home.
Despite the convenience associated with using shuttle services, some parents note that their children’s physical and emotional needs are not catered for during the journeys.
A case in point, a father of two, who preferred anonymity, says he was disturbed when his four-year-old daughter told him that she was always scared of the shuttle because her “uncle” who drove it threatened to slap her and throw her out of the window whenever she cried.
The parent says he was forced to confront the school in question, during one of the parents’ meetings.
“I requested that they have at least a female matron in the van but they told us they cannot because they have little manpower already,” he says. He decided to transfer his daughter to another learning facility.
Anthony Kato Ssentongo, the head teacher Global Junior School, says, “ to try resolve such issues, they have a system where besides the driver, the shuttle also has a teacher whose sole responsibility is to monitor the activities of the learners inside the bus. But since this matter has been brought to light, we will step up our supervision”.
He adds: “But I must also on the other hand state that these shuttle services face a number of challenges. With children coming from different backgrounds and brought up differently, it is quite difficult to control some of them.”
Becky Claire Asiimwe, a mother of a six-year-old son, says her only issues with shuttles is that they sometimes either delay to pick up children or drop them back home late.
“There have been occasions in the past where the school shuttle picks up my son from home at 9am and yet lessons start at 8am or return them home at 9pm,” Asiimwe says.
Stellah Bukenya Wanyana, the managing director Ellah Kids Shuttle, says sometimes, parents are to blame for the shortfalls in the transportation.
“For example, there is poor communication from parents, a case in point, a failure from the parents to notify us of the days children are not meant to go to school,” she says.
Wanyana adds that other issues include ill-mannered children, poor road network, among others.
To limit some of these issues, Wanyana adds that they always ensure to ask schools for their programmes and proceed to follow up with the respective parents.
They also engage children in story telling thus deterring them from engaging in fights.
However, shuttle owners are worried that if the business is not regulated, maladministration will not end soon and most parents may keep disgruntled.
How to help children cope
• Ensure that children retire to bed early to be able to wake up in time.
• Advise the child to behave well on the shuttles.
• Look out for basic safety indicators on the shuttle when it picks your child such as seatbealts.
• Know the driver, if possible befriend him because he is in charge of your child safety.
• Exchange numbers with the driver.
• Check if there is a bus assistant to supervise and control children behaviour on the shuttle. Some schools allow a teacher on board.
• Check for the sitting arrangement and capacity. Are the children overloaded?
• Respect time management, especially where it involves collection centres for children such as popular stages so that you do not delay others.
• Choose an arrangement where toddlers are separated from older children.