Scandal of unsafe school buses
On the surface, Monday's deadly school bus accident in Feng county, Jiangsu, was different from recent high-profile tragedies involving overloaded and unlicensed buses.
But the latest accident, which claimed at least 15 students' lives, again sheds light on the sad state of school buses on the mainland, particularly in rural areas where local governments have failed to address a lack of safe transport for pupils. It follows a big push by the central government in recent years to close grass-roots rural schools - making transport to farther-off schools a necessity.
The licensed school bus was carrying 29 pupils from a primary school in Shouxian township when it flipped and plunged into a roadside ditch as the driver swerved to avoid an oncoming tricycle.
The incident came just one day after the Legislature Affairs Office of the State Council posted a draft of new school bus safety regulations online for a month of public consultation. This followed a public outcry over the deaths of 19 kindergarten pupils and two adults on an overcrowded bus that hit a coal truck head-on in Gansu last month.
However, the State Council office failed to spell out details about the huge cost of the school bus upgrades called for in the draft.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said both the central and local governments needed to show strong leadership by coming up with necessary funding to improve the safety of school buses, particularly for poorer regions.
'The fresh blood our children shed in the school bus accident in Jiangsu province has once again shown that everything else is just empty talk if there aren't solidly built school buses,' Xiong said.
Ministry of Education statistics reported by the Shanghai Morning Post last week indicate just 29,000 school buses on the mainland, or just 10.32 per cent of the school buses in operation, meet safety standards.
Also, 74 per cent of pupils killed in school bus accidents in the last five years were from rural areas.
In another accident on Monday morning in Shunde district, Guangdong, a school bus with 59 pupils on board collided with a cargo truck, injuring 37 people. Parents suspected the bus was speeding.
Zhang Jun, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Rural Development, said Feng county, where the Jiangsu crash took place, was a very poor county and a prime example of the bad state of rural schooling. He said pupils there became dependent on buses to get to township schools after classes in their village were closed. Zhang defended the closure of many village-level schools, saying enrolment had declined due to rapid urbanisation and that pupils could get a better education at centralised township and county-level schools.
But he said the issue of school bus safety had hardly been a priority for governments, and all forms of vehicles, including tractors, have been used to shuttle students amid inadequate funding and little oversight.
'This doesn't mean the governments are not aware of the problems, but they're so overstretched, particularly in those impoverished regions, that they can't do much,' he said.
'The responsibility is no doubt on the central government if authorities are serious about school bus safety.'
Monday - Shunde, Guangdong: 37 primary school students hurt in collision between school bus and dump truck.
December 2 - Guan county, Hebei : six injured when overloaded minibus, carrying 14 students and adult, falls into roadside ditch after tyre blow-out.
November 28 - Quanzhou, Fujian : police pull over nine-seater minibus carrying 21 kindergarten students and two adults.
November 23 - Xiangyang, Hubei : police stop 11-seater bus carrying 34 kindergarten students and a teacher.
November 16 - Zhengning county, Gansu : 19 children and two adults die, 43 children hurt when nine-seater kindergarten minivan collides head-on with coal truck. Two dead adults are driver of minivan, carrying 62 children, and a teacher.
July 11 - Wanzai county, Jiangxi : kindergarten bus, waiting to carry children, hit head-on by truck carting stone. Bus driver dies at scene, three-year-old boy and teacher injured.
March 14 - Beijing: one child dies, three others and kindergarten employee injured when overloaded kindergarten bus becomes impaled on steel pipe after hitting fence surrounding construction site. The 49-seater bus carried 81 people, including 76 children.
December 27 - Hengnan county, Hunan : 14 children die, six injured when three-wheel farm truck taking 20 children to primary school plunges into creek.
September 6 - Beijing: two children injured when school bus collides head-on with car.
April 6 - Shantou, Guangdong: 10 school staff members die, nine badly injured when school bus collides with cement truck and car.
December 23 - Teng county, Guangxi : Four children, driver and teacher die, two others injured in collision between truck and van taking children to school.