/ 15 February 2019

Pupils still forced to walk to class

Kowa has the highest rate of land restitution in the country. Black farmers now own 46% of formerly white commercial farms in the area.(Madelene Cronjé/M&G)

Parents in the Eastern Cape have to pay R500 a month for private transport to ferry their children to school, even though they qualify for state-provided scholar transport. The children of parents who cannot afford the fee — some as young as six years old — walk 10km or more to school.

Some of these schools have been applying for scholar transport for more than seven years, to no avail. They have now approached the high court in Makhanda to order the provincial government to provide scholar transport to those who qualify within five days of the court order.

The four schools, Tyityaba Primary School, July Senior Secondary School, Sakhingomso Primary School and Nathaniel Pamla High School, which are all based in villages around Peddie, are being represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). The LRC filed its court papers in January and the case is expected to be heard at the end of the month, according to attorney Cameron McConnachie.

The LRC’s court papers say that 163 pupils from these schools, some in Grade R, qualify for scholar transport but are not receiving it.

According to the national policy on scholar transport, the responsibility for providing scholar transport is shared between the departments of transport and education at provincial and national levels. It is the responsibility of the provincial departments of education to select pupils who qualify.

The schools approached the Khula Community Development Project to assist them to take the matter to court.

The director of the project, Petros Majola, who is the first applicant, said in his affidavit that the failure of the department to provide scholar transport affects over 20 000 pupils in the province. Most of these pupils live 5km or more from school and have no option but to walk. Those who pay for private transport use half or more of their child-support grant to pay to get to school.

“Not only is the distance a concern, but the routes travelled by children are often unsafe — they are forced to walk through dangerous areas and to cross rivers and roads. As a result of the physical and psychological burden that this daily journey places on children, many drop out of school or are frequently absent,” said Majola.

He said that, in 2014, several schools in the Bira and Hoyi villages were closed because they had low enrolments and pupils from those villages were sent to Tyityiba Primary School. Bira and Hoyi are approximately 9.2km and 7.5km from the school, respectively, by road. It costs parents from Bira R250 a month to transport their children to school privately and those from Hoyi pay R220.

“Many of the parents cannot afford this amount, as a significant number of them are unemployed and rely on the monthly child-support grant to meet the needs of their children. Such children must go without private transport. In the absence of private transport, the learners must travel on foot to and from school,” the affidavit reads.

Majola said July Senior Secondary has applied annually for scholar transport since 2011 with no success. “Not a single response has been received,” said Majola, adding that the road linking Tuku C village to the school is often impassable as the bridge has not been completed and the road goes through the river bed.

Although some pupils who attend school at Nathaniel Pamla live closer to other schools, those schools do not offer subjects such as maths, science, agriculture and geography.

Pupils attending Nathaniel Pamla have to fork out between R400 and R500 a month on private transport — or walk the long distance.

The court papers also say that the process for applying for scholar transport is “marred with chaos and confusion”. In most instances, it is not even clear whether the department of education has received the applications, Majola said.

The four schools had submitted their applications for scholar transport for the 2019 academic year and, according to the application policies, the department had until January 9 to communicate their decision. The schools have not received any feedback from the department.

A spokesperson for the department of education, Malibongwe Mtima, said it would file its answering affidavit next week. But he said it was not true that the department was not dealing with applications properly.

Deputy director general of basic education Granville Whittle gave a presentation about scholar transport to the portfolio committee on education last year. He said the biggest challenge was funding, which was the duty of the provinces.

The department of basic education was looking at possibly obtaining a conditional grant specifically addressing scholar transport issues, he said.

The committee heard that, although some provinces fully funded scholar transport, others did not and that provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape were lagging in funding for the programme.

In 2017, advocacy group Equal Education won a case after the Pietermaritzburg high court ordered the KwaZulu-Natal department of education to provide transport to pupils at 12 schools in Nquthu because they had to walk long distances to school.

READ MORE: Safe transport arrives at 12 KZN schools following court order