Forced closure of schools linked to fatal accidents
The Ministry of Public Security is pushing regulators to address some of the root causes behind a spate of deadly school bus crashes in recent weeks as it moves to crack down on unsafe school buses.
Deputy Public Security Minister Huang Ming said on Thursday that his department would provide policymakers with research and surveys to help tackle the widespread problem of unlicensed and overloaded school buses and other issues arising from the forced closure of rural schools in recent years.
He also unveiled measures to shore up school bus safety, including a continued crackdown on unlicensed drivers and allowing school buses to use traffic lanes reserved for public buses.
Dozens of pupils have died in school bus accidents on the mainland in recent weeks. Fifteen were killed on Monday evening when a 52-seater bus carrying 47 pupils from Shouxian Township Central Primary School in Feng county, Jiangsu , plunged into a roadside ditch. An investigation into allegations that there were more pupils on the bus, causing it to be overloaded, is continuing. The government said there were 41 pupils on the bus but the driver said there were 47.
Xinhua reported yesterday that a deputy county chief, along with its top education official, a deputy police chief and the school's principal, had been suspended pending further investigation.
Under a government-sanctioned push, village schools in rural areas were ordered to close en masse due to falling enrolments amid rapid urbanisation. Pupils were forced to travel long distances to distant township and county schools, where vacancies for boarders are limited.
The authorities have sought to defend the closures, saying that pupils can get access to better schooling at centralised schools.
The tragedies forced regulators to take heed of public grievances about the policy, with Deputy Education Minister Liu Limin ordering a freeze on school closures if a school cannot come up with a safe school bus solution for its pupils.
Professor Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said: 'The reason that the authorities have been so into the centralisation push is because it helps save money and trouble for themselves instead of providing pupils with access to better schooling. The school bus issue actually lays bare a flawed school system which is dominated by regulators.'
The number of primary schools closed on the mainland between 2001 and the end of last year, according to the Ministry of Education