The School Bus Owners Association’s (SBOA) decision to train women to drive school buses has sparked off a debate on whether this move will help increase the safety of the children.
While bus operators hope that an all-women staff will bring down the incidents of sexual assaults on children by bus staff, school principals and parents said this alone will not guarantee safety.
Principals said the drivers should be hired on the basis of their skill, experience and character and not gender alone. “Excellent driving skills and good character should be the criteria for the job,” said Avnita Bir, Principal, RN Podar School, Santacruz.
“Having women drivers for school buses is a good idea,” said Kavita Aggarwal, director of DG Khetan International School, Malad. “But it will take some time to be implemented as there are not many women bus drivers with sufficient experience, which is a must for driving a school bus,” she added.
Some academicians expressed skepticism over a woman driver’s ability to handle rowdy children in the buses. “Older children often pick up fights with drivers. My fear is how well women drivers can handle these situations,” said Swati Popat Vats, president, Podar Education Network.
Vats said bus operators and schools will also have to think about the safety of the women bus drivers. “Some school buses drop children home in the evenings and some of the routes can be secluded. If there are women drivers, we have to think of their safety as well,” she added.
Some parents, however, said they would put more faith in women drivers. “Women drive more responsibly. I welcome the idea of having a women drive school buses. But there should be a balance between male and female drivers,” said Irene Malik, whose child studies in Tridha School, Vile Parle.
Others are wary of having women as school bus drivers. “I think it is better to have women attendants and cleaners rather than drivers. It is very important in Mumbai for a bus driver to be confident and experienced. I feel men are more capable of handling heavy-duty vehicles,” said a parent, whose child studies in an international school in Bandra.