GTBank launches #BeatTheDistance initiative for kids in rural communities

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Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (GTBank) has launched nationwide initiative tagged #BeatTheDistance, to improve educational outcomes for children in rural communities by easing the difficulties they face with mobility to and fro school.

Through the initiative, the Bank is providing students in remote parts of the country with bicycles to reduce the time and energy in getting to school whilst helping to boost their attendance and focus on academics.

In a statement on Sunday night, the bank said: “One of the biggest barriers to education for millions of children in Nigeria’s rural communities is often the physical act of getting to school, which could be as far as 10 kilometres away from home.

“The challenge of covering such distance twice every day on foot, coupled with the responsibility of doing chores in the morning, significantly curtails school attendance rate, increases the chances of students dropping out, and hampers academic performance.”

It said by providing them with bicycles, it aims to empower the children most affected by these challenges beat the distance, not just to school but between their present realities and immense potential.

Organised as part of the GTBank CSR Action for Rural Empowerment Scheme (GTBank CARES), the initial stage of the #BeatTheDistance initiative will focus on children in 20 rural communities across the Taraba, Enugu and Ondo States.

Jerry Hannatu, a student of Government Technical Training School, Jalingo, is one of the first beneficiaries of the initiative.

Before receiving the bicycle from GTBank, he had to trek for an hour and half to get to school.

Now, his 10 kilometre journey to school takes him about a quarter of that time.

Jerry and other beneficiaries like him will now be able to spend less time travelling to school and more time in the classroom improving their academic performance and attaining the skills and knowledge to reach their full potential.

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Guaranty Trust Bank plc, Mr. Segun Agbaje, said: “Children are our greatest hope for a better future and it is our duty to ensure that every child has access to quality education regardless of their socioeconomic background or geographic location.

“As an institution that is passionate about empowering young people to reach their full potential, this initiative reflects our commitment to building a society where distance is no longer a barrier to education for any child, and in every community.”

He added: “At GTBank, we will continue to leverage our unique capabilities and broad networks to help people and communities thrive.

“Whether we are intervening in public education, investing in underserved communities, promoting the Arts or working to protect the environment, we are constantly looking for creative and impactful ways to touch lives and give back to society.”

Trains running side-by-side
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The debate over the future of running Britain’s rail network flared up once more this week.

 as it announced that FirstGroup was to take over the running of the London Euston to Glasgow Central route.

The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, hailed the deal as a shift to a new model for rail.

But the RMT union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, described it as a “another political fix by a government whose privatised franchise model is collapsing around their ears”.

It all comes as rail punctuality across the country languishes at a 13-year low.

And despite growing passenger anger, fares will rise next year in line with the abandoned Retail Prices Index at 2.8%, rather than the lower Consumer Prices Index.

“The system is clearly not working, everybody agrees that it’s not working,” rail writer Christian Wolmar tells the BBC.

What’s going wrong?

Such a reaction was clearly not what the government hoped for when it privatised the system in the 1990s with a promise to boost investment and enhance services.

Network Rail, then known as Railtrack, was set up to look after the tracks, tunnels and signalling. Meanwhile, private companies could compete to run the trains.

At the time, the government hoped that those private firms would compete on most routes through a system known as “open access”. Rather than bidding for entire lines, services themselves were on offer.

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It also asked firms to bid to run subsided franchises on loss-making routes.

But that left the taxpayer to pick up the tab for all loss-making services. When the network was publicly-owned, these would have been subsidised by the profitable ones.

As a result, franchises for entire lines became the norm to stop the cornering of profitable services, and now less than 1% of passengers travel on open-access services.

‘Little control’

The effect of that has been a lack of competition among train operators which is bad for consumers, says Professor Mark Barry from Cardiff University.

“We’ve got a system that was meant to bring competition to railways post-privatisation and provide some means for companies to innovate, take a risk in return to procure some value.

“The reality is though, there isn’t a lot of competition on the railway – apart from the franchising system itself.”

This might suggest that train operators are having an easy ride and raking in profit, but the opposite is often the case.

As Mr Wolmar points out, in reality rail companies have very little control over their revenues. They can introduce wi-fi on their trains and launch advertising campaigns but much of their fortune depends on factors beyond their control, such as employment levels and economic growth.

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Image copyrightPA MEDIA
Fares will rise by up to 2.8% next year

In a competitive tendering environment, that can mean that the rail firms make a loss over the course of rail franchise, which typically lasts seven years.

And that explains, in part, the failure of Stagecoach and Virgin Trains’ East Coast Main Line franchise, which was handed back to the government last year.

Prof Barry thinks the franchising model should change so that the franchisee is not left with the revenue risk.

Instead, he argues, the government should award contracts by telling the bidders how much money is available and asking them to compete on quality.

He said Transport for Wales had experimented with that model successfully.

The man charged with reviewing the franchise system, former British Airways boss Keith Williams, may have an even more radical suggestion.

Passengers queue to board a train
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Punctuality on UK trains is at a 13 year low

He has said a “Fat Controller” type figure, independent from government, should be in charge of day-to-day operations.

Mr Williams has also said he believes that, in the future, rail franchises should be underpinned by punctuality and other performance-related targets.

The government launched the review after passengers in northern and southern England experienced chaos over several weeks last summer following the introduction of a new timetable.

His review of the rail system will be published this autumn.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The recently awarded West Coast Partnership represents a decisive shift towards a new model for rail. It is a partnership supported by Keith Williams, built with the flexibility to respond to his recommendations and deliver fundamental reform to a flawed system.

“The transport secretary has asked Keith to produce his recommendations for a White Paper, with fearless proposals that will deliver a consumer focussed railway system fit for the 21st Century.”

Qantas to run test flights on world’s longest route

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Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from Qantas
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Qantas will run test services of its planned 19-hour flights to determine whether passengers and crew can withstand the marathon journeys.

“Ultra-long haul flying presents a lot of common sense questions about the comfort and wellbeing of passengers and crew”, Mr Joyce said in a statement.

The airline said non-stop flights from New York and London to Sydney would take about 19 hours each, subject to wind and weather conditions.

It will conduct three test flights and participants – made up of crew and Qantas employees – will be fitted with wearable technology devices.

Sleep patterns, along with food and beverage consumption, will be tracked to determine the impact on health and the body clock.

The flights will run on Boeing 787-9s. The airline said it would make a decision on whether to start the flights by the end of the year.

Longest flights

Competition in the ultra-long haul aviation market has intensified in recent years, with various airlines flying extended routes.

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Singapore Airlines launched a near-19 hour journey from Singapore to New York last year, which is currently the world’s longest commercial flight.

Last year, Qantas began a 17-hour non-stop service from Perth to London, while Qatar runs a 17.5-hour service between Auckland and Doha.

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