Rethink plan around school transportation

Three students on a boda boda at Busega roundabout in Kampala on February 5. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

The issue: School transportation

Our view: This could, we suggest, be by way of making high achieving school options more accessible distance-wise in suburban areas.

The return of day boarders to school this week for the final term of the 2023 school year has been met with a recital of a laundry list of safety concerns from the police. The breadth of issues the police say parents and schools alike have to address is daunting.

Unsurprisingly, the pick of the concerns that will require a depth of imagination, ambition and sheer determination that continues to elude many revolves around transportation. Queries about how day boarders are shoehorned on boda bodas and in school vans always grow in both their frequency and ferocity at the start of a new term. Thoughtful if emotionally subdued and unemphatic, these queries always go on to dissipate with little or no headway made.

With pump prices having recently veered into punchbag territory, the popularity of such cost-saving options as the humble boda boda is expected to grow that much more. Worse still, the track record of the police in enforcing the letter of the Traffic Road Safety (Amendment) Act, 2023 makes the possibility of success vanishingly small.

This rather sad state of affairs makes it seem like the country is up against the ropes with no clear remedy to its road safety predicament. And, in a sense, it is. Uganda’s road safety campaigns have over time built a reputation of being devoid of direction and substance. Metaphorically speaking that is; since, in the literal sense, a lack of sense of direction and substance abuse by motorists/riders have been pernicious in their consequences.

The million dollar question is: how do we turn the proverbial corner? We reckon a reconsideration of priorities should culminate in a more robust thinking around suburban schools. The task of making such schools as appealing as their cousins in urban areas has proved harder than expected. This has forced households grappling with suburban poverty to yield with reluctance and against their better judgment to dangerous transportation plans.

If we were sufficiently concerned about the risks of transportation plans that put our school-going children in harm’s way, as indeed we should, we would not make it our business to do nothing. If anything, we would explore options to significantly reduce the longer distances that poor suburban families have to cover to get their children to and from school.

Can our urban planning, for one, markedly change so as to be able to promote educational equality? This could, we suggest, be by way of making high achieving school options more accessible distance-wise in suburban areas.  Urban planners could for instance spare no effort in popularising inclusionary zoning techniques tailored at encouraging affordable housing in expensive areas. Both empirical and anecdotal evidence shows that schools have a knack for setting out their stall in expensive areas. What is certain is that the beat will go on if we do not move to think outside the box to address safety concerns that the police have historically proven incompetent reining in.

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