What you need to know:
- Transport issues have an impact on students’ academic performance as well as their mental wellbeing.
Crowded buses, traffic jams and long commutes are among the challenges students in urban areas face when commuting to school by public transport.
They usually get home late and tired and are expected to do school assignments and study at the same time. They have to get up as early as 4:30 in the morning, depending on the distance from home to school, in order to get to school on time.
Many hate going to school given the struggles and challenges that await them on the road. The majority depend on public transport, where they are avoided by bus operators.
Although there are kind-hearted daladala operators who allow more than ten students on their buses, many don’t take in more than three students on board because they pay ‘little’ money—Sh200 compared to the Sh600 that adults pay. These usually tell the students that their buses are not classrooms. And this has been a problem since time immemorial.
Fabian Daniel, 10, a Standard Four pupil, mentions overcrowded buses as one thing that irks him and makes him sometimes wish he could avoid going to school altogether. Since there are usually many students at the bus stops, bus conductors only let in a few of them on the buses that are always filled to the brim.
“Sometimes it gets as bad as being unable to move an inch,” shares Fabian. "We get pushed by older passengers to the point of having trouble breathing,” he adds. Given his tiny frame, Fabian finds it difficult to push back and therefore ends up falling and getting hurt at times. He experiences this to and from school daily.
"It’s hectic in the mornings and evenings as this is when everyone is either going to work or school, and in the evening when everyone is going back home," he says, adding that it is very rare to come across an adult on the bus who cares enough to protect you from getting hurt when the bus sways, stops abruptly, or when people push you.
Apart from being rejected by the conductors and being pushed by passengers, students get to school dirty and tired. A Standard Three pupil, Anna Jordan, says she stands on the daladala all the way to school and back home. "On average, I stand for over an hour every day on my way to school and back; that is more than two hours in total," she says.
The nine-year-old girl says she rarely gets to school clean. “I am always dirty by the time I get to school as a result of being trampled on by fellow passengers. It is always difficult to convince the teacher that I have ironed my uniform, as it’s always wrinkled," she says.
She says even if there are unoccupied seats on the daladala, some conductors never let students sit as the seats are preserved for adults.
"This hurts. Our legs hurt as a result of standing for a long time," she says.
Another pupil, Mwanaisha Salum, 10, who is in Standard Five, says the bus conductors also use inappropriate language when talking to them.
"The conductors insult us a lot, and because there’s nothing that we can do, we just tolerate it. We are used to this, to be honest," she says.
"Every time I leave home for school, I can’t help but think about what my journey will be like. Will I be allowed to board the bus on time? Will the driver and conductor be nice to me? I usually thank God when I get to school safely, and later, as home time approaches, I start asking myself the same questions again. I only get to relax on weekends and during the holidays," she says.
Sometimes Mwanaisha wonders whether it is wrong to be a student in the city because she doesn’t see her value as a child or even a human being.
When 9-year-old Abdul Abdul wakes up in the morning, he always feels tired. He blames his fatigue on the previous day's hustles on the daladala. Since his school is far from home—over an hour and a half drive or so—he often falls asleep on the daladala and arrives at school very tired.
"I am always tired when I leave school in the evening. My time in these daladalas is torture because I struggle to get to and from school every day."
He adds, "Sometimes I arrive at school late since the buses stop frequently on the road, and I thus get punished."
John Richard, a teacher at Mapambano Primary School in Dar es Salaam, says public transport is a big challenge, especially for students, given the ordeals they go through.
"Children get to school tired, and this causes them to be restless and unable to concentrate in class. Despite their age, primary school children are forced to get up very early.”
The teacher says young children need more time to rest. They need to have a good night’s sleep, but due to transportation challenges, they miss out on this important requirement.
He adds, "Our children don't get time to rest except for the weekends."
Suzan Audax, a teacher at Uzuri Primary School, shares the same sentiment. She says the situation greatly affects the children’s academic performance as well.
"Children arrive at school tired and get home tired after school. This way, it is difficult for them to revise what they learnt at school or even do their homework." She adds, "Some teachers don’t care whether the pupils face hurdles on their way to school and back home; instead, they punish them for things that they cannot control."
She recommends that the government should seriously look into the issue and consider introducing public school buses in all its schools to enable students to get to school without having to endure all the trouble.
"We have normalised the situation despite being aware of its effects on our children. The whole society is to blame because everyone has their share in this," says the teacher.
"Let's make their journeys to school tolerable by putting in place buses to cater for public school students. Their safety and wellbeing are very important in their learning journey," she says.
Zabibu Idrissa, a sociologist, agrees. She blames society’s failure to take the matter seriously as the cause of all these problems.
"Students go through all this as we watch. No one speaks for them," she says. According to her, change should start with the passengers themselves.
They should make sure the pupils commute to school comfortably. They should treat the children as their own. According to her, bus drivers and conductors should treat the children with respect and dignity.
"It would be wise if they used appropriate language when addressing students, considering that they are children. They should also ensure their safety when getting on and off the daladalas," she says.
Alfani Mduge, another sociologist, advises parents to enroll their children in schools near their homes to avoid such problems. "Children go through a lot in these daladalas, and we are the ones who cause these problems," he says.
The sociologist says passengers should condemn any acts of violence against students on public transport. "We all have a role to play to end this. The drivers and conductors of these buses should change and treat the children with love."
Goodluck Fredrick, a psychologist, says the problems pupils experience on public transport can lead to stress and, at worst, depression.
"When children feel helpless and stressed for a long time, it affects their mental wellbeing," he says.
He says that children need enough time to rest, but they don’t due to the unfriendly transportation environment and tight school schedules, all of which greatly affect them physically and mentally.