Schools’ trips are considered the only free time for students to have entertainment together in one location. In Saudi Arabia, both girls and boys schools usually arrange for one trip per semester, to an institute, a mall or an entertainment area.
After a recent fire in a private school, the bus accident in Hail and a mall fire in Jeddah, many families distrust the level of safety measures in public places. Because parents don’t trust officials in the public sector, they ban their children from participating in schools trips, describing these trips as ‘risks.’
Arab News spoke to families who experienced the dangers of schools trips first hand. They decided to never allow their children to go on such a trip again.
Ahmad Mamdouh, an Egyptian father of three children, said: “My son, aged 11, took part in a two-day school trip. He went there by school bus with his fellow students and teachers. When the time came to go home, the students were gathered on the bus and returned. My son was in the bathroom at that time and missed the bus. The teachers didn’t notice his absence,” said Ahmad.
“My son found himself alone in the institute, two hours away from home. He doesn’t have a mobile phone, as it’s not allowed for students to carry a mobile during school time. So he decided to walk back to school.”
Mamdouh’s son succeeded in finding his way back to school. If the same accident had involved his daughter, he said, she would never have been be able to return home.
Hanadi Al-Amri is the mother of a female student, who had been missed and injured in a school trip three years ago.
“My daughter’s school organized a trip to an entertainment location in Jeddah. When they reached the location, teachers let the students move freely, without observing or controlling their movements. My daughter, who was nine years old, missed her group and teacher, as it was her first time to go to such a location alone,” she said.
According to Hanadi, after searching for her teachers for half hour, her daughter found the escalator leading to the teachers’ section.
“She fell on the escalator and was injured,” she said. Hanadi confirmed that she banned her daughter from taking part in school trips for two years. “I told her that she is still a baby and can’t take care of herself,” she said.
“Nowadays, my daughter is 12 years old. She wants to participate in a school trip to a big mall in Jeddah. I tried to ban her, but she said she is now older and can take care of herself,” Hanadi said.
Hanadi stressed that after the recent mall fire and the buss accident in Hail, she won’t let her daughter to go to the school trip. “I realized that no safety measures are taken neither in schools nor in malls and entertainment locations. I also discovered that teachers here don’t know how to deal with any catastrophe. This is why I can’t ensure my daughter life when she goes to school, or even when she uses the school bus,” she said.
An official from Students Activity Management in the Saudi Ministry of Education, who prefers to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the ministry schedules and designs trips for boys and girls schools. It compiled a list of locations, recommended for school trips. Recently, this list had been updated, as students favor new entertainment locations and malls.
According to the source, safety measures have already been discussed and organized with school mangers, but the risk of a fire or bus accident remains. “We took all safety measures, and discussed the mechanism of teachers work, but we can’t prevent all possible hazards,” he said.
Salwa Bahamdin, a private school director, confirmed that all safety measures were checked before the school starts any trip. “We realize families have become afraid for their children after the recent fire and bus accident, and we don’t force any student to take part in these school trips. Those who believe in God will send their daughters and sons on the trip without any fear,” she said.
She added, “Parents who complain about teachers who allegedly fail to keep an eye out for their children, are overreacting. We make sure our staff are well qualified and they treat the students like their own children. All in all, these trips are optional and parents can refuse them.”