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Shambolic start to scholastic year

Parents of children going to independent and Church schools do not have much to look forward to as schools open next week. It is evident their children do not have any guaranteed and safe transport as promised by the Ministry of Education.

A hasty promise to win electoral support on the eve of last year’s general election was welcomed by most parents who have to ferry their children to and from school. Many were relieved to hear that the government would be providing free supervised transport for all independent and Church schoolchildren that would not only save them money but ensure teachers would keep an eye on students while travelling.

On the eve of a new scholastic year, transport services providers are informing parents they will not be able to accommodate the rise in demand for their services and that they cannot service new routes. Delays in departure and arrival time of students are also likely as the transport capacity to accommodate most students does not exist.

Making promises on the eve of elections is easy. Delivering on those promises when an administration lacks the essential ability to plan and provide the promised services has become a characteristic of this administration. Once again, the school transport saga is an indication of the scarce sensitivity of public administrators and their political masters for the hardships they impose on ordinary people.

The managers of independent and Church schools are understandably frustrated by the lack of support from the Ministry of Education. They have to face worried and angry parents who trust them more than they believe the education authorities. All that the Ministry of Education can offer is “providing support through an internal exercise” to optimise capacity. Put simply, the education authorities have, once again, messed up a well-conceived idea by being unable to deliver on their promises.

The victims of this shambolic delivery of a free transport system will be children and their parents. Road users who were hoping for an improvement in traffic flow as from next week may also be disappointed as more parents will have to take their children to school with their private cars.

Failure to provide the promised adult supervision is another collateral risk of the chaotic implementation of the new transport system. Most parents are right to fret about the dangers of bullying in public school transport when supervisors are not around. Why do we have to wait for a serious incident to happen to take the necessary steps to prevent abuse?

The Ministry of Education has failed miserably in planning professionally for the new transport service for students attending independent schools. It has also failed in keeping parents and school authorities informed on how they intended to reverse the transport crisis. It is exposing children who do manage to get a place on public school transport to unnecessary risk of bullying by not providing adequate supervision.

Managing by crisis has become the hallmark of the education authorities. Rather than managing to circumvent anticipated problems, policymakers try to sugar coat their ineffective tactics believing this is enough to mitigate the damage that parents have to suffer.

Parents have every right to know who will be held accountable for this chaotic start to the new scholastic year. More importantly, they expect remedial action to be taken fast.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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