Premier Wen vows school bus safety moves

Updated: 2011-11-28 06:41

By He Dan and Chen Jia (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday pledged central and local government funds to provide and improve school bus services in the wake of the traffic accident that killed 19 preschool children and sparked national outrage.

He urged relevant departments of the State Council to "rapidly" formulate safety regulations for school coaches, and said China will accelerate the setting up of standards on design and production.

Central and local governments will share the costs on providing more school buses that meet safety requirements, the premier said.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the fifth national meeting on women and children affairs in Beijing.

Twenty-one people, including 19 preschoolers and two adults, died when a nine-seater bus illegally carrying 64 crashed head-on with a coal truck in Gansu province on Nov 16. Another 43 were injured.

On Saturday, a school bus carrying 39 people in Fengcheng city, Northeast China's Liaoning province, rolled over, injuring 35, including two who suffered serious head wounds, according to authorities.

More rural students now have to travel long distances to schools in counties or cities, as the number of village schools has declined due to consolidation efforts.

However, Wen said a lot of local governments have failed to meet the rapidly increased demand for safe school buses or established sound management systems.

Officials will face investigations into their liability if tragedies such as the one in Gansu occur again, he warned.

"School buses should be safe mobile campuses for students," Wen said. "Society should bear in mind that children should be the first to enjoy all kinds of social welfare and the last ones to suffer from any disaster."

Yuan Guilin, an education professor at Beijing Normal University who is known for his research into rural education, has proposed that all school buses should be equipped with black boxes, adding that it is achievable and affordable.

The government should also improve the wages and benefits for drivers to prevent them from taking extra jobs and often driving while tired, he said.

Given that some authorities complain that they are short of money, Yuan suggested they be allowed to sell advertising space on school buses.

Gan Yuanchun, a lawyer in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, who participated in a campaign to promote school bus safety, said the central government should encourage the use of smaller school buses in rural areas, as roads in remote countryside areas are not as wide as in cities.

Students' parents should also be able to get involved in deciding how school buses are managed, he added.

Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that only about 56.6 percent of Chinese children under the age of 6 were able to enroll in kindergarten last year, although the rate rose by about 22 percent compared with 2000.

In rural areas, especially in western parts, many children are struggling to receive quality preschool education because public kindergartens are scarce and most private ones often do not have qualified teachers or hardware.