Do long bus rides impact learning?
To the editor, September is upon us once more and for most five-year-olds (and some fours) it is a time of great excitement as they go to school for the first time.
This year, the educational system is starting the school year with many changes - no authoritative public representation in the system with the demise of school boards, principals classed as managers not teachers, and, in my area, a large, nearly new school building deemed unsafe for holding classes causing students to be transported elsewhere for the time being.
One thing that has not changed is the method by which most children get to school....by bus. Since the time of the great consolidation of rural schools in the late 1950s the bus has played an important part in education. Strange as it may seem, not a lot of thought has gone into how busing affects the learning ability of small children. It is not something you read about in the myriad studies and reports that have been presented to government and released to the public in recent years.
In October 2014, a report entitled “Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student” was released which on page 51 mentions the fact that physical activity helps learning and states: “...we also recognize the unique roles that schools play in building awareness about healthy living through ....... encouraging students to walk or bike to school, ...” I found that a bit of a laugh when the department was, and is, continuing to close community based schools in rural areas and neighbourhood schools in towns increasing the use of buses.
An Action Plan for Education called “The 3 Rs: Renew Refocus Rebuild” was released in 2015. Again, no mention of the time children spend on school buses. Physical health was referred to on page 31 where it is stated that “physical activity and nutrition have always been cornerstones of good health...” and say “To support student health and wellness, we will...create a framework to increase opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day...”
The latest report “Raising the Bar” (2018), commonly known as the “Glaze report”, is all about administrative structure, organization and management. In the introduction, Ms. Glaze imagines sitting in a classroom of primary students on the first day of school. She wonders, “How can we help them thrive and succeed during their educational journey?” I would suggest we first ensure these children arrive at school rested, not hungry and with dry bottoms. This is difficult when many five-year-olds spend up to an hour (and increasingly beyond due to continued school closures) on a bus to get to school. In this report the word ‘transportation’ is found on page 4 under ‘areas of administration and operations’ as part of the ‘four areas of focus’, on page 5 as something school boards must provide, page 35 under recommendation 13 in regards to extracurricular activities, and on page 39 under recommendation 20 referring to the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal. On page 41 Ms. Glaze comments, “...it was important to see and hear the passion of the presenters as they made a strong case for a governance structure that puts students first”. Any governance structure that submits five-year-olds to up to (and over) two hours on a school bus daily is not putting students first.
In January 2015, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) produced a report entitled “Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation” which, as stated, is about cost and efficiency, contains some interesting observations including this on page 6: “Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, has urged policy-makers to look at the impact of school consolidation and busing on the health of children and youth.”
As the school year begins, the ‘Big Yellow Bus’ will be stopping for young children all over Nova Scotia. It would be a good thing if our new and improved Department of Education and Early Childhood Development would look at a basic, down to earth issue - the effect of prolonged bus time on the learning ability of young children.