A long line of shuttle buses in front of an elementary school gate waiting for students is a typical after-school scene. These vehicles will take them to private institutes teaching various subjects from math to English, and taekwondo.
The buses represent Korean parents’ educational zeal as well as their lack of time to take care of their children at home.
From one institute (called hagwon in Korean) to another, little children travel on the buses, taking a brief respite from a heavy daily dose of study assignments. They chat with classmates, listen to music, take a nap or hurriedly bite into a piece of bread on the buses.
Some of the students begrudgingly get on the buses as there is no one to take care of them at home with their parents working. Others are pressured to ride the buses as their parents hope to see them get ahead of their peers at school.
Early in the morning, yellow shuttle buses awaiting preschoolers are conspicuous at every corner of residential neighborhoods. Still-sleepy children line up at a bus stop with their busy-looking mothers, and then get on the buses with the help of a kindergarten teacher or driver.
For kindergarten and hagwon managers, offering transportation is almost a must, given that parents prefer to choose institutes that offer their children a free ride back home, particularly at night.
Thus, the bus service has been a crucial part of business management for institutes. But the problem is that some institutes do not pay sufficient attention to the safety of the children on the buses as they seek to minimize the transportation cost.
Some hagwon hire low-cost drivers with old buses, who are often business-oriented and pay little attention to children’s safety. Some drivers sign contracts with multiple institutes and drive hurriedly to maximize their profits.
“When shuttle buses are seen running very fast here and there, I, all of a sudden, get reminded of my son who has used and will use such shuttle buses to get to school and return home,” said Cho Hee-su, the mother of a 5-year-old boy.
“I hope that there are some qualifications required for drivers to run hagwon shuttle buses or at least some sort of safety education for the drivers.”
The local traffic safety rules stipulate that a driver should get out to check whether children get off his or her vehicle safely. But many drivers appear to be negligent in complying with the rules ― a reason why parents clamor for stricter state oversight over the management of shuttle buses.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)