Schools must have enough buses before merging
Rural children should be able to attend schools near their homes, an education chief said yesterday, adding that school mergers would not be allowed unless there were enough buses to transport pupils.
The comment by Deputy Education Minister Liu Limin followed criticism that rural children are increasingly being forced to cram into packed buses. This is a result of rapid urbanisation that has seen widespread school mergers and closures in the countryside.
The issue has been a hot topic in the wake of the tragic accident in Gansu province last month in which 19 kindergarten pupils died and dozens were injured when a heavily overloaded school bus collided with a coal truck. The bus was designed to carry just nine passengers.
Premier Wen Jiabao pledged on Sunday to set aside funding to upgrade transport arrangements following an outcry over the ill-timed donation of a fleet of school buses to Macedonia.
Wen did not specify exactly how much money Beijing would throw at the problem, but said he relevant departments had been instructed to 'waste no time' in drawing up new regulations.
The Gansu crash has been followed by a string of minor accidents involving school buses.
Yesterday saw yet another accident involving an overloaded school bus, this time in Hebei province. About 10 pupils were injured when their minibus flipped over on a highway in Guan county, 50 kilometres south of Beijing. The bus was designed to carry six passengers.
Liu was speaking in Chongqing while chairing a meeting of the ministry's working group on 'left behind' children, those cared for by extended family after their parents move to cities to find work.
Liu told the meeting that last year there were about 22.7 million 'left behind' children of compulsory education age in rural schools.
'The best way for schools to look after 'left-behind' children is to let them live in school dormitories so that although they cannot be cared for by their parents they feel the concern of their teachers and the warmth of collective [life],' he said.
Liu said that if such students could not be housed in school dormitories, they should attend nearby schools.
'Areas which cannot provide school bus services will not be allowed to merge in order to avoid compromising 'left-behind' children's safety due to travelling long distances to school,' he said.
The number of seats in the bus involved in the Gansu bus tragedy
- The bus was transporting 62 children and at least two adults at the time