State’s scholar transport policy fails needy pupils in KZN
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.