MIDI - Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute
On Thursday 9 April, 500 Equal Education (EE) members from Nquthu will march to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Education’s (DoE) office in Pietermartizburg to demand scholar transport. The students, like many others in rural areas, have to walk long distances of up to 24 kilometres a day to get to and from school. EE has a strong, active membership in Nquthu, and a growing movement in the area that has organised this march.
EE is demanding that scholar transport be provided to the students of Nquthu, and that the provision of scholar transport in KZN be prioritised and expanded significantly. EE is also demanding a national scholar transport policy be adopted, and that a conditional grant from Treasury be allocated to fund its provision.
The march will start at 11am from Dale Park in Pietermaritzburg and arrive at the KZN DoE (247 Burger Street) at 11:45am. There a memorandum will be handed over to officials from the KZN DoE and the KZN Department of Transport.
Equal Education and Scholar Transport
EE has been engaged on the issue of scholar transport in KZN since July 2014, when members of the organisation in the Nquthu area raised the issue as a serious barrier to them accessing their schools. EE organisers live and work in Nquthu, along with student and parent members of EE. EE national leadership and staff from the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have visited Nquthu and written to the KZN departments of education and transport. Scholar transport is a joint responsibility of these two departments.
On 19 February 2015, EE and the EELC released a statement following a visit to schools in the Nquthu area, during which we met with students, parents, teachers and principals. We wrote that:
“Many learners, including primary school learners must leave home before 6:30am in order to arrive at school on time. On route to school they have to traverse mountainous terrain and rivers, conditions which are exacerbated during rainy days and lightning storms. Some learners also described their experiences and fears of being robbed, kidnapped, raped and sexually assaulted while walking to school. Others described the dangers of having to cross rivers after heavy rains – at least one learner and teacher have died through drowning in recent years under these circumstances.
Teachers and principals at the schools we visited also complained of having to teach learners who are hungry and exhausted after their long walk to school, and who struggle to concentrate or stay awake in class. They attributed high incidences of late coming, absenteeism and learners dropping out to the lack of scholar transport. Some described how there would be as low as 5% – 10% attendance on days of heavy rains or lightning storms, particularly during the summer rainfall season. It is also difficult to conduct extra lessons for learners when they still have to make the long journey home after school.”
KZN Scholar Transport
In 2013 the KZN DoE adopted a Scholar Transport Policy, which states that students are eligible for scholar transport if they have to walk for more than 3km between home and their nearest appropriate school. However, in a letter received by EE on 7 April 2015, the KZN DoE refer to this policy, which is available on their website, as a “Draft Policy”. We are unclear why this is the case.
KZN has the greatest need for scholar transport in the country. The province has the highest proportion of students in the country who walk to school, as well as the highest number of students who walk to school for more than an hour (in one direction). According to the National Household Survey, published by Statistics South Africa in 2013, more than 2 million students walk to school in KZN. Of these students, 210 000 walk for more than an hour (in one direction).
Despite having the greatest need, KZN currently spends less on scholar transport than all other provinces, with the exception of Limpopo, Free State and the Northern Cape (though the Northern Cape still transports more students than KZN). For the 2014/2015 financial year, KZN allocated R168 430 000 to transport 34 814 students in the province. In comparison, the Eastern Cape, which has less students requiring scholar transport than KZN, allocated R356 076 000 (and eventually spent R431 214 000) to transport students in the same financial year.
No National Policy on Scholar Transport
There is no national policy on scholar transport, and the need for such a policy has been raised in Parliament as far back as 2007. In 2009 the Department of Transport published the Final Draft National Scholar Transport Policy. Since then the Ministers of Transport and Basic Education have consistently reported in the media and to Parliament that the policy is soon to be finalised and adopted, but this has yet to happen.
Need for a Conditional Grant for Scholar Transport
This policy is necessary and urgent, and so are additional resources to ensure that students across the country, but particularly in rural areas like Nquthu, are able to access their schools and their Constitutional right to a basic education. Recently, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Appropriations recommended that:
“National Treasury, in consultation with the Department of Basic Education and with the assistance of the Financial and Fiscal Commission, consider the formulation and development of a conditional grant for the provision of scholar transport.”
Engagement with KZN Government
EE has met and corresponded with the KZN government about these issues. We wrote in February and again in March. We received replies from both the departments of Education and Transport, but these were not satisfactory to meet the rights of learners.
Equal Education is therefore demanding:
1. The provision of scholar transport to the schools in Nquthu, who are in urgent need of this service.
2. The proper implementation of the KZN Scholar Transport Policy and a much greater budget to be allocated towards this programme in the province.
3. The adoption of a national policy on Scholar Transport, as well as a conditional grant from Treasury which will allow for the comprehensive provision of scholar transport across the country.
For more information, please contact:
Nombulelo Nyathela (Equal Education Spokesperson): 060 503 4933
Sandile Ndlovu (Equal Education Organiser in Nquthu, KZN): 072 802 7584
Brad Brockman (Equal Education General Secretary): 072 267 8489
For more information on Equal Education, see http://www.equaleducation.org.za/