Pedestrian, who?

What would you do if you were in charge of an entire school and were responsible for the students’ safety, especially in the light of being so close to the highway and most importantly, the Hosa Road Junction? That’s exactly what I wanted to find out when I visited 3 schools yesterday to enquire what they were doing to ensure that their children were safe.

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Mrs. Meena Hegde who is the acting principal of Sri. A. Thimmiah Reddy Govt. High School, has been working in this particular school since 1990 and she sees the express highway as a boon to her school and students. The school, due to its placement has always been in the centre of noise and air pollution, leading to many students and teachers suffering from respiratory illnesses like wheezing and asthma. She remembers times when they could barely hear their own voices above the traffic on the road.  When asked about road safety, she mentioned that the teachers themselves take precautions by helping students whenever required and still there were 2 major accidents on this road, over the past 15 years where one student ran across the road without warning, got hit by a vehicle and lost a leg in the process. The traffic police visit the school at least 3 times in a year to teach the students about road safety. Mrs. Meena Hegde believes that the only solution to this problem will be the construction of a skywalk or an over pass to ensure children’s safety.

I walked into the Sri Chennakesava High School to be met with the stench of urine as most government schools have and I could barely hear myself think over the students yelling and the traffic outside. I wondered to myself how the teachers must yell themselves hoarse in attempting to get the students to pay attention. When I asked their principal, Mrs. Geetha about it, she seemed so matter of fact about it when she said that the traffic junction is a challenge and yes, the students are at risk. Health problems seem to be a given to these teachers who travel long distances in public transport to get to this school which made me wonder what was more harmful here, the pollution caused by the vehicles or the vehicles themselves. One of the teachers explained how she watches her colleague jump the median on most days in her saree to cross the road because there is no crossing free or available for them. When I asked them for suggestions as to how to go about it, the principal looked to me and asked, “Will it make a difference?” I just sat there, with my mouth gaping open and wondered to myself again whether it actually will… She still went on to explain that if the roads were pedestrianised, there could be a chance of students and teachers alike crossing in peace.

I was lucky to find some parents waiting for their children outside and even luckier that they understood Tamil so Mrs.Ranjeeta and Mrs.Susheela spoke to me at great length about how difficult it becomes for students to safely get home because of the ongoing traffic. They explained how the traffic police help the students cross at times and how they are never present when the school ends, making it more difficult to control the traffic in that area. These parents are housewives who come to pick up their 5 and 8 year olds from school on a daily basis because they believe that if they were coming with other students, it would be difficult for the elder students to watch their every move. Small children tend to get distracted easily and one wrong move could lead to their death. They were also aware that there were traffic police visiting this school to ensure road safety but they still entrust their kids to their own hands.

I visited the Primary School on the opposite side and when I saw those tiny  children, my only thought was… HOW CAN PARENTS ENTRUST THEIR SAFETY IN THE HANDS OF ANYONE ELSE? Being a teacher myself, I wondered how hard it must be to ensure that close to 500 students got home safely on a daily basis. It was hard enough for my and colleagues and I with a bunch of 150 students. One of their teachers, Mrs.Shailaja spoke to me about how the teachers take up the responsibility themselves in helping the students cross and get to their vans, rickshaws safely, all the time mentioning that it was a super challenging task.organisation40

These interviews brought me thinking about various things, most importantly how easily we forget about the basics, road signs. Why isn’t there a road sign outside these schools, which indicates that there will be children crossing? Why don’t we have a designated official, wearing a uniform from the school to stop traffic and help children cross the road? Shouldn’t we train students to be part of the Road Safety Patrol where they will do the needful and ensure that no accidents occur in and around their schools?

That being said, there needs to be some structural addition made to these roads where pedestrians, in this case students of all ages can breathe without the fear of being run over by vehicles. We need to start making reforms now, before it is too late.

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Parents, teachers, principals and the traffic police should join hands and be proactive in taking these measures instead of waiting for somebody else to do it and burdening themselves with the same task.

Picture courtesy: Anjali Paul, Traffic Wardens and The Hindu

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