State’s scholar trans­port pol­icy fails needy pupils in KZN

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

EQUAL Ed­u­ca­tion (EE) has dragged the KwaZulu-Na­tal trans­port and ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments to court for fail­ing to pro­vide sub­sidised scholar trans­port to hun­dreds of pupils at 12 ru­ral schools in Nquthu in the province.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion, ad­vo­cat­ing for qual­ity and equal­ity in ed­u­ca­tion, be­lieves that this con­duct is in “breach of the state’s du­ties to en­sure the ful­fil­ment of the pupils’ right to ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion”.

While in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter, EE had vis­ited some of the schools this year, in­ter­viewed pupils and con­ducted sur­veys.

It con­cluded, based on tes­ti­monies and its sur­veys, that there was an over­whelm­ing need for the pro­vi­sion of scholar trans­port to the schools.

But in court papers, EE said the re­spec­tive de­part­ments had re­fused to pro­vide scholar trans­port to seven of the 12 schools, claim­ing lack of funds.

The ser­vice was also de­nied to pupils at the re­main­ing five schools, ar­gu­ing that they were schools of choice and not need. This means pupils at these schools had an op­tion of at­tend­ing other schools near their homes.

How­ever, tes­ti­monies from pupils at these schools, which form part of the court ap­pli­ca­tion, re­vealed that most of them walked more than 6km to and from school. In one in­stance a pupil walks more than 26km.

A sur­vey con­ducted by EE at Hlinzeka Pri­mary School found that 47% of Grade R pupils at the school walked more than 5km to get to school, while 20% of Grade 1 pupils walked more than 10km a day.

EE ar­gued in its ap­pli­ca­tion filed in the Pi­eter­mar­itzburg High Court,that this ex­poses the pupils to many threats, in­clud­ing as­sault and rob­bery. They were also sleep-de­prived be­cause of the long dis­tances they had to walk, which af­fected their aca­demic per­for­mance.

A Grade 10 learner at Hlubi High School said she was raped for about an hour by a man who had grabbed her while she was walk­ing home from school.

She told of the pain of hav­ing to walk past the man’s house ev­ery day to and from school. “It fright­ens me and I get anx­ious,” said the pupil.

“The cu­mu­la­tive and in­evitable re­sult of these con­di­tions is that learn­ers are so fa­tigued, drained and in some cases trau­ma­tised by the jour­ney to and from school that they can­not con­cen­trate in class,” EE said in its found­ing af­fi­davit.

The na­tional learner trans­port pol­icy says the provin­cial de­part­ments of ed­u­ca­tion are re­spon­si­ble for select­ing learn­ers who ben­e­fit from the scholar trans­port pro­gramme. The pol­icy was pub­lished in 2015 and makes pro­vi­sions for needy learn­ers from Grade R to 12 who qual­ify.

In some cases, ded­i­cated pupil trans­port is pro­vided by the state, while in other cases, pupils get sub­si­dies to use pub­lic trans­port to get to school.

“De­spite its pub­li­ca­tion in 2015, there ap­pears to have been lit­tle im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pol­icy to date at na­tional or provin­cial level,” EE said.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion said it was no sur­prise that learn­ers in KwaZulu-Na­tal “find them­selves in the des­per­ate cir­cum­stances they are in”, be­cause, while KZN’s learner pop­u­la­tion amounted to 23% of pupils in the coun­try, the province was al­lo­cated only 7.87% of the na­tional Depart­ment of Trans­port bud­get for scholar trans­port.

KZN spokesper­son Kwanele Ncalane said the pro­vi­sion of scholar trans­port was a func­tion that had been trans­ferred to the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion. He said that over the years there had been an im­prove­ment in the num­bers reached, as the ser­vice now ben­e­fited about 87 000 pupils in KZN.

He added that a study con­ducted by the Depart­ment of Trans­port had shown that an ad­di­tional R5 bil­lion would have to be al­lo­cated to reach ev­ery pupil who qual­i­fied for scholar trans­port

Kwazi Mthethwa of the KZN Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion said they would not en­gage with EE through the me­dia.

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