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Government figures on transporting pupils to school ‘a lie’

Civil society organisations have dismissed a claim by the basic education and transport departments that 71% of pupils get state sponsored transport to school.

“That’s a lie, that’s a complete fabrication, I would like to see how they came to that figure,” Basil Manuel, president of the national professional teachers’ organisation of South Africa told the Mail & Guardian last week. “Even if that figure is based on the number of schools who actually sent in application forms for pupil transport for their pupils [and got it] … that’s a very generous number.”

The presentation made earlier this month by the two departments to the portfolio committee on basic education stated that “about 4.2% of all learners qualified for learner transport, but of those, only 71% were being transported, with most of those not benefiting being in the rural provinces”.

The Equal Education Law Centre also questioned the accuracy of the figures in the presentation.

The two national departments have jointly drafted a national policy on transport for pupils which was published for public comment late last year.

Figures not accurate
Sherylle Dass, an attorney at the law centre, said in the absence of a national needs analysis of all schools “it is highly unlikely that this figure reflects an accurate figure of pupils who qualify for learner transport”.

“It would be safe to assume that the department of basic education arrived at this figure by assessing the number of applications they have received for learner transport support.”

Neither the basic education department nor the transport department responded to the M&G’s questions by the time of publishing.

The law centre’s sister organisation, Equal Education, recently launched a campaign for better provision of pupil transport in Nqutu, rural KwaZulu-Natal. The M&G visited the area last month and discovered that many pupils there walk a round trip of about 30km to get an education.

Watch: Pupil transport: How far would you walk to get an education?

Equal Education and the law centre said in a statement, published last month, that they were told by the district director that only 15 out of more than 500 schools in the Umzinyathi education district had transport for scholars because of budgetary constraints.

They said the national household survey published by Statistics South Africa in 2013 states that in KZN alone “there are more than two million pupils who walk all the way to school” and of these pupils “more than 210 000 walk for more than an hour in one direction while a further 659 000 learners walk for between 30 minutes to an hour”.

The province has a pupil transport policy and it says that pupils who have to walk a return distance of more than 6km qualify for transport.

“It is shocking that against these figures, only 22 045 learners in KZN are being provided with transport services, as confirmed in Parliament by the minister of transport in November”, the organisations said.

They also provided a snapshot of the national status of pupil transport.

More than an hour’s walk
Citing more figures provided by the transport minister, Dipuo Peters, the organisations said “… nationally, there are only 360 248 learners benefitting from scholar transport programmes; while more than half a million (517?000) learners walk for more than an hour on their way to school, a further two million pupils walk for between 30 minutes to an hour to get to school”.

Manuel said pupil transport was a “nightmare”.

“The department is almost divorced from the realities of schooling. If a child has to walk over an hour to get to school, what is the condition the child is in when he gets to school? What time are they leaving home? In summer they face the risk of floods, in winter they walk in darkness.”

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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