ABU DHABI // Every public school bus in the capital will be fitted with two security cameras in a Dh13 million programme to keep pupils safe.
The programme's ambitious next stage is a Dh6 million scheme to equip each bus with a GPS tracking system and give every pupil an electronic Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag.
The CCTV cameras will be installed from the start of the academic year in September, officials at Abu Dhabi Education Council said yesterday. "Every bus will have two cameras, one in the front and one behind so that we can monitor all activity and control pupil behaviour," said Khaled Al Ansari, facilities section manager at Adec.
A law to make CCTV cameras mandatory for school buses nationwide was proposed by the Higher Committee for Protection of Children this year, but it is not known when, or if, it will be passed.
The RFID and GPS technology will provide detailed and continuous updates on the whereabouts of both pupils and buses on the way to and from school.
Mr Al Ansari said the tracking devices would also allow Adec to establish the most efficient routes for school buses.
Only Adec officials will have access to these journey details to begin with, but in the final phase of the roll out they will share the information with parents.
"In specific cases, when a child is not dropped off at their regular stop or if the bus is delayed because of reasons like traffic, then parents will be immediately informed by an SMS," he said.
Mr Al Ansari said implementation of the new safety systems would begin in September and should be completed by the end of the academic year in 2012.
Jassim Al Neaimi, whose daughter studies at Al Mawaheb Model School in Abu Dhabi said the measures were long overdue.
"Installing cameras is a precautionary measures which has become essential, especially when you are dealing with children," he said.
Shaikha Al Zaabi, principal of the Palestine Secondary Public School, believes cameras will help to prevent unruly behaviour.
"Nowadays, the pupils pick up a lot of bad habits and ways from television and the internet," she said. "They fight and conduct themselves inappropriately. But if they know cameras are around they will not do anything wrong."
Mr Al Neaimi also suggested awareness sessions for drivers. "There should be a stringent process to select drivers with good conduct and they must be trained well to deal with children."
Adec recruits Arabic-speaking bus drivers and attendants with the help of the Abu Dhabi Nationalisation Council and Department of Transport. Supervisors also go through a background check and are hired from around the school area.
New school bus regulations will also include an Emiratisation programme aimed at school bus supervisors. All buses that transport children up to Grade 5 already have female supervisors. "Our aim is to recruit Emirati supervisors for all the buses," Mr Al Ansari said.
He said female attendants were necessary because children would feel safer. "These supervisors will also stay on board till the very end of the journey," he said, "so there will be no situation where a child is left on the bus or is alone with the driver."
Ms Al Zaabi said: "Also, sometimes the remote areas are unknown to outsiders and if there is an Emirati attendant they will be able to identify these places to get the child there safely."
Adec wants more than 90 per cent of pupils in state schools to travel by school bus in the next three years. Only 70 per cent do so now.
Mr Al Ansari said the changes will boost the use of school transport. "We are working with the DoT to increase awareness among parents of the benefits of the school bus," he said.
"It thins traffic jams and produces less carbon emissions because there are fewer vehicles on the road."